Rand Paul: “The American soldier, a volunteer, in defense of liberty”

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul spoke before a room brimming with cadets at The Citadel yesterday in a speech that was rightly considered an early stump effort toward an eventual Presidential run.

And, as The New York Times helpfully points out, he did address points that were not even remotely subtle nods toward presenting himself a viable candidate in the coming election, with emphasis on one special issue in particular:

Mr. Paul was speaking as a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Homeland Security Committees, and he never mentioned his prospective presidential run. But allusions to it have been unavoidable throughout his trip to this early primary state. He drew applause in the packed hall when he reprised a line of attack against former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her handling of the terrorist assault on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, saying that it had been a “dereliction of duty” and should “preclude Hillary Clinton from ever holding high office again.”

But the problem with reading The NYT exclusively (which, for a rational person having a bad day, is easy to believe that many of the writers who work there do), is that along with that kind of tunnel vision comes extreme cynicism of the type that leads a reporter to tip their inverted triangle with the snarky sentence, “His prepared remarks on Tuesday included 33 footnotes.” (I challenge you to Google why anyone cares). Or to remind everyone that Rand Paul is often considered soft on military spending by his more hawkish Republican compatriots. So of course that’s the only reason he’s there, folks. No higher calling. Just politicking.

Leaving aside the snark of the paper of record for a moment, Paul did a fair job of laying out his views on war and peace, what he considers the role of defense spending relative to the individual soldier, and how he takes very seriously Reagan’s idea of peace through strength. And telling a room full of cadets that the country and Congress owes them “a full and proper consideration of the pros and cons of war,” is not only something a politician may say to win votes, but also something a man might say to younger men scared as the reality dawns on them what being defenders of liberty means.

So Paul gave them assurances that, like Reagan, he believes in restraint but isn’t afraid to engage when necessary. And that his vision of restraint is one that an enemy will never mistake for a lack of will or strength. And that perhaps the whole defense machine should be examined and cleaned to make it run smoother (an audit of the Pentagon is his proposal, something that seems more “good business sense” rather than an attempt at “gotcha!”).

But most notably, and why the boys in that room continued to applaud, when Rand Paul says the things he says — perhaps those boys agree, perhaps they don’t — he does not have the reputation for being a liar. And so it’s real applause from those almost-men, because they know when Rand Paul says a politician rather than a military leader made the decisions that led to the tragedy in Benghazi, and that this politician — whoever it may be — should never be allowed to lead in a higher office, they believe him.

They haven’t yet become the cynical digesters of all the news that’s fit to print.

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