Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster was a shock to the sclerotic Beltway system in which nothing is spontaneous and in which nuance is praised only in the abstract.
Paul was clever to pick an issue, a specific and narrow issue, on which virtually no one can disagree. He wasn’t attacking the war on terror. He wasn’t attacking drone use overseas. He surely wasn’t attacking indefinite detention at Guantanamo for enemy combatants. He was objecting to the refusal of the administration to say whether it is constitutional to use drones on U.S. soil against U.S. citizens who are not combatants.
Because that was so obvious and the left wing so entirely missed the boat, many in the palace guard MSM (those who reflexively defend the president rather that act as independent watchdogs) lamely tried to call conservatives who supported Paul hypocrites. No, it is not inconsistent, media mavens, to support drone use against terrorists overseas or to deal with enemy combatants at Gitmo outside the civilian judicial system and to oppose the ludicrous position that the government can target Americans on U.S. soil when they aren’t engaged in hostilities.
The distinction is so obvious that you wonder how it was so many in the media got themselves so confused. Were they deliberately searching for some grounds to counterattack the right? Were they not following the argument or too dim to make distinctions that were obvious? I’m not sure, but it was telling.
By the same token, those conservative hawks who didn’t want to identify with or aid Paul’s effort made a mistake. Here, distinctions are also worth making. You don’t have to support him for president in 2016. You don’t have to agree with his world view. You don’t have to agree with him on Iraq. You don’t have to agree with his skepticism of drone use overseas. But to refuse to either agree with his effort to stand up to administration stonewalling or to establish any lines on use of lethal force is a mistake.
Maybe they were embarrassed. After all, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, could have conducted an actual talking filibuster to stop Chuck Hagel and/or to get information on Benghazi. Instead he huffed and puffed and then folded his tent, claiming some obligation of deference to the president. Maybe he should have showed the same tenacity as Paul.
The dividing line in the GOP, I would suggest, is not so much ideological these days. There is a generational shift between the old guard and the new. It is about a willingness to pick fights at opportune moments (not destructively, or when there is no good alternative) and use all the tools of old and new media to grab the public’s attention. It is about breaking out of strictly partisan lines and about relating to voters via popular culture. (Notice how many times Sen. Marco Rubio cited “The Godfather” and Jay-Z?) And of course it is about pushing back on a president who has overreached on rhetoric and policy.
There is also, I would suggest, a necessary course correction constitutionally. In the Bush administration under the pressure of 9/11 and two wars, too many conservatives became enamored of concentrated executive power. In fact, it’s part of a trend in both parties as presidents have been able to grab the bully pulpit, build the White House staff and the federal bureaucracy, and aggrandize more and more power. Constitutional conservatives should be wary of this trend and recognize that on everything from the budget to oversight hearings, Congress must play its constitutional role, not overstep or interfere with the legitimate powers of the executive but check an out-of-control president and return to the proper balance of executive and legislative powers.
The Republicans who understand all this will succeed. As for the media, their perpetual dimness is wearing. Really, can’t they keep up?