As Daniel McCarthy has pointed out, Rand Paul’s “Time To Make The Donuts” speech was basically libertarian-inflected Republican boilerplate. Obamacare is unconstitutional; businesses build roads, not the other way around; all taxation ultimately falls upon the worker; the enthusiasm of immigrants proves we are an exceptional, unique nation in world history; etc. So much so familiar. There was the brief mention of trimming waste in defense, and the more substantial, and welcome, call not to give up rights for an ephemeral security.
And then there was this:
Author Paul Kengor writes of a brisk evening in small-town Illinois. Returning home from a basketball game at the YMCA, an 11 year old boy is stunned by the sight of his father sprawled out in the snow on the front porch. “He was drunk,” his son later remembered. “Dead to the world…crucified.” The dad’s hair was soaked with melted snow, matted unevenly against the side of his reddened face.
The boy stood over his father for a minute or two. He simply wanted to let himself in the door and pretend his dad wasn’t there. Instead, he grabbed a fistful of overcoat and heaved his dad to the bedroom, away from the weather’s harm and neighbors’ attention.
This young boy became the man – Ronald Reagan – whose sunny optimism and charisma shined so brightly that it cured the malaise of the late seventies, a confidence that beamed so broadly that it pulled us through a serious recession, and a faith that tugged so happily at all hearts that a generation of Democrats became Republicans.
The American Dream is that any among us could become the next Thomas Edison, the next Henry Ford, the next Ronald Reagan.
To lead us forward, away from the looming debt crisis, it will take someone who believes in America’s greatness, who believes in and can articulate the American dream, someone who has created jobs, someone who understands and appreciates what makes America great, someone who will lead our party and our nation forward.
I believe that someone is our nominee: Governor Mitt Romney.
A two-paragraph anecdote about Reagan’s youth is introduced without any transition from the earlier portion of the speech. Then we get the obligatory Reagan apotheosis – he healed the economy by the sheer numinousness of his sunny optimism, and not by getting specific laws passed or implementing them in specific ways.
And then: the American Dream is that anybody could grow up to be Reagan, and to preserve that Dream we need to elect somebody who believes in the Dream, namely Mitt Romney – the only time the nominee is mentioned in the speech.
What on earth was that about?
It’s possible that the last third of this speech was mangled by last-minute cuts imposed on account of Hurricane Isaac, but what we’re left with is a bizarre attempt to graft a Reagan anecdote – an anecdote completely unrelated to any political or philosophical point – onto Mitt Romney, as if the audience might, in its confusion, begin to associate that anecdote with Romney, and thereby both associate him with Reagan and with the kind of anecdote nobody tells about Romney.
Or, even stranger, perhaps what we’ve got here is a bit of politico-theological prophecy. Reagan, the original Republican messiah, healed us with his touch, but then he left. And before he left, he warned us: the American Dream was always only one generation from extinction. So in every generation, a leader must arise who can keep belief in that Dream alive. Whatever else Mitt Romney believes, at least we know he believes in America. He will keep the Dream alive, until that promised time in the future when the American Dream will give birth to a new Reagan. Conceived in liberty. A new birth of freedom, if you will.
Either way, it’s a pretty strange moment in an otherwise boringly conventional speech.