Op-Ed: Rand Paul’s RNC Speech Underwhelming

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Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s RNC speech had the good fortune of following Sen. Mitch McConnell because it didn’t require much for him to outshine the Senate minority leader. Mealy-mouthed and garbled (Mitt Ryan?), was this McConnell’s first speech? Yet Paul was also relegated to the ratings wasteland of the early evening and hours before headliner and VP nominee Paul Ryan would speak.

After a flattering video tribute to Ron Paul, son Rand Paul’s speech was two words that don’t normally complement each other: tolerable and brave. Together, that made it underwhelming.

Opening with zingers on the unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court-upheld ObamaCare, Paul joined in the Republican chorus of beating to death President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” flub.

It’s rare for a politician to actually invoke founding fathers by name, so the shout-out to James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution” was a pleasant surprise, but Senator Paul might want to busy himself with Kevin Gutzman’s great biography of Madison for a reminder that Hamilton and Madison did not always duke it out.

The final endorsement of Romney was expected, but it wasn’t overly nauseating. Everyone knew this was coming – it was undoubtedly the price for the speaking slot. The endorsement was neither so grand that the informed viewer would forget that the speaker was the son of Ron Paul nor was it so tepid that it sounded like a forced confession. Considering what he had to work with, Rand Paul essentially stated what others had said: that the case for Mitt Romney is the case against Barack Obama.

Rand Paul may wage a presidential run himself in four or eight years, but it won’t be because of this speech.

There were high hopes, mine included, that this would be a good introduction of Rand Paul to the rest of the country. But confined to a bad time and filling his speech with Republican cliches about “American Exceptionalism,” as well as harping on the “You didn’t build that” gaffe virtually assures that this speech will be forgotten to history.

The standard by which I typically judge convention speeches is Pat Buchanan’s “Culture War” speech in 1992. Blunt and fearless, the speech is still loved and reviled twenty years later.

But neither was it Barack Obama’s 2004 convention speech proclaiming, “There’s not a liberal America or a conservative America – there is the United States of America.”

These two speeches were obviously different in scope, but they are remembered because they weren’t re-heated TV dinners given by every other speaker at their respective conventions. The speeches could not be ignored and they defined the men who gave them.

What would have made Paul’s speech explosive is if he had moved beyond his quick mention of Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted, “Never trade liberty for security” and moved beyond to make an appeal for a humble foreign policy. It was definitely not the focus of his speech.

Yet this was a far cry from the veteran’s rally held in 2008 where the themes were, in no particular order: war, jingoism, and militarism. That an implicit denunciation of the Patriot Act and TSA are even permitted at a Republican National Convention four years later is proof that a little has changed in the GOP.

Rand Paul was brave – while playing it safe.