Rand Paul’s Filibuster Divides the Left and Right
Senator Rand Paul’s thirteen-hour filibuster of Obama’s appointee for CIA chief, John Brennan, was the ninth longest filibuster in U.S. history, and unlike most such spectacles in U.S. history, it concerned fundamental, core issues of American liberty. It will go down in the history books as one of the very few great moments in the struggle of freedom vs. power manifesting itself on Capitol Hill.
Brennan was a major architect of Bush’s monstrous extraordinary renditioning program, and is a poster boy for drone warfare and unlimited presidential power. His appointment served as the perfect moment for Paul to unload on the imperial presidency.
Just this week, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Rand Paul in which he answered in the affirmative Paul’s question as to whether the president, on his say-so alone, can use drones to execute an American citizen on U.S. soil. Holder’s admission that this is the president’s understanding of U.S. policy should frighten us all, not because there is anything more immoral about murdering American citizens than murdering anyone else, but because it demonstrates a cultural devolution whereby one last barrier to infinite executive power has been knocked down.
The technological aspect of drone killing carries special relevance today, as drones appear to be cropping up in every direction—in domestic law enforcement, foreign wars, and everywhere in between. The government has surveillance drones the size of golf balls. We are heading toward a horrifying future. Quickly. Before long, we could easily imagine drones used to fight the war on drugs, to help enforce gun control, to spy on what we read, and maybe even execute domestic criminals, first in the name of national security, and later in the name of public law and order.
These core questions should be on the front page every week, if not every day: (1) the presidential power to act as judge jury, and executioner, (2) the militarization and technological expansion of the police-surveillance state, (3) the role of U.S. foreign policy in promoting terrorism against America and totalitarianism at home. Paul focused on (1) but touched on the others as well.
Paul’s filibuster cited the political theory of Lysander Spooner and had plenty of quotable zingers aimed at the president. He asked where Senator Obama from 2007—back when Obama gave stirring speeches on behalf of the rule of law—had gone. But more important than what he said was that he did it. Now these issues have been propelled to the forefront of American policy discussions where they belong.
Most interesting to me has been the reaction. This might finally be the issue and the incident that causes major splits on both the left and right and forces Americans to recognize that the true divide in this country should be over power vs. liberty, not Team Red vs. Team Blue.
Conservatives are finally waking up to the police state arising in America, and not a moment too soon. Radio show host Mark Levin was going on and on about domestic drones just this week, whereas a couple weeks ago he energetically defended Obama’s assassination of American citizens abroad. Glenn Beck has been against the kill list since 2009 and continues to cover the issue intently. Charles Krauthammer, who under Bush argued for strict reductions of civil liberties protections, made waves last May when he said “that the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.” And for a year or so now, I’ve seen increasing realization on the right that these developments represent at least as dangerous an encroachment into civil society as anything Obama has pushed in the realm of economic policy.
Meanwhile, Republican Senators McCain and Graham, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, firmly defend the president’s most awesome power grab in all his years in office. This is one thing they have on the anti-drone conservatives: consistency. As many of us warned eleven years ago, you cannot have war abroad and liberty at home. War is the health of the state. Obama’s domestic drones are simply the logical, almost inevitable consequence of the type of empire-building that almost all conservatives defended a decade ago. But a bad consistency is worse than a half-good inconsistency, and I can only hope more conservatives adopt Rand Paul’s position and indeed go beyond it to a more principled critique of state power.
Fifteen Senators eventually engaged in the filibuster, all but one or two a Republican. The Democrats shamelessly stood by their emperor rather than take a stand for civil liberties. John Cusack, perhaps speaking for many liberals, asked in desperation where the Democrats were on this historic day. They were there, siding with their president’s unbound authority to commit murder.
Meanwhile, the progressive blogosphere went nuts yesterday, as lefties had to take sides. Were they going to join Code Pink, the ACLU, Glenn Greenwald, and others on the left who praised Rand Paul for his stand? Or were they going to side with their president out of loyalty to their electoral politics and culture war commitments? By my unscientific estimate, half of the vocal bloggers and commentators sided with the president, attacking the Republican filibuster as partisan grandstanding or even a waste of tax dollars, obstructionism that should be replaced with unshakable fidelity to King Obama. They forget that under Bush, it was Republicans leading the charge to discredit and destroy the filibuster, and progressives and Democrats opposing this.
According to one poll, 41% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) favor the president’s power to kill Americans on U.S. soil on his unilateral prerogative. I’m unsure of the exact breakdown, but it becomes clear that important issues like this transcend traditional party or even ideological lines. A lot of conservatives believe in literally dictatorial powers for the president, even one they hate, and about half the progressives seem to go along with this. Meanwhile, there are people on both sides alarmed by what can only be described as the most significant and frightening presidential power grab in a lifetime.
For liberty to prevail, the left-right spectrum and the two-party grip the establishment has on the American people, dividing them against one another in furtherance of its own power at home and abroad, must be rejected. The McCain-Obama consensus on everything from presidential assassination programs to massive corporate welfare for Wall Street and the centralization of nearly everything in Washington, DC, has to be challenged, and it can only be effectively combated if people ditch party loyalty and embrace core principles. I don’t ever expect anything good to happen in the Senate, but about a dozen times or so in U.S. history, something truly good has happened there. Yesterday marked one such occasion, and not so much for what it means for the Brennan nomination, but rather what it exposes about American political discourse. The Obama war machine and its establishment liberal media, the old guard Republican warmongers and the neocon editorial writers all deserve each other. The truly freedom-oriented folks on the left and on the right should spend more time talking with one another rather than being divided against one another by fascist leaders on both sides. Perhaps with the drone issue, we are one step closer to a more sane political discourse, one that puts power and liberty in their rightful places, at opposite ends.
UPDATE: The White House has apparently reversed itself, and now says the president has no authority to kill American citizens on U.S. soil. So perhaps Paul’s stunt actually worked in changing or at least clarifying official U.S. policy. Yet the point still remains that these fundamental issues divide Americans on both sides of the aisle, as it seems that 41% of Democrats now take a position that allows for wider presidential authority than even the president claims.