Photos by Grace Wyler
It's a hot Sunday morning in Thousand Oaks, California, and Rand Paul is telling evangelical Christians that we need a spiritual revival in America.
"We are sick. Our country is sick. There's a moral depravity that has spread throughout our country," he says. "But the answer is not necessarily in political leaders. I think we want good, moral, Christian leaders, but that isn't necessarily where the answer is. The answer is in your church, in your spiritual leaders and frankly in the whole country erupting into a revival."
The Kentucky Republican Senator has spent a week on the road in California, visiting tech executives at Facebook, Google, and eBay and kissing the proverbial GOP ring at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. His road trip ends here, at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in a suburban business park just off the 101 freeway.
"I think we know that salvation isn't going to come from our political leaders, sometimes we think so much is going to happen or we expect or want so much that we misplace our faith where we want to affect change," Paul closes, getting a standing ovation from the congregation.
Paul's speech may seem like standard fare for a Republican politician who is, by his own admission, thinking about running for president. But his message—that moral values can't be mandated by the government—underscores the fine line Paul has to walk as he tries to appeal to the Republican Party base while broadening his appeal among other voters, including libertarian-minded young people who tend to be put off by the GOP's proclivity for Bible-thumping and personhood amendments.
Paul's California adventure was a first step toward achieving that goal. The trip—which included meetings with Republican intelligentsia at Stanford, a fundraiser with the Frederick Douglas Foundation, a multicultural Christian conservative “ministry,” and private meetings with deep-pocketed tech donors—sketched out the basic roadmap of the winning coalition that Paul is trying to unite.
But Paul is not a natural fit for California—his comments on the Civil Rights Act are a particularly thorny issue—and the question remains whether he can actually unite the far corners of the Republican Party in time for 2016.
We spoke to Paul during his plane ride from San Francisco to LA last week, and again after his speech on Sunday, to talked about his trip to the Valley, his push for online privacy, and how he wants to teach a class on the dystopian novel.
A late parishioner walks into Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, California, where Rand Paul spoke Sunday, June 2.
VICE: At Google, you told employees to be advocates for online privacy, but Google isn’t known for protecting users' privacy—what do you think tech companies need to do to protect privacy on the Internet?
Rand Paul: Actually, both at Facebook and at Google, they indicated that they are going the extra mile to protect privacy. Right now, the law says that after six months, the government can look at your email without a warrant, but a Sixth Circuit court has ruled that you do need a warrant. Both Facebook and Google indicated that when the government asks them for emails, they are asking for a warrant, even though the Supreme Court hasn't decided it, nor has the legislature changed the rule. So I felt pretty good that both of them are trying to protect privacy.
It's been three months since your filibuster. Do you feel as though you've made an impact on the public debate about civil liberties?
I think that when you have the president responding to the question [about drone strikes on Americans], both at the time and just last month, it's a good sign that the issue is resonating with people.
I think that particularly now, people want the government to treat them fairly and in a just way. So I think the IRS scandal is playing into the whole concept of whether or not your government will treat you different if you're a member of the opposite party. I think that people are scandalized by the idea that the government is being used against people in the Tea Party just because the President disagrees with their politics, or that that at least seems to be the case.
I think it plays into the whole concept of whether you should let a politician of either party decide your innocence or guilt, and not have an independent judiciary decide that.
What do you think about the Obama administration's decision to support the FBI's push to make it easier to spy on the internet?
My reaction is mostly disappointment. The one area where I liked President Obama was that I thought he would defend civil liberties. It turns out that he might care less for civil liberties than George Bush, and I think that's disappointing.
It must be truly disappointing for those who truly are progressive on the left who believe in civil liberties, and it's disappointing to those of us on the right who didn't support him but thought, Gosh, well, at least maybe he'll support civil liberties.
It all seems kind of dystopian. Speaking of which, I hear you want to teach a class on the dystopian novel?
I've talked about it, but unfortunately I keep developing other projects that get in the way. I would like to do it someday. I think dystopian novels are a discussion of politics, and sort of what happens if you let a government accumulate too much power.
As I said in my filibuster, this presidential, or king, complex that both Republicans and Democrats get where they think, Well, the power is not so bad, because I'm a good person and I won't abuse that power. President Obama has said that with indefinite detention, he's said, "Oh, well I don't intend to use that power." That's not good enough, it's like when Madison said, "If government were comprised of angels, we wouldn't have to worry about how much power to give the government."
The government is not comprised of angels. No one can be trusted. I think it was either Madison or Jefferson who said to always worry about any power you give to your government, because there should always be a certain level of distrust for anyone who seeks power.