The following essay was submitted by Alan Cornett. Mr. Cornett is a minister, a former associate of Russell Kirk, and most importantly, a man of fine sartorial tastes.
Rand Paul Yells “Stop!”
Rand Paul, in a spontaneous act of political naysaying, captured the imagination of conservatives across the country on Wednesday as he filibustered the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA. Twitter was, well, atwitter and C-SPAN gained an actual audience while Paul brought the first breath of life to a dreary GOP since Mitt Romney’s ugly defeat in November.
Paul’s issue wasn’t really Brennan, but rather forcing the administration to admit they couldn’t blow up Americans. No one thinks that Obama & Co. are scheming to launch domestic drone attacks. But this is an administration that acknowledges no theoretical limit to its own authority. The President simply did not want to concede the point; the Nobel Peace Prize winner prefers to dictate rather than to be dictated to.
For Paul to succeed in forcing the administration’s hand to admit, at least on paper, that they could not kill an American citizen on domestic soil just because they wanted to came as a surprise to just about everyone including, I’m sure, Rand Paul himself. As it was the second embarrassment to the administration in a week (the sequester failing as economic Armageddon being the first), it may be that the wings of Icarus are finally beginning to melt.
But Paul’s challenge to a hypothetical domestic drone program is at root as much about challenging a Republican foreign policy that has largely been unquestioned by its leaders since 911 as it was a stick in the eye to a hubristic administration. Paul’s slight of hand was to mask this internal challenge as a partisan rallying point.
While Rand Paul stood for the Bill of Rights on the Senate floor, a score of Republican Senators dined out with the President he chastised. Among them were drone lovers Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. On Thursday while the administration’s Attorney General Eric Holder drafted a statement admitting that of course they couldn’t blow up Americans here in the good ol’ US of A, Obama’s GOP dinner companions decried Paul’s filibuster.
McCain worried the Democrats might see all this filibustering as abusing precious Senate rules, calling it “ridiculous.” Graham allowed as how the filibuster was reason enough to cause him to vote to confirm Brennan. They sounded like yesterday’s men, managers of the status quo. Paul was unconcerned with Brennan per se, of course, but now McCain and Graham have given a de facto endorsement of a drone position that even Obama officially repudiates.
Some Senators did sense the shifting winds, most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s other Senator, who joined Paul on the Senate floor. McConnell faces re-election next year and no doubt sees siding with Paul during his shining moment as advantageous. But now the Senate’s highest ranking leadership has acknowledged Paul’s agenda as a sympathetic one. There is at least a crack where there was none before.
Rush Limbaugh, supportive yet wary, spoke with Paul on his radio show. Rush applauded the filibuster stand, but question Paul about his overall drone position, sensing that Paul really is hacking at the root of a foreign policy that Rush has done much to prop up. Paul conceded drone use in foreign combat, but wisely returned the issue civil liberties. That is his wedge: a plea to Constitutionalism in order to reshape the thinking of a party that has gone far astray.
For at least 48 hours the debate parameters changed, and not inconsequentially a President backed down. Rand Paul showed that it is still possible to stand athwart history and yell stop.
Alan Cornett on Twitter: @alancornett