When the Madness Began to Lift

Rand Paul’s historic filibuster may have changed American politics.

The 2004 Republican National Convention, held in New York City as close as possible to the three-year anniversary of the day the World Trade Center was pulverized by terrorists, was a three-day festival of chest-thumping snarls directed at anyone who’d dare mention the concepts of civil liberties or executive branch restraint.

“Which leader is it today that has the vision, the willpower, and, yes, the backbone to best protect my family?” asked turncoat Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), in the most celebrated of the convention’s speeches. “Sen. Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide!”

Conservatism was united in wanting President George W. Bush to be the sole decider on all matters related to a massive, open-ended effort to play “offense, not defense” in the War on Terror. And it was a popular message among non-conservatives, as evidenced by the results of the 2004 election. Even self-described libertarians at the time were busy dreaming up hypothetical ticking time-bomb scenarios to justify the heretofore beyond-the-pale use of torture.

For those of us who oppose torture, who reckon that the proper purpose of a military is defense, and who believe that Lord Acton’s “power corrupts” insight can also apply to American armed forces, no matter how noble-sounding the cause, the Republican Convention, and the era surrounding it, was a kind of fever dream.

And the terror sweats hardly stopped with the 2008 Republican nomination of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Yes, McCain was against torture, having had his legs and shoulders repeatedly smashed by the Viet Cong. But his foreign policy and his vision of unshackled executive power were the most robustly interventionist since the final presidential candidacy of his hero, Teddy Roosevelt.

McCain advocated “rogue-state rollback,” a doctrine of supporting rebels against tyrants and then treating them like full military allies should the dictator crack down. He thought it was funny to re-imagine the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” as “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” He bashed libertarians and individualists and “isolationists” at every turn, while lauding Roosevelt for “liberally interpreting the constitutional authority of the office to redress the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches.”

You might have thought that McCain’s defeat at the hands of a former constitutional law professor who rallied the anti-war vote with his talk of a more restrained approach to presidential warmaking would have proved a decisive turning point in the national conversation about war and civil liberties. But the 2008 general election hinged far more on the economy than foreign affairs. And then Barack Obama did what all new presidents do: He learned to love executive power.

With most of the left’s anti-war and pro–civil liberties blocs in his pocket, President Obama launched a war in Libya without congressional approval, diverted Troubled Assets Relief Program funds to automobile companies in direct defiance of Congress, defended state secrets privileges in court, prosecuted whistleblowers, and launched a secret program allowing the president to drone to death anyone he deems to be an enemy combatant, no matter if they were on the battlefield, inside a country not at war with the U.S., an American citizen (as was the case with pro-jihadi Anwar al-Awlaki), or even just that American citizen’s teenaged son.

So grotesque has been Obama’s use of his secret “kill list” that when former White House press secretary and then–Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked in October 2012 to justify the drone assassination of 16-year-old U.S. citizen Abdulharman al-Awlaki, he had the chutzpah to say, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father, if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an Al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”

As was certainly known to the Obama administration, Abdulharman was killed two weeks after his father, who he reportedly hadn’t seen in two years. Gibbs, a recent hire by the liberal cable network MSNBC, made headlines in February when he admitted that “one of the first things they told me” at the White House was “You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.”

In the midst of this decade-long madness, this horrifying, covert embrace of extra-judicial robot death squads, a self-described libertarian Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, stood up for 13 hours on the Senate floor March 6 and yelled “Stop!” What began just before noon as a quixotic, one-man filibuster of CIA director nominee John Brennan (who, in another indication of the Obama-era civil liberties deterioration, had been deemed too pro-torture by Democrats as recently as 2008), soon evolved into a phenomenon the likes of which we may have never seen.

Instead of reading through a phone book or quoting random texts to kill the time and dull his colleagues’ ears, Paul launched a cogent, comprehensive, and inspirational half-day critique of bipartisan executive overreach. By framing his objection as a simple attempt to get an answer from the White House on one narrow but fundamental question—does the administration believe it has the legal and constitutional right to assassinate Americans by drone on U.S. soil?—Paul was able to rally unlikely allies and expose the opposition as arrogant defenders of unchecked lethal power.

“I will speak as long as it takes,” he began, “until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

As the day wore on, the hashtag #StandWithRand became the biggest-trending topic on Twitter. Congressmen and senators, including some who had been out to dinner that night with President Obama, began streaming back into the Capitol as word spread through town that something historic was afoot. Rising Tea Party star Ted Cruz gleefully read Twitter encouragements on the Senate floor and stressed that this moment was equally about the overreach of his fellow Texan George W. Bush. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) quoted impishly if randomly from rappers Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa. As the hour approached midnight, suddenly there was Minority Leader (and former vociferous opponent of Rand Paul) Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the floor singing Paul’s praises, followed quickly by Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). In the course of the night you could feel the madness starting to lift.

When the sun came up, Washington,D.C., suddenly felt like a different place. Rand Paul was drawing raves, sometimes reluctantly, from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Charles Krauthammer on the right, Van Jones, Code Pink, and the American Civil Liberties Union on the left, and all sorts of less categorizable human beings in-between. His detractors seemed shrill, hyperbolic, and defensive—John McCain called Paul and Cruz “wacko birds,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board sneered at “impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms,” MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell condemned “the vile spewing madness that came out of that crazy person’s mouth,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) lamented to his colleagues, “I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war.”

Even hawks such as Washington Post commentator Jennifer Rubin thought Rand Paul got the best of the exchange. McCain and Graham “never looked so old school and out to lunch as they did today,” she wrote. Rubin’s headline, or a version thereof, was on a lot of people’s minds after the filibuster was finished: “Rand Paul wins: Changing of the guard?” One can only hope. 

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  • CatoTheElder||

    Yeah, but Rand Paul is one of those "libertarians" who have caused Bill Maher to say "libertarianism morphed into this creepy obsession with free-market".

  • Hugh Akston||

    The only reason Rand Paul doesn't want to murder Pakistanis from the sky is so they will be alive enough to shop at the Karachi Wal-Mart.

  • harry90||

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    Fox78.com

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    At the Karachi Wal-Mart?

    I yam confoozeled.

  • John Galt||

    Selling RC airplane engines?

  • mrvco||

    Ok then Rand Paul is out... he doesn't pass the "Bill Maher Litmus Test".

  • Paul.||

    Bill Maher doesn't pass the Bill Maher litmus test, so that means nothing.

  • sloopyinca||

    Wouldn't Bill Maher's litmus test be the same as anybody else's litmus test, as it's merely a test for acidity or basicity in a chemical compound?

    I'm taking the term back for all the chemists out there.

  • ||

    Can you come check my hot tub?

  • John Galt||

    Appreciated.

  • youzer||

    I don't know. What's the pH level of shit?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Libertarianism morphed into this creepy obsession with individual liberty.

  • ||

    If you don't want to be a cog in the machine, ProL, you're the problem and not the solution, you see.

  • $park¥||

    When did that happen?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I dunno, sometime back in the slavery days.

  • $park¥||

    I don't believe you.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's true! And they wrote down their weird beliefs in some old documents, in some dialect of English that no one understands today.

  • $park¥||

    I guess if that is your definition of individual liberty...

  • Pro Libertate||

    Is there really such a thing? Definitions are all created by collective consent, and the collective doesn't consent to you having any rights that interfere with their collective rights. Or something.

  • $park¥||

    the collective doesn't consent to you having any rights that interfere with their collective rights

    The consent of the collective is, or at least should be, irrelevant to my individual liberties.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Individual liberties exist to serve the collective, so what you've said makes no sense.

  • $park¥||

    I guess I'd better start exercising my individual liberties to reduce the size of the collective.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No, no, the collective can only grow, never shrink.

  • $park¥||

    "Full of clattering fools is the market-place, -- and the people glory in their great men! These are for them the masters of the hour.

    But the hour presses them; so they press you. And also from you they want Yes or No. Alas! would you set your chair between Pro and Con?"

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I knew that sounded like Nietszsche, and what do you know, a Google search confirmed that it was.

  • $park¥||

    Well then, you have apparently mastered the Internet.

  • sloopyinca||

    Bullshit. It shrank when Locutus left it.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Who said he left?

  • SugarFree||

    "Remember the good old days when libertarians voted for the GOP like they were told to?"

    "Pepperidge Farm remembers."

  • CE||

    Are we the Sausalito or the Chesapeake flavor? Although now that I've looked it up, they do have Lexington as well.

  • Restoras||

    Definately not Sausalito, though they are yummy. I would say Nantucket but that must be a Workers Paradise these days as well.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Maui is the best.

  • ||

    But what does this have to do with Margaret Thatcher?

  • Enough About Palin||

    ^^THIS^^

  • Paul.||

    Because everything that's wrong today in the UK is her fault. Duh.

  • CE||

    What, no Roger Ebert story?

  • Paul.||

    OT: When I was in Canadia last week, there was a shooting at a daycare in Quebec (pronounced: KEBEK).

    No Canadian national discussion about gun control ensued.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....22674.html

  • Hyperion||

    Isn't that because they already don't have any guns?

  • Gordilocks||

    I'm Canadian. I have a shotgun and 3 rifles.

  • Brandybuck||

    But they're not assault machine guns like 'Merkins have so they're okay.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But you don't have an assaulty-killy-death weapon with the high capacity magazines that are disposable and a barrel shroud shoulder thingy.

  • Paul.||

    Clearly, Canada has a gun problem.

  • John Galt||

    Do you remember back 12-15 or so years ago when some kid in the US mailed a full auto M16 to some kid in Canada?

  • ||

    Unpossible. Canadians have gun control laws.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    This sucks. I posted about this in another thread the day it happened and it got no response. Waw. Always a bridesmaid never a bride.

    Anyway. Quebec has had three major incidences in its history: The 1989 massacre (before tighter gun laws), the Dawson college shootings and now the Daycare incidence that could have been really ugly.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    And yet, in 2016, it will be "what difference at this point does it make?" that will win the day.

  • entropy||

    Now he's not too pro-torture enough.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    It's time someone had the courage to stand up and say: I'm against those things that everybody hates.

  • sarcasmic||

    He failed the Purity Test with regards to his stance on marriage. What else does anyone need to know about him?

  • Brandybuck||

    He's a statist, can we burn him?

  • Matrix||

    Liberals were going batshit crazy over Rand when he dared to question presidential authority to assassinate American citizens, when those same liberals were (rightly) criticizing the Bush Administration for the same. Those that did not come out and spew venom towards Rand were awkwardly silent during the whole proceding.

    They really are not comfortable when Dear Leader does something that they are against. Some of them just flip flop to whatever position Dear Leader holds. Others just stay quiet. Rather be silent than criticize one of their own.

  • sarcasmic||

    Had Rand questioned Bush's authority to assassinate American citizens by drone, the left would have given him their full support.

    Remember that ideas and policy are to be judged by the source, not the content.

  • sloopyinca||

    Had Rand questioned Bush's authority to assassinate American citizens by drone, the left would have given him their full support.

    I don't know. I think his patients would have accused him of not paying attention to their eyes.

    Which is the joke here. HuffPo commentators (where I spend a bit of time) were ripping him on his silence during the Bush admin. And every time I pointed out that he was not in the Senate then, they said he should have still been making national pronouncements on the subject. Their Team cheerleading knows no bounds.

  • John Galt||

    Sounds like they may be suffering, at the very least, mild brain damage.

  • CatoTheElder||

    He might even be SecDef.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    when those same liberals were (rightly) criticizing the Bush Administration for the same.

    No. The drone assassination issue never even came up during the Bush administration; it's entirely an Obama innovation.

  • Loki||

    Technically the CIA drone program started in 2004. Perhaps you missed this earlier today.

    However, Obama has ordered more strikes than Bush did, and it was Obama, the "constitutional Law" lecturer, who ordered the killing of Anwar Al-Alaki and his son.

  • John Galt||

    That doesn't sound constitutional at all. Was he lecturing about the Constitution of the United States? Maybe he was lecturing about some foreign constitution he knows something about.

  • GILMORE||

    Paul launched a cogent, comprehensive, and inspirational half-day critique of bipartisan executive overreach

    ...Which everyone immediately described as "whacko!" and "unhinged"

    No = modern party politics must be incoherent, limited and nitpicky, and so exhaustively boring such that no one can sustain more than a few seconds of the inanity of it all

  • CE||

    Doesn't he want to cancel civil rights or something though? It said so on Huffing Post.

  • Jon Lester||

    Rand Paul's views on abortion and social spending might not get him elected president, but I certainly hope he can force a shift in Republican foreign policy positions. Say what you want about "entitlements;" why do we owe a living to all those contractors and other interests, who keep Congress convinced that we need to police central Asia and north Africa, among other regions, where security should be incumbent upon the peoples who live there?

  • $park¥||

    who keep Congress convinced that we need to police central Asia and north Africa, among other regions, where security should be incumbent upon the peoples who live there?

    Look, it has been calmly and rationally explained to the reason commentariat over and over and over again that keeping our military forces stationed all over the globe is the only way to properly defend the US.

  • Hyperion||

    It's the only way to defend freedom, even if it means killing freedom. Sometimes you have to kill freedom, to save it.

  • ||

    I totally envisioned that as a voice over during a Michael Bay explosion montage.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    By framing his objection as a simple attempt to get an answer from the White House on one narrow but fundamental question—does the administration believe it has the legal and constitutional right to assassinate Americans by drone on U.S. soil?

    I hope the objection encompasses means other than drones.

    But he is unqueastionably far and away better on this than nearly every single member of each branch of the government.

  • ||

    "Senator Paul, that was a cogent, comprehensive, and inspirational half-day critique of bipartisan executive overreach. Overruled."

  • $park¥||

    Coming to theaters this summer: My Cousin Rand.

  • ||

    "I'm not Margaret Thatcher, I'm Margaret Fatcher. Margaret Thatcher's dead!"

  • Hyperion||

    Looks like today, we only have a choice between Thatcher and Rand.

  • CE||

    I advocate a "rogue state rollback" as well -- let's roll back the one in DC to its legal, Constitutionally authorized limits.

  • John Galt||

    Hear! hear!

  • Kurbster||

    Every time I read a Reason article that has Rand's face on it, I keep on thinking about the "cult of personality" that Obama created in '08

    Rand Paul’s filibuster may have changed American politics? Give me a break. He's a politician and will say anything to win

  • ||

    Oh yeah? Well you're a doody head.

    Makes Body Snatchers screeching sound.

  • An0nB0t||

    You say that like it's a bad thing.

    When more politicians who grew up suffused in Mises, Rothbard, and Hayek begin saying and doing what they need to win elections, I'll stop regarding politics as a tragicomedic loop.

  • $park¥||

    That's fine as long as you don't ever complain about any other politician saying one thing to get votes then doing something else when elected.

  • sarcasmic||

    At least he appears to have guiding principles, which is more than can be said for the average politician.

  • WomSom||

    So, who comes up with all that crazy stuff?

    www.SurfPrivately.tk

  • John Galt||

    Maybe it's not someone else who's crazy, maybe it's you. Bet you never thought of that. Huh? Huh, huh, huh?

  • Ken G||

    This only really changed politics in the sense that now more people know who Rand Paul is. Let the media spin it however they want, ultimately whoever wins in 2016 will have done so with the support of the ignorant mass media following public. They have little to no idea what their candidates stand for, but what they do know, they learned from FOX and CNN.

  • Jefferson's Ghost||

    One step at a time

  • erikemiller@me.com||

    Sounds good but are we going to find out that he's an anti-Semite? Ron isn't too crazy about the Jews. The Paul family do seem like classic old fashioned Jew haters. Like Annie Hall's grandmother.

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