Politics & Government

In Kansas, Pompeo says lines blurred between core rights and ‘personal preferences’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned a Kansas audience Friday that the lines between fundamental rights and personal preferences have been blurred in a speech that compared rights to ice cream cones.

“With respect to unalienable rights, we need to know more, per se, is not always better,” Pompeo said at Kansas State University’s Landon Lecture.

Pompeo drew a distinction between “unalienable rights” core to the country’s founding and other rights that he said were more akin to political preferences. He invoked the violent struggle over slavery called Bleeding Kansas to emphasize the importance of fundamental rights.

“We owe it to all Americans to uphold this noble tradition of American leadership to secure rights, at home and abroad. Unfortunately, it’s an uphill battle,” Pompeo said. “Today, our children aren’t taught about the central role of unalienable rights in our founding – when they learn about our founding at all.”

Pompeo voiced fears over the potential for too many rights. Acknowledging it was an imperfect analogy, he said the “13th ice cream cone isn’t as good as the first one was.”

Pompeo struck out at the media, saying it tries to rewrite history as an “unrelenting tale of racism and misogyny” instead of a bold experiment in freedom. And he said there isn’t enough agreement on what constitutes an unalienable right — opening the door to other countries to “corrupt the understandings” of these rights.

Pompeo said China has tried to brainwash Uighur Muslims into renouncing their culture and faith. Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been sent to concentration camps across China. Responding to questions from the audience later, he said the United States was fighting oppression of Uighurs “insufficiently, because it’s still going on.”

Pompeo’s comments came amid China’s continuing trade war with the United States.

Pompeo, who has made several trips to Kansas this year, didn’t address in the speech speculation over whether he will run for U.S. Senate. But he told The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star in an interview on Friday that he plans to continue as secretary for as long as Trump wants.

“I hear all the speculation. There’s a lot of people thinking about my future a lot more than I am,” Pompeo said.

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.