Why San Francisco Needs Rand Paul - Pacific Standard

Why San Francisco Needs Rand Paul

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has opened a new campaign office in a San Francisco tech incubator. He—and his philosophies on unregulated markets—will fit right in.
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(Illustration: Susie Cagle)

(Illustration: Susie Cagle)

San Francisco’s liberal reputation is almost as mythical as its growing herd of unicorn start-ups. It might be the last place you’d expect a conservative candidate to open a presidential campaign office. But there are few places in America where Kentucky Senator Rand Paul might fit in as well.

Finally, San Francisco has the villain it needs.

Shortly after announcing his new office, Paul spoke at the deeply unironic “Disrupting Democracy” conference—organized by the libertarian tech think tank Lincoln Labs and the ostensibly non-partisan Brigade—funded by the politically ambivalent, if not libertarian, Sean Parker.

Rand Paul is exactly what San Francisco needs: A personification of the unregulated market idealism that’s so rapidly re-making the Bay Area region, and a bad guy for the opposition to rally against.

His support for marijuana legalization and opposition to government spy programs were popular topics, though his disapproval of net neutrality was met with apparent silence. But he deftly stroked the techie ego, playing down the government’s massive role in incubating the tech industry in its early years. The appearance earned him “new fans.”

“I think, really, many people in Silicon Valley would actually be better described as libertarian,” Paul told the San Francisco Chronicle ahead of the event.

Despite the Bay Area’s liberal reputation, Paul is not wrong. New money is not so different from old money—there are few new tech millionaires lobbying for progressive fiscal policy and government regulation of the markets that made them so rich. “Disrupting democracy” is essentially a business strategy for start-ups and established tech firms alike. Republicans support Uber not just as a ride-hailing service, but as a tool to convince young people that regulating business is evil. Lincoln Labs was co-founded by a Mitt Romney campaign staffer. Brigade claims to be aimed at “increasing civic engagement,” though it’s not really clear what the hell they’re doing.

But the perception of this city as a bastion of liberal social mores persists. It’s the well-earned legacy of decades of impassioned social justice activism and hippie culture—decades that have given way to a new era of fiscal conservatism and public-private partnerships.

San Francisco activists pushing back against this tide have found good enemies in eviction-happy landlords, conservative venture capitalist Ron Conway, and Google buses. But none of these are the enemies we really need to expose the Bay Area’s new true nature. Conway comes close—and his stature is truly Kingpin-like—but his public persona is carefully managed and self-aware.

But now, thank god, we have Rand Paul.

Rand Paul, who opposes gay marriage. Rand Paul, who opposes abortion. Rand Paul, who voted against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. Rand Paul, who wants to dismantle all federal interventions in health care, get rid of the Department of Education, and increase border security. Rand Paul, who has come to San Francisco because he knows that, despite all this, many here will welcome him with open arms—and in doing so, make it clear that this is no longer the deep-blue liberal bastion so many think it is. Rand Paul is exactly what San Francisco needs: A personification of the unregulated market idealism that’s so rapidly re-making the Bay Area region, and a bad guy for the opposition to rally against.

Paul’s new campaign office comes with the usual tech incubator trappings: free Wi-Fi, a reclaimed wood desk, and access to a stocked refrigerator. He’ll fit right in.

The Crooked Valley is an illustrated series exploring the systems of privilege and inequality that perpetuate tech's culture of bad ideas.