Well, the filibuster performed by Senator Rand Paul this past week has left the political world with no lack of opinion on the subject. Rarely have I seen a political maneuver leave not one person of note in D.C. (or elsewhere) with a sense of ambivalence. Everyone is either euphoric, red-faced or nonplussed.
Let’s begin with euphoria. I, with some qualifications, belong in this camp. Rand Paul’s filibuster along with the assistance of Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others was a breath of fresh air for those of us looking for the Republican Party to finally start being a voice of opposition and not a milquetoast-y echo of the Obama Administration. For all the hubris and bluster we got from McCain, Graham over Benghazi and Hagel to only fold like deck chairs? The routine is getting old.
Now, this filibuster got the GOP hawks’ dander up. The wonder-twins of McCain and Graham were furious and resorted to name calling of Paul and his band of Tea Party senators. They are hawks (of sorts), especially McCain who, while he does whatever he can to make trouble for his own party and get media adoration as a result, always supports the War on Terror and any kind of military action. I appreciate that he doesn’t want the President’s hands tied in the defense of the nation, but Paul is talking about a larger constitutional issue regardless of who the president may be at any given time.
However, the hawks do have a rational concern. Rand Paul is the son of Ron Paul. Ron Paul is an isolationist who is
generally against any and all military action by the United States…going so far as to the use the language of our enemies and call the U.S. Military “occupiers” in foreign lands. Since Rand Paul came to the Senate he has been what some describe as “Everything you like about Ron Paul, but without the crazy.” He is libertarian at heart but has seemed more broad-minded to American defense and even Israel (a country the PaulNuts are none too fond of). However, he has spoken out about the powers of the President to take military action and is a strong advocate of the War Powers Act. This got an airing out at SOS John Kerry’s confirmation hearings:
“I agree with candidate Barack Obama, who said in 2007 that the president doesn’t have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack,” explained Paul. “I’d like to know if you agree with candidate Barack Obama or President Barack Obama, who took us to war in Libya without congressional authority, unilaterally?”
Kerry responded, “Well, Senator Paul, one of the things this committee has spent a lot of time on is the War Powers Act, which I support, and I believe in congressional authority to go to war.” However, Kerry tried to give himself some latitude, explaining that “are occasions which I have supported which a President of the United States has to make a decision immediately and implement that decision, execute on it, immediately.” Kerry listed occasions where he has supported a president bypassing Congress, explaining that he though President Obama went with that tradition when he authorized military action in Libya.
“I would argue though that the Constitution really has no exceptions for when you’re having a tough time or when people disagree with you that you just go ahead and do it,” Paul retorted.
He then asked Kerry, who protested the Vietnam War after serving in it, about the bombing in Cambodia. “In the early 1970s, you know, after Vietnam, you were quite critical of the bombing in Cambodia because I think you felt that it wasn’t authorized by Congress,” noted Paul. “Has your opinion changed about the bombing in Cambodia — how’s Cambodia different then Libya?” Kerry responded, “Yeah, it is because it was an extension of a war that was being prosecuted without the involvement of Congress after a number of years.”
Unpersuaded, Paul explained that the circumstances were very similar, noting that it was a “bombing campaign unauthorized by Congress.” Paul took the opportunity to again explain constitutional ramifications, noting that there is no latitude to get around Congress when it comes to war.
It’s a good debate to have, in my mind, and I understand the trepidation the hawks have about Rand Paul. Is he a sort of Manchurian Isolationist, making us think he’s not as crazy as his old man until he ascends to the presidency and then becomes the Robert Taft of our age? It’s something to keep an eye on, but I think at this point in time it’s a huge leap to draw such a conclusion.
Granted, I’m one of those damn kids that was reading Ayn Rand in his dorm room in college, but I’ve always described myself as a pro-war libertarian. I loved what Ron Paul had to say economically, but I abhorred what he had to say from a foreign policy standpoint (not to mention the veiled antisemitism). Regardless, I think it is a stretch to say that Rand Paul’s demand that the president admit he does not have the “authority” to kill an American on American soil with a drone is a slippery slope to making the Executive Branch impotent in the defense of the nation.
McCain and Graham’s anger at Rand Paul is very transparent. If you have a legitimate philosophical opinion with a colleague in your own party, do you use words like: “political stunt,” “ridiculous,” and “impressionable libertarian kids?” Meanwhile, John Yoo of the Bush Administration called Rand Paul’s position “extreme.” What is going on here? Again, I understand their difference of opinion but even a Psych 101 student can tell you their reactions are not that of simple philosophical difference. They’re angry and they feel threatened. They’re the philosopher kings of the GOP and they don’t take kindly to being challenged.
In the realm of the nonplussed, we had some of the very ignorant “progressives” which were amalgamated by the socialist actor John Cusack:
— John Cusack (@johncusack) March 6, 2013
Oh Johnny, you still believe there are people on your side in D.C. there to “do the right thing.” I pity you. All the bluster and grand-standing in the Bush years…all the “no blood for oil,” “no police-state” bleating from the Left was all a bunch of palaver. Once they had the presidency, it no longer mattered. They’re happy to let Obama do whatever he wants because their ultimate goal is to move us to a post-constitutional America.
This brings us to the elephant in the room: President Obama. Rand Paul can say this issue of drone use is about the power of the president – any president – but let’s face it, some presidents and their lust for power are more worrisome than others. Barack Obama and the progressives John Cusack so admires, have made power grabs for the federal government at every opportunity. Want to add drones attacks on Americans to that equation?
Bottom line, the issue isn’t totally clear-cut, but for that reason it needs to be addressed and discussed. Rand Paul has upset the apple cart by doing just that. It’s this kind of leadership that so many Americans and “libertarian kids” have been craving the last 10 years. The GOP is the loyal opposition, but the scale has leaned too far into the loyal end with McCain and the old bull establishment. Rand Paul tipped the scales back toward the opposition side. A shift this country desperately needs.