So, Rand Paul and David Koch Walk into a VIP Reception

The Kentucky senator speaks at a conservative magazine's gala dinner.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to reporters after addressing the Berkeley Forum on the UC Berkeley campus on March 19, 2014 in Berkeley, California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul sat at the head table of the American Spectator's 48th anniversary dinner. To his right, his wife Kelley, who Paul joked had been invited on "date night." To his left, David Koch, the libertarian funder whose net worth hovered around $42 billion, and whom Paul had just seen at a conference of donors that reportedly went better for literally every other Republican who showed up. Scattered around the room were more donors, influential journalists for conservative publications (John Derbyshire, Byron York, Andrew Ferguson, James Taranto, Richard Miniter), members of Congress (Colorado Representative Ken Buck, Idaho Representative Raul Labrador), and John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff on Cheers.

So Paul's speech, a streamlined version of several he'd given in Republican primary states, was delivered with one of the conservative movement's biggest donors looking right at him. (They'd also talked at a VIP reception before the start of the dinner.) Paul's been talking about criminal justice reform anyway, but the context gave his remarks about Ferguson a little extra heft. To the shock of people who are unfamiliar with libertarians, Koch and his foundations had announced a prison-reform push. 

"Many of us believe that if you’ve convicted of a non-violent crime, maybe you deserve a second chance," said Paul. "I think there’s room, in the concept of justice, for discernment."

Paul spent a few minutes describing his trip to Ferguson, saying that what actually happened before Michael Brown and Darren Wilson was uncertain, then asking his audience to consider how people in the Missouri city actually lived.

"Imagine what it’s like to be poor, to get a $100 fine, then to get interest on that and get a $200 fine," said Paul. "And then we’re putting people in jail for civil fines. We’ve got to figure out what justice is. Civil forfeiture has turned justice on its head."

That line drew a burst of applause. "In Ferguson, there were 31,000 arrest warrants last year for 21,000 people. If we show them that big government screws up the post office, big government screws everything up—big government screwed up the justice system!"

Paul's riffs on that topic stood apart from the rest of his speech. His audience, after all, consisted of conservatives who'd cheered when American Spectator founder and editor R. Emmett Tyrrell said "Hillary Clinton will never win the White House." Paul spent a while re-telling the story of the 2013 government shutdown.

"Nobody in this city knows anything about America!" said Paul. To him, the defining moment of the shutdown was Obama administration's closure of national parks. "He decided he would wrap the World War II monument. The World War II monument has no entrance. It has no exit. It has no attendant. Hundreds of workers, I guess being paid overtime—the workers are unionized—first work they’ve done in years, they proceeded to wrap it in chain link fences. I tell people who don’t understand America, don’t understand that we need to shut the damn thing down—I tell people the image you need to remember of closing government down is when the World War II veterans got off their bus, got their wire cutters, cut down the barricades, and threw 'em down."

The meat got even redder when Paul started on what several conservatives called the most impressive part of the speech. "When I think of the scandals, what really angers me the most, it’s gotta be Benghazi," said Paul. He looked down at Tyrrell, who was entering his third decade of investigations and rhetorical mockery of the Clintons.

"Bob, you did take the gloves off on the Clintons," said Paul. "Is it OK if I talk about Benghazi? We don’t need to mention the cattle futures, or the money problems, or all of that stuff—things have turned around for them."

Paul took a few minutes to tell the story of Benghazi as a tragedy of State Department errors. "In about March, April of that year," he said, referring to 2012, "they ask for a DC-3 to ferry them around in case of emergency. Rejected. But about three days after they rejected the plane, the ambassador in Vienna got about $100,000 for an electrical charging station for a Chevy Volt. Apparently he has a fleet of 24 Volts, and wants to show how green we are. I’m on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—you know how many meetings are about how global warming is a threat to our existence? How it’s an existential threat? Nobody talks too much about terrorism, but they’re worried about global warming!"

Paul took the story to Clinton herself, and recreated (with some edits) her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2013.

"I ask her, Secretary Clinton, did you read the cables?" said Paul. "She kind of brushed me off as if, oh, I’m too important to read the cables. And I think, how many more countries were more dangerous than Libya...I looked at her and I said to her, by your actions, by your dereliction of duty, by your not providing security in Benghazi, you have absolutely precluded yourself from higher office."

Paul wrapped, and stuck around as Fox News's James Rosen accepted a prize and as John Ratzenberger bemoaned how the academic left had taken over America, even after "the National Guard saved Woodstock."

"I was there," said Ratzenberger. "I was a carpenter. If I'd known what was going to happen, I'd have rigged the stage to collapse."

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