Posts Tagged ‘War on Terror’

Dr. Paul Goes to Washington

March 7, 2013

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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Can This Presidency be Saved?

June 17, 2011

Walter Russel Mead asks the question.

Can the Obama Presidency still be saved?

To some, the question may seem premature or even insulting.  President Obama’s personal popularity remains high and the most recent RealClearPolitics poll average has him at a more than respectable 47.6 percent approval; while the President’s popularity is drifting lower, congressional Republicans have been losing ground to their Democratic rivals in recent polls, and the Republican primary field remains both uninspiring and polarized.  Small government, libertarian and Jeffersonian Paulites, globalist ‘great nation’ conservatives, conservative social activists and Jacksonian hyperpatriots are united only in their antipathy to the Obama administration and it is not yet clear whether a GOP candidate can unify this agitated but inchoate mass of energy into a strong and focused campaign.

Nevertheless it seems increasingly clear that the Obama presidency has lost its way; at home and abroad it flounders from event to event, directionless and passive as one report after another “unexpectedly” shows an economy that refuses to heal.  Most recently, the IMF has cut its growth forecast for the United States in 2011 and 2012.  With growth predicted at 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent next, unemployment is unlikely to fall significantly before Election Day.  On the same day, the latest survey of consumer sentiment shows an “unexpectedly sharp” dip in consumer confidence.  The economy is not getting well; geopolitically, the US keeps adding new countries to the bomb list, but the President has fallen strangely silent about the five wars he is fighting (Iraq, Afghanistan, tribal Pakistan, Libya and now Yemen).

The problem is only partly that the President’s policies don’t appear to be working.  Presidents fail to be re-elected less because their policies aren’t working than because they have lost control of the narrative.  FDR failed to end the Depression during two terms in office but kept the country’s confidence through it all.  Richard Nixon hadn’t ended the Vietnam War in 1972 and George W. Bush hadn’t triumphed in what we still knew as the Global War on Terror in 2004.  In all these cases, however, the presidents convinced voters that they understood the problem, that they were working on it, and that their opponents were clueless throwbacks who would only make things worse.

Barak Obama was elected largely because he was a blank slate on which the electorate could project their hopes and dreams. He was a good campaigner who took full advantage of that fact. He has not been so good at actually governing or leading. He seems to be in far over his head, which is no surprise since the presidency is the first job he has held in which he has actually had to manage anything. He is more inclined to blame the country’s problems on the previous administration than to create new policies to resolve them. And, as Mead has been writing, what he calls the “Blue Social Model” has been breaking down and it is not entirely clear what will replace it. The times call for strong leadership and we are not getting it.

Americans are realistic enough to understand that the breakdown of the blue social model is a messy process and that perhaps no president can deliver a pain free transition to the next stage.  But what they aren’t hearing from President Obama is a compelling description of what has gone wrong, how it can be fixed, and how the policies he proposes will take us to the next level.

What they hear from this administration are defensive responses: Hooveresque calls for patience mingled with strange-sounding attacks on ATMs and sharp, opportunistic jabs at former President Bush.  The White House has responded to strategic challenges at home and abroad with tactical maneuvers.

Voters sense that we live in historic times that demand leadership of a different kind.  What does President Obama think about the fiscal squeeze forcing trade-offs between state employee benefits and services to the poor?  How much trouble is the American middle class in — and what changes are needed to save it?

The President of the United States has to own this conversation.  His vision, his initiatives must dominate the political scene.  His opponents may fight him and defeat his proposals in Congress — that is not the worst thing that can happen.  Harry Truman did very well running against a ‘do-nothing’ Congress in 1948.

At a time of historic anxiety and tension like the present, the President of the United States cannot be an administrator, a fence-sitter, a finger-pointer.  He must first and foremost stand for something — and he must be able to make that something resonate with the voters.  The President’s job is to lead.

So, can this presidency be saved? Do we really want to? My answer to both questions is no.


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