Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) delivered his maiden speech on the Senate floor this morning, and it’s safe to say that his remarks will be discussed at far greater length than, say, those of Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), who delivered his first floor speech last night.
In what was largely an address to his fellow Republicans, Paul engaged in a rhetorical debate on how conservatives and Tea Party members should conduct themselves in the 112th congress as they seek to head off an impending fiscal crisis.
Noting that he would be sitting at the desk of famed Kentucky statesman Henry Clay — known as the “Great Compromiser” — Paul proceeded to ponder the merits and efficacy of compromise (or lack thereof):
Is compromise the noble position? Will compromise allow us to avoid the looming debt crisis?
Henry Clay’s life story is, at best, a mixed message. Henry Clay’s great compromise was over slavery.
One could argue that he rose above sectional strife to carve out compromise after compromise trying to ward off civil war.
Or one could argue that his compromises were morally wrong and may have even encouraged war, that his compromises meant the acceptance during his 50 years of public life of not only slavery, but the slave trade itself.
Paul pointed out that abolitionists who refused to compromise over slavery — William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and Clay’s own cousin Cassius Clay — “are heroes because they said slavery was wrong and they would not compromise.”
Which Clay, then, should our lawmakers seek to emulate, Henry the Compromiser or Cassius the True Believer? He didn’t quite come out and say it, but Paul made it pretty clear which camp he considers himself a part of.
Then, as if to intentionally provoke MSNBC, Rachel Maddow et al., Paul went on to equate the issue of slavery to the current debt crisis:
Today we have no issues that approach moral equivalency with the issue of slavery. Yet we do face a fiscal nightmare and potentially a debt crisis.
Is the answer to compromise?
Should we compromise by raising taxes and cutting spending as the Debt Commission proposes?
Is that the compromise that will save us from financial ruin?
Paul was adamant that when it comes to raising taxes, Republicans should steer clear of compromise. “Any compromise should be about where we cut federal spending, not where we raise taxes,” he said. “The problem we face is not a revenue problem. It is a spending problem.”
In other words, the compromises that Paul — and other members of the Tea Party — should accept are those related to “where to cut spending and by how much.” And while raises taxes isn’t an option, he said nothing should be off the table when it comes to spending — that conservatives must compromise by agreeing to cut military and defense funding while liberals must compromise on the domestic side.
In closing, Paul laid out a general philosophy that would govern his actions as a senator:
As long as I sit at Henry Clay’s desk, I will remember his lifelong desire to forge agreement, but I will also keep close to my heart the principled stand of his cousin, Cassius Clay, who refused to forsake the life of any human simply to find agreement.
Those familiar with Paul can probably guess which half of that sentence is likely to carry the most weight.
Here’s the video: