Rand Paul has a better chance of being elected president than his father ever had. That’s partly because he’s more willing to play the pragmatic party political game, but it’s also partly because he’s not the doctrinaire libertarian that his father generally was.
Paul’s filibuster in the U.S. Senate Wednesday was nothing but political theater, but it ended up achieving something unexpected. It flushed out some of the highest-ranking Republicans and forced them to show the disdain they feel whenever individual liberties are concerned.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham not only didn’t support Paul, but they spent Thursday actively attacking him. McCain took to the Senate floor to attack Paul’s concern that the Obama administration would ever use drone strikes on Americans inside the borders of the country. Graham not only attacked Paul, but praised Obama’s use of drone strikes to kill people on the other side of the world.
After starting his filibuster alone Wednesday, Paul was eventually joined by a few Republican senators and one Democratic senator. While they talked about constitutional rights and lambasted the Obama administration for its refusal to say that it didn’t have legal authority to unilaterally kill Americans in this country, where were McCain and Graham?
They were with the Republican establishment having dinner with Obama.
If you’re one of the many conservatives who believe that the Republican Party is your savior when it comes to battling big government, think again. There’s a small core of GOP politicians who are somewhat more likely to be on the side of individual freedom than the statist old guard is, but those who believe in freedom are a minority in their own party.
All Republicans talk loudly about individual freedom and smaller government, but few of them mean it. Even fewer are willing to take concrete steps to implement their ideas. And a few of them — including McCain and Graham — are downright hostile to those who take constitutional freedoms seriously.
You might tell yourself that the GOP is going to change. After all, the senators who supported Paul Wednesday were generally younger ones who were elected in the last few years. It’s a good theory, but look at how this pattern really works.
Remember back in 1994 when Newt Gingrich led a group of “radical” conservative Republicans to take over the U.S. House? Their Contract with America was going to change everything. These young congressmen were going to be the ones who restored freedom and reduced the size of government. That’s been almost 20 years. How’s that working out? Is government smaller today?
People who go to Washington and become part of the system are going to tend to become quite happy with government. They’re going to say and do whatever they need in order to keep their constituents from revolting at election time, but most of them aren’t going to do much beyond that — partly because they can’t. The worst of them are going to become so friendly with government that they’re actually happy to trust politicians with the unchecked power to kill, just as McCain and Graham are today.
Paul’s filibuster isn’t going to change anything. The nomination of Obama’s choice for CIA director was easily passed Thursday. Obama is going to keep using drones to kill whoever he wants to kill. And if it ever becomes convenient and politically expedient, he’ll kill whoever he wants to kill here in this country. That’s not because Obama is especially evil compared to the rest. It’s simply because he’s a U.S. president who enjoys power and believes he’s entitled to use it.
On Thursday, the Obama administration finally responded to Paul’s question about killing Americans with a curt letter admitting that the president doesn’t have the power to kill Americans “not engaged in combat on American soil.” It’s amazing that an administration could fight so hard to avoid saying something so obviously true — and it’s also amazing that anyone could believe their statement carries any weight if they change their minds later.
Long-term, I see two things noteworthy about the filibuster.
First, it’s raised Paul’s profile greatly in the Republican Party. He showed the kind of political savvy that it takes to ignite a party’s base and win a presidential nomination. Can you think of any other recent president who’s been elected with no political experience other than a single term in the Senate? Yep. Barack Obama.
Second, Paul’s filibuster got some establishment Republicans to show which side they’re really on. For the most part, it’s not Red vs. Blue in Washington. It’s Establishment vs. Outsiders. In this case, the Establishment rats showed themselves for what they are. I hope the real Outsiders across the country were taking notes.
The filibuster itself didn’t change anything. It’s not going to change anything. But it was emotionally satisfying to hear someone get so much media attention for telling the truth about individual rights for a change. I’m not under the illusion that anything will change.
But it did feel good.