Rand Paul’s stand was symbolic, necessary

Published 2:08pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

Political theatre gets old very fast, and when the wealthy lawmakers on Capitol Hill try to preen for the cameras, it’s usually clear to everyone whose interests he or she is looking out for.
But every once in a while, there’s a bit of drama that, however contrived, can rivet the nation and sometimes change a few opinions. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gave such a performance last week.
On a sleepy afternoon in the Senate, he stood up at his desk Wednesday and began talking.
He kept it up, almost without interruption, for the next 13 hours. Sen. Paul reminded the nation last week what a real filibuster looks like, as he halted the certain nomination of William Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
He’d have none of the “procedural filibuster” seen in recent years, when one party simply notes their objection and intent to filibuster, and everyone goes to whatever cocktail party was scheduled that evening.
Sen. Paul — son of the long-term Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul — showed his old-school bonafides, though, and filibustered the hard way, by simply refusing to stop talking.
All Paul wanted was a clear answer from the White House on a very simple question. Does the Obama Administration think it’s allowed, in any situation, to use its killer drones against Americans on American soil?
He’d earlier sought answers from Attorney General Eric Holder on that question, and found the AG’s less-than-direct response disconcerting. Distressing even, considering that at least three Americans — bad guys working for al Qaeda, but native born citizens nonetheless — already received some death from above overseas in recent years.
None of the three — which included 17-year-old Abdul Awlaki — were given a trial or other due process. Abdul, regardless of what was in his heart, was not an intended target, and was not even travelling with his American terrorist father when a U.S. drone dropped a Hellfire on his head.
So for 12 hours, 52 minutes, and 11 seconds, Rand Paul demanded an answer to that very simple question: Could we have done that if the accused terrorist was on U.S. soil.
The attorney general wouldn’t rule it out.
And suddenly, across social media, the silent majority, regular voters from both parties, woke up and realized how scary that is.
It shouldn’t be a hard question. The assumption has always been that the execution of an American requires extensive legal proceedings, and nigh infinite appeals following convictions and appeal.
Why would it be any different if the killing stroke was delivered by a remote control aircraft piloted in some darkened room at an Air Force base?
Yet ominously, not one member of the administration bothered to answer what ought to be a no-brainer.
About seven hours into the filibuster, Sen. Paul said he’d end his epic stand in return for a “sense of the Senate” resolution asserting the U.S. government can’t kill it’s own citizens on American soil.
No. Brainer.
But the Dems wouldn’t do it. Sen. Dick Durbin said they could hold some hearings on the idea.
Now Paul was granted a few breaks by his colleages in the Senate.
Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Marco Rubio of Florida joined in, giving him a chance to grab a drink of water or munch down a candy bar.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, unlike his fellow caucus members, showed that his stands against President Bush’s war policies weren’t based purely on the party in power.
The reaction of Paul’s colleagues was also instructed. Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) took the floor to deride Paul for the stunt the next morning.
Wednesday night, the pair were too busy having a nice dinner few constituents could afford, and enjoying the wine and appetizers with President Obama.
McCain, who has reverted to his “maverick” tendency to help the other side, went so far as to call Paul, Rubio and Cruz “wacko birds,” whatever that means.
He may have also ordered them to stay off his lawn, though that wasn’t in the official record.
Where were our senators, the long-serving Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions? No idea.
Neither of them were seen on the Senate floor that night, and neither of them have remarked upon the filibuster or responded to requests for comment.
They were certainly not standing up for Alabamians’ right to not be blown up by that dark object up in the sky, which is neither bird, plane nor Superman.
The expansion of the drone program these last four years has been disturbing, as we carry out national security missions half a world away, with electronic eyes unable to distinguish if it’s the bad guys we’re killing or not. And the expansion of that program into domestic security and law enforcement has made Sen. Paul’s simple question one vitally deserving an answer.
The administration relented that next day and stated for the record that no, the Constitution won’t allow the government to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil, whether with drone or with slingshot.
Why it took more than half a day of non-stop rhetoric to convince them is a question for another day.

David D. Goodwin is political editor of The Wetumpka Herald. Email him at david.goodwin@thewetumpkaherald.com.

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