COMMENTARY | Ron Paul was wrong for allowing an uniformed Army corporal to speak at a campaign rally in Iowa on Tuesday night, and now the soldier could face disciplinary action for violating federal and military laws.
CNN reported Cpl. Jesse Thorsen took the podium at a rally outside Paul campaign headquarters in Ankeny, Iowa, and likened meeting the Texas congressman to "meeting a rock star." He wore his U.S. Army reserve uniform during a short address to supporters that included a fist pump in the air.
The Hatch Act of 1939 (as revised) specifically prohibits civil servants and uniformed members of the military from engaging in political activity on behalf of any candidate, and specifically prohibits making speeches on behalf of candidates.
The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel has opined that suspension from work without pay for 30 days is the usual punishment for civilian government workers who violate the Act. Military members are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and DoD Memorandum No. 1344.10, which allows court martial or other punishment for infractions of the code.
Appearing in uniform was bad enough, but Thorsen went one step too far by challenging the orders of the commander-in-chief. "We don't need to be picking fights overseas," could be interpreted as publicly disagreeing with an order of the president of the United States -- and there is no place in the military for such actions.
Thorsen absolutely has a constitutional right to express himself and to participate in the political process -- but not while wearing his uniform. Paul has served in Congress for more than 20 years and was a captain in the U.S. Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard. He, of all people, should know better than to subject a soldier in uniform to the scrutiny and likely punishment for disobeying a long-standing federal law.
Our democracy has persevered because the military establishment is not permitted to exercise political influence in this country. No matter how minimal or harmless Thorsen's actions may have been, his appearance in uniform sends the wrong message to voters and should be condemned. He directly violated the protections that the Hatch Act intended to give all Americans.
Paul owes an apology to all Americans for his flagrant disregard for the law and for subjecting this soldier to disciplinary measures.
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