Potential contenders for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination painted a picture of the United States in dramatic decline at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. In the world described by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, recent job growth and an improving economy do not mitigate the future of the next generation who they believe is in greater peril than ever before.
“For the first time in American history, a generation of leaders is on the verge of breaking the social compact with the next generation,” said Perry. “And that is to leave a better country and with greater opportunity than the way we found it.”
After declaring that America is “on the road to decline,” Rubio said, “I don’t want my kids to grow up and ask me, ‘why did you get to grow up in the greatest country of the world but we get to live in a country that’s diminished?’”
Both men blasted President Obama’s policies, both foreign and domestic. Overseas, said Perry, “Our allies doubt us and our enemies are all too willing to test us.” At home, said Rubio, the president has failed to provide border security and economic opportunity.
Rubio and Perry were, in a very real sense, just a warm-up act for the main event of the day and possibly the Conference: the appearance of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in the early afternoon.
For Paul, appearing at CPAC with a large percentage of college-age attendees is like playing a home game. The cavernous ballroom where the main stage is located was standing room only, and rocked with cheers and applause when Paul appeared, more than an hour after he was originally scheduled to, in jeans and a blue dress shirt and tie, with his sleeves rolled up.
“There comes a time in the history of nations, when fear and forgetfulness cause a nation to hesitate, to waver, and perhaps even to succumb. When that time comes, lovers of liberty must rise to the occasion. Will you, lovers of liberty? Will you rise to the occasion?”
It was the first in a long series of applause lines Paul delivered to an adoring crowd, some of them road tested last year at the same event. On the question of National Security Agency spying, for example, he said, “I say that your phone records are yours. I say that the phone records of law abiding citizens are none of their damn business.”
However, if anybody was expecting Paul to outline a detailed plan for dealing with the threat of ISIS– something he has been far less specific about than many GOP hopefuls – they went away disappointed. While he said, “We must now defend ourselves…from this barbarous abomination,” he stopped short of offering specifics about just how he would do that.
“We must think before we act. We should promote stability not chaos. In the Middle East, one form of tyranny often replaces another,” he said. “When secular despots are overthrown, chaos ensues and radical Islam grows stronger.”
Paul repeatedly stressed his support for a strong national defense, saying that he envisions a U.S. military that is “unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by nation building.”
But on how a President Paul would use that military to defend the country against ISIS, he declined to say.
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