Amanda Teuscher

Amanda Teuscher is The American Prospect's managing editor.

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Rand Paul's Millennial Outreach, Now with Flip-Flops

Posted by guest-blogger Amanda Teuscher

With the news that presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz’s affiliated super-PACs have raked in $31 million in less than a week, it looks like Senator Rand Paul is going to have to sell a lot of beer koozies.

Paul, who announced his candidacy on Tuesday, is already facing skepticism from conservatives and libertarians alike. As Paul Waldman noted here last week, the senator is likely to lose his distinctiveness as he toes the standard GOP line in preparation for the primary—especially as fear of ISIS displaces lessons learned from the Iraq War and the conservative base gets more hawkish. With CNN already wondering whether Paul “missed his moment,” the Paul campaign—complete with logo that looks more like an energy company than a campaign button—needs to brand his candidacy with a distinctive look. And as The Wall Street Journal noted, Paul’s online campaign shop features some unique, Brand Rand merchandise.

There’s a $15 “RAND” webcam blocker for those who haven’t discovered tape; multiple iPhone, Macbook, and iPad cases for those who worship the brand of Apple; and a $35 set of 12 “freedom paddles” for those who want “the next leader of the free world on a stick” (and don’t have a printer or access to popsicle sticks).

But there’s also something distinctly collegiate about the curation of items, as well as the very un–J. Peterman-like copy: “Look good listening to your jams with Rand Paul.” “Here’s to a 6-pack of freedom.” And there’s a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” T-shirt that, as the description says, combines “the Rand Paul filibuster for privacy with an Internet meme of a person yelling at police, ‘Don’t taze me bro.’”

Apparel-wise, there are skull caps, hoodies, and burnout tees (the patterns on which I think are more likely to induce debates about aesthetic taste than about civil liberties). And of course, there are flip-flops. My own personal opinions about flip-flops aside (they are terrible and should only be worn at the beach), someone on the Paul campaign clearly figured out that the vast majority of college students consider these two pieces of plastic acceptable footwear for every occasion.

Paul wants to be the cool candidate, and the idea seems to be to tap into the same grassroots energy that propelled the cool Obama, with a record share of the 18-29 vote, to the White House in 2008. The models in Paul’s campaign store are young, and for sale are Rand beer koozies and beer steins displaying a sunglasses-wearing, American flag–holding Jack Russell terrier. And, of course, there’s the quintessential swing-state lawn game, cornhole. (Rand’s website refers to it as “bag toss,” clearly reluctant to mention the word “cornhole,” but I’m from Ohio and I’m not afraid to call it by its proper name.)

None of this millennial outreach, though, is surprising. In the Fall issue of the Prospect, Adele M. Stan noted that Paul is directing his message of liberty to a very specific slice of that generation:

But if you drill down to look at which part of the millennial cohort expresses a belief in smaller government, it’s mostly white people, and the percentage varies according to how the question is asked. A March report by Pew Research found that overall, some 38 percent of millennials, not half, favored smaller government and fewer services. But when looked at through the prism of race, 52 percent of white millennials did, while 71 percent of non-white millennials favored bigger government and more services—numbers that likely speak to just which segment of the millennial generation Paul is aiming for.

As Stan writes, Paul’s libertarian cast masks a states’-rights philosophy that allows semi-local majorities to decide on matters that millennials are liberal on, such as same-sex marriage—a philosophy he’ll likely hold onto in his appeals to right-wing conservatives. Of course, maybe us millennials won’t notice that if he can convince us he’s just a liberty-loving dude who likes lawn games and brews.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Brand Rand shop is the short, phoning-it-in copy for one of the cornhole sets: “Have fun, make a difference,” is all it says. If only it were that easy.

America's Only Black Piano-Maker Soldiers on Through Slights and Triumphs

When musician Warren Shadd decided to manufacture a line of high-tech pianos based on his own designs but with little capital, everyone thought he was crazy.

(Photo: Amanda Teuscher)
(Photo: Amanda Teuscher) Warren Shadd, the world's only African-American piano manufacturer, shows off the harp he designed for his line of grand pianos. “ No one gave me a million dollars,” Warren Shadd says from behind the nine-foot-three-inch concert grand piano he designed. “How do you do this with no money?” A million dollars is certainly helpful when starting any business. But if you want to be the first African American to manufacture products as capital- and labor-intensive as a line of pianos and don’t have that kind of money, it helps to have the mind of both an engineer and an artist, creative talent, an indelible work ethic, and a musical pedigree inherited from a family that was an integral part of Washington, D.C.’s mid-century jazz culture. Not to mention connections in the music business and a great ability to generate buzz. American popular music owes a lot—in some respects, nearly everything—to African Americans. So it may be surprising to learn that there are no...

Will D.C.'s Pot Legalization Fall Prey to Meddling Congress?

Under the Capitol dome, Republicans have been blocking the will of District voters for years. Now there's a new target.

"Plantacja" by A7nubis - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
It’s not like Representative Andy Harris didn’t warn us. When District of Columbia voters last month overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana in the District, the Maryland Republican threatened to use “all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.” And when it comes to preventing D.C. from exercising home rule, the arsenal of available resources is quite well stocked. Harris, the origin story of whose marijuana vendetta must be a Maureen Dowd–style special-brownie overindulgence that left him shattered, has for the past year made it his personal mission to prevent the people who didn’t vote for him from getting what they voted for. His latest nefarious plot is a rider, attached to the 1,600-page budget deal released Tuesday night, which prohibits D.C. from using its funds to enact the legalization of marijuana. The bill also continues the amendment that blocks D.C. from using its own locally raised taxes to fund abortions for...

The Next Cool Thing: Great Writing From the Middle of America

Marking its first year in publication, Belt Magazine, with its focus on the industrial Midwest, is the nation's new literary darling.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File) This Tuesday, September 11, 2012, file photo shows the Cleveland skyline taken from the city's Edgewater Park. W hen news outlets and websites write about the industrial Midwest, the coverage can vacillate between boosterism and “ ruin porn ,” often at the expense of telling compelling stories about the people and complexities of cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Belt Magazine , an online publication based in Cleveland, just celebrated its first anniversary with the release of Dispatches from the Rust Belt , a collection of the magazine’s best content. The American Prospect spoke with Belt ’s editor-in-chief Anne Trubek about the magazine’s first year and its mission to elevate longform writing and first-person essays alongside original reporting and stories from—and for—the Rust Belt. TAP: Where did you grow up and what brought you to Cleveland? And what made you stay for nearly two decades? Anne Trubek: I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin—so not...

Watch Party Dispatch: Marijuana Legalization Activists Celebrate in D.C.

For many, this is the first midterm election they’ve voted in. And Initiative 71, which went on to pass with nearly 70 percent of the vote, is the reason.

(Amanda Teuscher)
(Amanda Teuscher) Reggae musician Mateo Monk performs his song “Blessed Ganja Herb,” at an election-results watch party in Washington, D.C., on November 4, 2014. District voters passed Initiative 71, which legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The party has just started, but the bar is already packed. “Sixty-one percent!” yells the DJ between songs, to a loud eruption of cheers and applause. Not all DJs will interrupt a party to update everyone on precinct returns. But then, this is Washington, D.C., where post-Election night hangovers are as infamous as New Year’s. And this is the watch party/victory celebration of Initiative 71—the ballot measure that would legalize marijuana possession in the District—and supporters are ready to party. Polls in the days leading up to the election showed the initiative passing by a two-to-one margin, so for those gathering in the vast lower-level bar of Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights, there is little reason to worry...