Kirkland: An open letter to Sen. Rand Paul


Will Kirkland, Columnist

The following letter is addressed to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who recently announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. Paul’s announcement was quickly overshadowed by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her own presidential campaign on Sunday, which had been widely expected for more than a year. It’s not surprising Clinton’s announcement was met with more enthusiasm at Northwestern (full disclosure: I’m a Hillary fan), but Paul is a fascinating force not to be ignored in American politics. As one of the few serious Republicans willing to engage in legitimate policy debate, he is a highly unique politician, which is why I have written him the following letter:

Dear Sen. Paul,

I write to you today to invite you to speak at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I am compelled to do so because of the poor state of cross-party and cross-ideological political discourse at NU and on college campuses across the country.

As a Democrat and a committed progressive, I disagree with many of your political views. But in light of the political dysfunction in this country that stifles meaningful debate and encourages cloistered factionalism, it would be extremely valuable to have a conservative voice like yours come to a school like NU for a serious policy discussion that touches on issues engaged college students care about.

Just as in the political world, partisanship has taken root in the academic world. Far too few conservative politicians come to liberal-leaning universities like NU to make their cases and engage in substantive policy debates. Why a prominent Republican would decline an invitation to speak at a liberal institution is obvious — the case studies in protests against campus speakers are numerous. The most egregious is the case of Condoleezza Rice, the first female African-American Secretary of State, who cancelled her commencement speech at Rutgers in 2014 because of student protests against her role in the misbegotten Iraq War.

How are we going to repair the deep partisan divide and engage in real political discourse if liberals won’t allow conservatives to even open their mouths on college campuses, and conservatives refuse to meet protesters with conviction? What is the future of the political system, of the American intellectual tradition, if college campuses begin in earnest to segregate by political party and politicians play along?

In the spirit of fighting those trends, I implore you to come to NU. You’re in a unique position as a libertarian-conservative Republican who has signaled a clear willingness to engage the other side and find common ground on vital issues of our time, particularly those important to college students, like criminal justice reform and racial inequality, mass surveillance and the War on Drugs.

The key here is policy, not politics. I can’t imagine NU students have much interest in serving as a stump speech audience in your quest for the GOP nomination. There would be, however, a political advantage in it for you. Coming to NU would cement your candidacy as one dedicated to serious debate that reshapes political coalitions and rehashes staid policies.

Following are some of the issues that would yield the most fruitful debates.

Police reform, due to your support for police demilitarization, your firm stance on the civil rights of people and communities of color and your outspokenness on the injustices in Ferguson, Staten Island and North Charleston.

NSA mass surveillance, about which you have signaled a keen interest in reviving the debate, which has dangerously and tellingly become a third-tier policy concern for many Americans.

Mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, which have become central concerns at NU and other universities across the country. This is an area in which you have already distinguished yourself in the Senate, having cosponsored, along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), on the comprehensive criminal justice reform REDEEM Act.

Drone warfare, the subject of your 13-hour filibuster in 2013 against President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA. This is a vital conversation to have in the context of invasive domestic counterterrorism efforts by the U.S. government and the extralegal drone killings of foreign nationals abroad.

To be sure, NU students would hold you accountable for some of your dogmatically conservative positions on issues like gun rights, abortion, a “flat tax,” gay rights, Obamacare, Benghazi and others.

But we need a serious conservative voice to engage in real debate on the important issues of our time. Sure, we’ve had Rick Santorum and Allen West come by to spew their tired, second-rate conservatism on our campus, but those weren’t serious political debates. Our campus needs real policy discussions, our national academic system needs them and our political system needs them. So, Senator Paul, please come to our lakefront campus to engage in an honest debate on the issues.

Hey, if we’re worthy of a visit from a president, I’d say we’re worthy of one from a presidential hopeful.


A Northwestern Student

William Kirkland is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].