As a news editor last semester I was charged with an interesting task: Cover dark horse Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s speech on the Diag. I had read the reports of a massive student following and heard tales of the maverick congressman’s ability to inspire the apathetic masses. I was pretty excited.

The scene on the Diag unfolded like the Phish concert when I was younger. The unmistakable scent of marijuana wafted through the air. Hippies strolled around with marijuana legalization petitions. Loudspeakers blared The Beatles’ “Revolution” and a generic reggae jam that contained the chorus “Ron Paul is here/Helping people everywhere.” I’ve covered more than a few political rallies in my day and the crowds have never been more than 15 percent students. But here, I guessed the massive crowd that covered the Diag was comprised of almost 80 percent students.

When Paul finally came out to the podium, the crowd erupted as if Michigan had just scored a touchdown against Ohio State. This was going to be insane, I thought. Then Paul launched into his speech. And, well, it was OK. As his policy-heavy speech droned on, and I actually started listening to what he was saying, something dawned on me: Ron Paul scares the bejesus out of me.

The college vote usually goes to the liberals who promise change and hope like Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Paul certainly promises change, but in a way, he’s the anti-hope. His plans to remove the federal government from every aspect of life aren’t a push forward – they’re an acceptance of defeat. He’s saying that everything we’ve done in the last 100 years is wrong, and the entire system needs to be dismantled.

But crazy people exist in politics all the time. Aaron Burr killed a guy – who is now on our $10 bill – when he was vice president. He then went on to try and set up an independent fiefdom in Mexico. What scares me about Paul is his popularity and what that might say about our country, especially its students. I know he’s not going to win the primary, but Paul garnered 14 percent of the vote in Nevada. And I can’t figure out why the hell this is happening. So I asked someone.

I talked to LSA senior Rob Johnson, chair of the University’s chapter of Students for Ron Paul, about what makes Paul so appealing. Before Johnson got into the policy specifics of his support, he said something that I had heard from virtually every Paul fan at the rally: Paul is not a liar.

“When I looked at Ron Paul, what jumped out to me was how consistent and honest he was,” Johnson said. “He’s truly not politics as usual.”

If you can say anything about Paul, he’s certainly consistent. I can’t understand how this becomes a reason for supporting a candidate. Just because he is consistent and honest doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t absolutely insane.

Look, I’m just as disillusioned as the next college student. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. Johnson and several other supporters have told me that Paul gives voice to the ignored in American politics, but as students we’ve only been ignored for a maximum of one election. On top of that, I can’t quite figure out what’s being ignored. Paul’s basic ideology is having the federal government ignore people and leave them alone. How is that any less alienating than the current system?

The thing that most concerns me about Paul is his effort to get rid of the income tax. I heard a lot of complaints about taxes from supporters, but as students, what taxes do you really pay? I asked Johnson about this and he talked a little about tax code and incentives to balance the budget, but then mentioned something that caught my attention: taxes are redistribution.

I’m sorry, but every tax dollar you pay does not go to some fictional homeless person spending your hard-earned tax dollars on booze. They go to things like the roads, fire departments and schools. I’m sure you’ve benefited from these. So shut up. Pay your taxes. Somewhere along the line, “live and let live” turned into “live and screw everyone else.” Civic responsibility apparently doesn’t fit into Paul’s idea of America.

We’re college students. We like to pretend we are the most compassionate and idealistic people in this country. Sadly, we probably are. But Paul is the easy way out. Paul offers an apology and tells you the government is at fault, not you. Paul promises that you’re finally going to be left alone.

Sorry for the cliché, but I love my fellow Americans and even the government – flaws, mistrust and disagreements included. And as frustrated as I get sometimes, a world with everyone leaving me alone, well, seems kind of lonely.

David Mekelburg is an outgoing Daily associate news editor. He can be reached at dmek@umich.edu.

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