On Wednesday evening, 300 students attending the 5th Annual Young Americans for Liberty National Convention eagerly piled into the ballroom at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel over an hour early to claim their seats for the Senate Panel, featuring all-star junior Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
Lee and Paul appeared at a short press conference immediately before the panel discussion. Most of the questions posed to the senators were addressed during the panel; one reporter asked Paul to comment on Senator McCain’s recent comment to The New Republic, in which he expressed that it would be tough for him to decide between Hilary Clinton and Rand Paul in the 2016 presidential election.
Paul took the opportunity to reassert that he is “not an isolationist,” but feels strongly that the U.S. needs to restructure its defense budget to focus on nation-building at home.
Senator Lee asked to chime in: “I have given a lot of thought to this issue and I want to make it very clear…(pause)…if I am faced with a ballot in a presidential contest in 2016 which features two names, Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul, I will not be voting for Secretary Clinton.”
They quickly exited the pressroom, leaving amused reporters to chuckle over Lee’s comment, and joined Cruz and 300 young libertarians in the Westin ballroom. The senators—each thought to harbor 2016 presidential aspirations—were greeted by loud cheers and a standing ovation as they entered the room; Cruz, Lee and Paul were clearly touched by the students' enthusiasm and support—something they don’t encounter every day.
“Thank you for that warm welcome,” Cruz exclaimed, “We’re not accustomed to that kind of welcome in Washington.”
“Seems there may be a few ‘wacko birds’ in the house tonight,’ he added, as the crowd erupted in laughter and applause.
The panel was hosted by the Executive Director of YAL, Jeff Frazee, who kicked off the discussion by asking each senator to share his personal experience of discovering the importance of liberty.
Lee beamed with pride as he spoke about his days as a libertarian 5th grader, already interested in politics, history and the Constitution. He turned to a more serious note quickly, stressing the vital role that the Constitution and Founding Fathers played in his discovery of liberty-oriented philosophy.
Cruz spoke of his father’s experiences in Cuba, where he was imprisoned, tortured and finally managed to flee to America, where he washed dishes to pay his way through the University of Texas. “When (he) faced oppression, (he) had a place to flee to,” Cruz explained, and sited his father’s experiences as his core motivation to fight for the preservation of liberty.
Paul’s opportunity to share his experience was quickly interrupted by an immediate outburst from the audience, chanting “Rand 16’” (the first of two times the audience would join together to chant for Paul’s potential 2016 run).
Frazee asked the senators to tackle some of the biggest problems and debates facing America today, including the NSA scandal, the state of Obamacare, the future of social security, and the debate over foreign aid. The three senators found common ground on most issues, especially concerning the need for smaller government and defending civil liberties.
Highlights from the discussion included Cruz’s constitutional argument against Obamacare and Paul’s unfaltering defense of the Right to Privacy.
Cruz criticized the president for picking and choosing which parts of the Affordable Care Act he would implement, which is in direct violation of Constitutional Law, Article Two, which orders the president to ensure that all laws are executed properly. He argued that partial implementation of the law was a direct threat to the legitimacy of our justice system:
“You’ve gotta follow the law whether you like it or not because it means something as the law of the land.”
All the senators agreed that the biggest threat facing America today was the blatant disregard for citizen privacy.
We live in an age where “everything is a crime,” Lee stated.
Paul was quick to jump in and champion the ever-growing attack on civil liberties, arguing that, under today’s assessment, “if you’re innocent you have nothing to hide. That’s quite a step below innocent until proven guilty.”
The senators were in top form while addressing their loyal base and were noticeably relaxed and more candid in their responses to questions that are frequently asked by the mainstream media. The senators, notably Paul, were constantly revving up the students by playing into libertarian frustrations: “Why don’t we get an audit of the Federal Reserve?” exclaimed Paul, leading almost all 300 students to chant ‘End The Fed’. Each senator also took turns recalling Paul’s TSA detention, the day of his inauguration into the U.S. Senate, which inevitably led to Cruz launching a Free Rand facebook campaign.
Despite the size of the venue and audience, the hour-long panel discussion felt personal and intimate. Each silly, self-deprecating ‘wacko bird’ joke brought the senators and the audience closer together, as the senators turned the criticisms of the left (and sometimes the right) into badges of honor. The speeches delivered by all three men had the students engaged, in tune, and excited about the future of America. As the Republican Party seeks to advance in the 2014 and 2016 elections, it should remember to actively include these young libertarians in the formation of their policy and campaigns -- their motivation to return America to the ‘land of the free’ might just be the key to changing the political game.
Young Americans for Liberty is holding its 5th Annual National Convention from July 31st-August 3rd.