Monday, March 17, 2014

Sen. Kelly Ayotte Speaks at McConnell Center

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R.-N.H.) spoke at the University of Louisville's McConnell Center today. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell gave the introduction and shared the stage with her.

Ayotte used the first portion of her speech to praise McConnell as Republican leader and a man of courage and conviction, a statesman who puts the interests of the country ahead of political expediency. She commented that no matter how busy McConnell is with running the Republican caucus, his fellow Senators know that first and foremost he loves Kentucky.

Clearly, McConnell has been a mentor to her, and she credited him with guiding her on how to be an effective Senator.  And effective she has been:  although she has been in the Senate for just three years, she has become an important Republican voice on foreign policy and defense. McConnell said that he values Ayotte's judgment and looks to her as a leader in the Republican caucus.

The second part of Ayotte's speech dissected the Obama administration's "Re-set" policy with Russia, and the horrific consequences that have flowed from it. Ayotte is very much of the Reagan view of peace through strength -- that the best way to avoid a war is to be prepared to fight one.  The corollary, she said, is that weakness invites aggression, which is why every time the Obama administration tries to be conciliatory to Vladimir Putin, he responds in ways that make the world more dangerous.

Ayotte singled out the Obama administration's failure to honor America's promise to provide missile defense systems to Poland and the Czech Republic,  Obama's failure to call out Russia for violating its missile treaties and Obama's failure to make any meaningful response to Russian interference with Georgian sovereignty.  With each failed opportunity to respond to Russian aggression, Putin became further emboldened, culminating in his invasion of Ukraine.  And make no mistake about it, Ayotte stated, it is an invasion.  A free election does not occur within shooting distance of 60,000 Russian troops.

Ayotte noted that when the U.S. complained about Russian human rights violations by enacting the Mignitzky Act (freezing U.S. assets and prohibiting entry to Russians who commit certain human rights violations), Russia responded with cutting off American adoptions of Russian babies.  Ayotte's discussion of the adoption retaliation was noteworthy, because it gets so little press and realistically, most politicians probably do not understand it well enough to explain to an audience.  It was another example of Ayotte's superb command of her subject material.  It was also a stunning example of Putin's cruelty -- it made me wonder, how did we miss these tea leaves?  A man who will condemn a disabled Russian baby, whom nobody in Russia wants, to an orphanage when an American couple lies waiting to adopt, it takes a uniquely cruel human being to do that. 

Ayotte did not belabor the point. She speaks with a clinical, legal precision, like the prosecutor she was before her election to the U.S. Senate.  She does not go in for theatrics.  Although very pretty, the most striking thing about watching Ayotte is her knowledge of her subject matter.  She has internalized advice that McConnell often gives students:  work hard and know what you're talking about. Ayotte in this respect is very much like McConnell, and the complete antithesis of Obama:  she is serious about doing the people's business. In an age when Obama cheapens his office by trying to be hip and funny, Ayotte and McConnell are content with the dignity that comes with discipline, focus and adherence to conservative principles.

In response to a student question about the federal debt, Ayotte circled back to her support for McConnell. The debt is the most significant national threat facing the U.S., Ayotte said. She credited McConnell's focus on reducing wasteful spending, saying that if Washington does not get the debt under control, nothing else matters. She urged the students to demand that their elected leaders reduce spending so that they are not saddled with paying for politicians' inability to make the hard choices. 

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