Dr. Paul Goes to Washington

I don’t have much to say about Rand Paul‘s filibuster that hasn’t already been said, though I can recommend an article from Reason.com: Three Takeaways from Rand Paul’s Filibuster. Here are some excerpts.

Yet since showing up in D.C., Paul has been exactly what Reason dubbed him: “The most intersting man in the Senate” who has offered specific legislation and made extended arguments for a unified vision of limited government that is not only fully within some great lines of American political tradition but urgently needed in the current moment. Senators who pride themselves on their foreign policy expertise and have free-loaded for decades in D.C. haven’t made a speech as thoughtful and out-front as the one he delivered a while back at The Heritage Foundation, for god’s sake.

Make no mistake: Despite the presence of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), yesterday’s filibuster was a GOP-conducted orchestra. But what was most bracing and ultimately powerful thing about the filibuster was that none of the speakers exempted the Republican Party or former President George W. Bush, whose aggrandized view of executive power still roils the sleep of the Founding Fathers, from withering criticism and scrutiny. How else to explain that hard-left groups such as Code Pink were proud to #standwithrand yesterday on Twitter? The same with reliable Rand and GOP critic Eugene Robinson and many others who up until yesterday thought little of Rand Paul.

The filibuster succeeded precisely because it wasn’t a cheap partisan ploy but because the substance under discussion – why won’t the president of the United States, his attorney general, and his nominee to head the CIA explain their views on limits to their power? – transcends anything so banal or ephemeral as party affiliation or ideological score-settling.

The chills started early in the filibuster as Paul said things along the lines of, “If you’re gonna kill people in America [as terrorists], you need rules and we need to know your rules,” and “To be bombed in your sleep – there’s nothing American, nothing constitutional, about that” (these quotes are paraphrases). Those are not the words of a career politician trying to gain an advantage during the next round of horse-trading over a pork-barrel project. They are the words of a patriot who puts his country first and they inspire accordingly.

A year or so ago, we were debating whether the government had the right to force its citizens to engage in particular economic activity – that was the heart of the fight over the mandate to buy insurance in Obamacare. That overreach – and the fear that a government that can make you buy something can also theoretically make you eat broccoli – was at the heart of Rand Paul’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ruled that in fact, the federal government not only has the right to regulate commercial transactions that take place anywhere in these United States, it has the right to force them to take place.

And now, we’re arguing over whether the president of the United States in his role as commander in chief in an ill-defined, barely articulated “global war on terror” has the right to kill U.S. citizens without presenting any sort of charges to any sort of court. In fact, it’s worse than that, since the president won’t even share his rationale for what he may or may not believe with the country’s legislature.

By foregounding the issues of limited government, transparency, and oversight as they relate specifically to the most obvious and brazen threat to civil liberties imaginable, Rand Paul and his filibuster have also tied a direct line to a far more wide-ranging and urgently needed conversation about what sort of government we have in America – and what sort of government we should have.

I am glad to see that somebody in Washington is doing his job. There needs to be some sort of discussion about when and where it is appropriate to use drones to assassinate suspected terrorists, not just their potential use against American citizens in the United States, but our general strategy abroad. I fear we have been too ready to trust the executive with these sort of life and death decisions. We might have had good cause in the immediate aftermath of 9-11, but perhaps it is time to step back and reconsider what we are trying to accomplish in the War on Terror and how we should go about it. This needs to be a bi-partisan discussion, if possible.

Meanwhile, I am starting to like Rand Paul. I understand that John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and some of the other establishment Republicans aren’t too happy with Paul. Well, they are the ones who have been running the GOP into the ground by not standing for much of anything.

 

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