On April 25th, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) excited the John F. Kennedy Forum with wide-ranging comments from the Fourth Amendment to gun control. The energy in the room was palpable with the packed house of students compounding the history between Senator Paul and the event’s host, Trey Grayson.
In Trey Grayson’s final Forum event, the IOP Director talked of his history with Senator Paul. One of the last times these Kentuckians shared a stage was in Grayson’s loss to Paul for the state’s junior Senate seat.
Senator Paul delivered a short address focused on historical basis of the Constitutional right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment. He did not miss the opportunity to highlight that the Boston Tea Party occurred just down the street from Harvard. Senator Paul also harped on NSA wiretapping and eavesdropping revelations, couching it in a historical context spanning from the Founding to 9/11 to now. After 9/11, according to Paul, the nation traded liberty in favor of security and forgot that “the Fourth Amendment says we don’t have generalized warrants in our country.” While criticisms of President Obama were expected in his public address, Senator Paul also highlighted his efforts to work across the aisle to protect credit card information as protected personal materials. His brief remarks gave the students a full forty minutes to pepper the Senator with questions.
Student questions gave Senator Paul a chance to speak on issues from gun control to libertarianism to the future of the Republican Party. This likely 2016 contender deftly handled questions, moving from topic to topic with succinct answers delivered with confidence and southern twang. One Harvard Kennedy School student, concurrent with a medical school, asked Senator Paul about his views on the ACA. His answer drew upon his experience as an ophthalmologist and painted a stark contrast between Paul’s proposed catastrophe-only policies and the Kentucky exchange experience under Governor Beshear. For ordinary doctor’s visits, Senator Paul would have patients pay out of pocket – as they do for much of Dr. Paul’s optical procedures.
On gun control, Senator Paul electrified the crowd with an answer that showcased the alleged deterrent power of guns. “We have a country where we have the lowest home invasions because you don’t know who has a gun and who doesn’t but about 50 percent of America does.” He went on to say that perhaps infamous shootings in recent history, such as Virginia Tech, could have been stopped sooner if more individuals—other students or faculty—provided armed resistance to the gunman.
MPP Student, Isaac Lara, used his question to give a shout-out to the Harvard Kennedy School Republican Caucus. With the student group looking on, Lara asked Senator Paul about the future of the party. The Senator noted the need for the Republican Party to expand or perish. “What I’ve said repeatedly is the Republican Party will adapt, evolve or die. They’re not big enough.” These comments were particularly interesting when taken in concert with his strong pro-life rhetoric on abortion to an earlier question. At once, Paul told the crowd that he felt “life comes from our creator and that will always be my position” but that the conversation gets “dumbed down” and labels people “in one extreme or the other.” A more inclusive Republican Party would be one that is more reflective of America’s diversity and needs to “look like the rest of America.” Just how politically diverse the Republican Party should be is an open question, but Paul emphasized that all Republicans share a commitment to small government principles.
The visit to the Forum is among the indications that Senator Paul is gearing up for a likely run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Whether you agree or vigorously disagree with his views, Senator Paul provided great conversation fodder for the Kennedy School community and will likely do the same in a few months’ time on the national stage.