Friday, March 8, 2013

Trolling the American Randstand

On March 6th, in response to a wishy-washy position posed by Attorney General Holder, Senator Rand Paul threw down an old school move.  An actual filibuster.  Not the half-assed "don't have sixty votes" filibuster.  He hit the floor and said he'd talk until the president responded.  The point was simple.  Eric Holder wouldn't commit to saying that we would not use predators to kill Americans on American soil.  Rand Paul took a stand saying he should commit.  Demanding answers from the president.  He went on for hours lecturing about due process, the constitution, and any number of entirely relevant things.  Not the cheap type of filibustering where some douche just reads from the phone book.

Republican senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, John Thune, John Barrasso, John Cornyn, Jerry Moran, Jeff Flake, Mitch McConnell, and showed up.  Also, Senators Marco Rubio (MINE!), Saxby Chambliss (from my home state), and Tim Scott (my home state's neighbor to the north) participated.  One of the old guard, Mitch McConnell, also made an appearance.  And I've heard a lot of people call him Johnny-Come-Lately, but that's better than the twelve Johnny-Would-Rather-Let-The-President-Buy-Him(And One Her)-Dinner senators.  And Mark Kirk didn't participate (he is recovering from a stroke, after all), but showed up and deserves a shoutout for bringing a care package.

Even some Democrats were there.  Ron Wyden (D) participated in the filibuster.  Dick Durbin (Heavy D) was there too.  Granted, he wasn't participating, just asking questions, but he was Involved In The Democratic Process.  Not something that seems to happen very often these days.  And the questions he asked (confrontational, but not discourteously so), added to Paul's credibility.  Paul knocked his first two questions out of the park.  The last one (towards the end), was more of a single. 

For the most part, when the senators broke in for questions, they did so with pertinent questions that added to the debate, Dems and Reps alike.  But there was also a bit of fun.  Ted Cruz took some time to quote everything from Shakespeare to Patton.  Marco Rubio followed up by quoting Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z.  It was all still relevant, though, as they tied the artistic references into the debate.
But the most epic part was when Ted Cruz carpet bombed the Senate with tweets from everyone who was supporting Rand Paul.  The twitterverse was alive with all things Rand Paul.  Around the world.  He did this twice, bringing thousands who were glued to C-Span (when's the last time that happened, ever) into the process.  Ted Cruz gets the Best Supporting Actor award for that.  But the MVP was still Rand Paul, because he suddenly energized the public about politics, for the first time in years.

Of course, it was only a matter of time until detracty detractors who detract started detracting.  The first salvo was the typical opening move of the radical left.  Articles, blog posts, and tweets starting referring to his RAAAACISM!  This was in reference to a series of interviews in 2010 where Rand Paul failed to properly bless and sprinkle and show proper deference to the Civil Rights Act.  Instead, he had the incredibly bad taste to note that other fundamental rights, like free speech and property ownership, are occasionally at odds with the CRA.  Instead of bowing and scraping before the almighty CRA, he actually had the temerity to suggest that the CRA and other fundamental rights might occasionally conflict with each other and need to be reconciled.  This is an obscure legal concept also known as: The Reason Judges Have Jobs.

Race baiting is all too common these days.  But it's a waste of time to obsess over this sort of thing.  Someone who fails to have even this rudimentary understanding of how the Constitution works is the posterchild for low information voters.  What this episode does is show two key things about Rand Paul.  He's willing to explore and debate the Constitution in a nuanced way, and he's willing to go where few dare to tread.

So when "Racist" doesn't work, go for "Irrelevant".  Various writers and journalists have decided that he was wasting time.  Debating a question that was already answered.  For example, I read a piece by Tommy Christopher on Mediaite pushing this point.  He believed that Eric Holder actually did answer the question.  But the fact is, Holder left the question open.  He used 9/11 and Pearl Harbor as examples of unusual circumstances where this might happen, but did not clarify explicitly what defines a circumstance where using a drone is allowed.

Of course, when "Irrelevant" fails, "Crazy" is always an option.  I saw Krystal Ball and Toure on the Cycle pushing this.  Apparently, Rand Paul was just a nut ginning up a silly, non-issue to pander to conspiracy theorists, anti-government nuts, and "savages" (Toure's word.  Stay Classy).  Notably, just as liberal Steve Kornacki took a different position (Not sure where S.E. Cupp was) from his two colleagues and upheld the need for exploring these points.  The relative newness of the drone program means there are lots of unanswered questions.

It's good that he did.  The attorney general's response was a tad vague, saying that use of drones on Americans on American soil would only happen in extreme circumstances, but not clarifying what criteria would be used to determine what those circumstances are.  And exploring unlikely hypotheticals is not something a crazy person does.  It's common practice in politics.

I'm reminded of the 2008 Republican presidential campaign.  In one debate, the various candidates were asked by Brit Hume about a highly unlikely, ticking time-bomb, Jack-Baueresque scenario.  Would they, in the wake of several damaging attacks against the US, torture someone who potentially had knowledge of another attack that was imminent?  Mitt Romney danced around it (shocking, I know. Kind of like an Eric Holder).  Rand's father Ron Paul was strongly against it.  So was John McCain.  Of course, McCain comes to that position honestly, and from personal experience.

Brit Hume asked a pertinent question about an unlikely, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-we scenario.  This is because these highly unlikely scenarios are the ones where people and governments take the most extreme action and are at great risk for overreach.  To a libertarian type of guy like Rand Paul, government overreach is to be avoided at all costs.  So I find it odd that John McCain, who was happy to answer the question about the unlikely scenario related to torture, was so willing to dismiss the unlikely scenario that was proposed by Rand Paul.

Paul admits it's unlikely that Obama would ever do this.  And it's unlikely that anyone would do this.  But one unfortunate election could result in a nut who would consider droning Americans without due process of law.  So defining the laws clearly now prevents this scenario from happening.  Just as defining torture ensures we don't cross the line there.  I'm surprised that McCain would be willing to deal in hypotheticals in one case, but spurn the same thing in another.  Especially when the one he spurned is the one more likely to result in dead bodies, if it did ever happen.

Eric Holder did respond.  The answer was that we can't use drones against "non-combatant" Americans.  Plenty of Paul critics claim that the simplicity of this response (including two out of three Cycle liberals) makes Paul look ridiculous.  But it doesn't.  Paul got some additional clarification (his goal from the start), which isn't ridiculous.  The response also leaves questions open, suggesting that Paul is on to something.  What is a "combatant" American?  Holder's still missing a few details.  And if we don't define it, and we elect some nutjob in the future, that guy may decide to define it for us with executive orders.

Rand Paul took a stand to make the administration clarify how far it would go to protect itself.  He's seeking to set a standard that, even if it is highly unlikely we'll ever need it, is something that we must be absolutely clear about.  Because if we don't figure it out now, we may find ourselves figuring it out the hard way in the future.  This is not Rand Paul being an anti-government conspiracy nut.  Nor is he pandering to the extreme right.  He's a libertarian.  That's not a wingnut; libertarians tend to be moderate.  And the evidence of that is the support he got from the left.  From politicians (Wyden) to actors (John Cusack) to activists (Code Pink and more than a few Anonymous and Occupy supporters, based on tweets I saw) to left wing journalists (Cenk Uygur of Current TV.  That happened.), members of the left wing supported him.  He was able to unite disparate factions in a common cause.  It's been a while since a politician could pull that off.  No wonder #StandwithRand is still trending.

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