SOMERSET, Ky. - Though it was actually the monthly Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Center for Rural Development, one might be excused for feeling like they were in the congregation of a charismatic church on Tuesday during Sen. Rand Paul's address.
As the junior senator from Kentucky made his points, one could hear affirmative murmuring from the crowd could be heard: "Yes," "That's right," etc., the same way those in a church might give an "amen" from the pews.
And one statement in particular even drew a spontaneous round of applause from those assembled at The Center — about 275 in number, estimated Chamber Executive Director Bobby Clue, likely the largest count for a Chamber luncheon over the past year.
"It's the burden of proof of your government to tell you why they're taking your freedoms," he said before the line that was applauded: "They should have to prove to us the science behind what they're telling us to do."
Paul's focus Tuesday was on this subject: the gap between bureaucracy and the citizenry, particularly when it comes to COVID-19 and all the various regulations and restrictions that have come from all levels of government, whether the CDC or Gov. Andy Beshear in Kentucky.
Paul, a Bowling Green opthalmologist, former presidential candidate, and son of former Libertarian and Republican Party presidential hopeful Ron Paul, was the featured speaker at the May luncheon, dining at a table with local notables like State Rep. Shane Baker, Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck. A member of the Republican Party, Paul has developed a reputation in Washington as a staunch defender of individual liberties, even differing with members of his own party at times.
That perspective was readily apparent during his message at The Center, where Paul wasted no time in going after the likes of President Joe Biden, his Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the controversial executive actions of Beshear, the overwhelming theme of the recently concluded 2021 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
"The governor says ... he's going to give you permission to do something, to have some of your freedom back, when you have plenty of people vaccinated," said Paul. "There's no science behind this. In fact ... the legislature already told him he no longer has the power. The legislature came back in January and in unified overwhelming fashion said to the governor, 'Guess what? Emergency powers have a time limit to them and when the time expires, the legislature has to have some input.' This is the most common sense thing I can imagine. ... It is what keeps the governor from being an autocrat."
Instead, observed Paul, Beshear responded by suing the state legislature with the reasoning, as stated by Paul — "I am the governor; as the governor of Kentucky, I have inherent powers. These are granted to me by, I guess the Almighty, and I can do whatever I want, no matter what the legislature says. I have inherent powers in a time of a public health crisis." After Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd sided with Beshear to block the legislature's actions, the case now looks likely to go to the Kentucky Supreme Court, noted Paul.
Paul noted that some advice coming from government sources about COVID-19, he agreed with — "If you were asking me in March of last year, should you go to church if you're 85 years old and sit in a closed area for two hours, my personal (reaction) would have been, 'No.'" However, he added, "I would never mandate that you couldn't go to church. In a free society, each individual assesses their risk and makes their decisions. You take a risk every day; you take a risk getting in your car ... Cars kill way more people than this."
A doctor himself, Paul stated that he didn't wish to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19, noting that he himself had friends to die from the illness. But the reality is that certain groups are affected significantly more than others, he said, a message which maybe hasn't always been made clear, along with conflicting information from the federal government about the effectiveness of measures like wearing masks and social distancing over the last year.
"We ought to tell people the honest-to-God truth," he said. "Shouldn't we just be honest with people? This is a very deadly disease for older folks and not so much for younger folks. It's always a pretty deadly, significant disease for those who are overweight. ... I think people are way smarter than their government. Have you noticed the statistics? Eighty-five percent of those over (age) 65 have gotten the vaccine. I think they get it. But when you try to tell a 19-year-old that they need it as much as an 85-year-old, the 19-year-old goes, 'The death rate is about one-in-a-million for me. It's less deadly than the seasonal flu. Why won't you be honest with me? Tell me what the risks are of the vaccine vs. the disease' — let's be honest, they're very tiny for both for young people."
Paul advocated for the idea of policy that would allow patients to get the COVID vaccine through their family doctor, dispensed directly via the practitioner. "Some people are hesitant to get it for one reason or another," said Paul. "But they've been to a family doctor for 20 years. Who do you think might have the best influence with them? Their family doctor. You can't get the vaccine through your family doctor."
As a philosophical opponent of big government, Paul has frequently talked on topics like voter fraud and reckless spending. He announced to the crowd that he had "good news" — that the government would no longer be sending stimulus checks to deceased individuals — but marveled that it would take three years to "figure out how to do it." He also spoke about bizarre studies which receive government funding — for example, using money meant for autism research to study what Neil Armstrong actually said on the moon — and talked about legislation he's pushed to curb this by requiring funding to be approved by committees of members of major science branches that has received no traction in Congress.
"This is the insanity of your government," he said. "So when people say, 'There's no place we can cut. We've cut government to to the bone and there's nothing left,' don't believe them."
Along the lines of spending, Paul criticized hot-button political issues — including things like government-funded health care and college tuition — as qualifying for "infrastructure" spending, a term usually applied to things like roads and dams. "Reparations isn't (an example) of infrastructure. Defunding the police is not infrastructure. Free this, free that is not infrastructure."
Paul closed out his message on the topic of race relations, expressing the view that Americans are being pitted against each other based on a false narrative.
"One of the biggest problems we face now as a country is, there is a mass organized movement to say that we're a terrible country, to say that our origins are horrible, we haven't gotten any better, and everybody hates everybody because of race," said Paul. "I think nothing could be further from the truth.
"I think (race relations have) been getting better every day," he continued, noting that's been the case over the course of his lifetime. "... There's more inter-marriage, there's more integration of churches, there's more voluntary association than there's ever been.
"Why are we talking about race in the workplace? We're supposed to not be talking about race; now, everything's about race," he added. "(People say,) 'I'm white and I'm sorry because I've been too opinionated and too arrogant and too certain of myself.' (There is a viewpoint saying,) 'We don't need math because it's racial.' Well, that's the most racist thing I've ever heard! You're implying that people can't do math because of race? That is terrible! But it all gets back to this sort of narrative that (America) is a bad place. We're not a bad place. I think we're a good people, we're a prosperous people, we're getting better, and I think we have to make sure that we don't let people transform this narrative into 'everybody hates everybody, it's a horrible place and it's getting worse.' If we do, bad things will come."