Senator Rand Paul spoke for as long as his aching feet and stretched-to-the-limit bladder would accommodate. Some of us now know what had gotten him so lathered up. For over a month he’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the Justice Department to answer a couple of fundamentally important questions. First, is it legal to use drones to kill American citizens on U.S. soil without due process? Second, “Can the President have the power to decide when the Bill of Rights does or doesn’t apply?”
Attorney General Eric Holder finally responded earlier today. “No!” he said, to the first question. He offered no opinion on the second.
As Senator Paul filibustered, wolfing down on occasional candy bar between words, a group of Republican senators were being wined and dined by the President at the Jefferson Hotel, feasting on Maryland blue crab risotto, Colorado lamb acai, lobster thermidor, prime beef, and heart of guana chocolate tart. Two of Senator Paul’s colleagues who attended the President’s dinner weren’t amused with the filibuster. Senator John McCain called his concerns “totally unfounded.” Senator Lindsey Graham, who had been a Brennan opponent, told the news media that the filibuster had changed his mind and then declared himself to now be a Brennan supporter. Even some of the good senator’s normally reliable friends in the media scolded him. The Wall Street Journal said that his reasoning didn’t come close to matching his showmanship.
What’s next for Senator Paul? Some are saying there’s a Presidential bid in his future. I honestly doubt he’s thinking about that. He’s more concerned the future of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The political establishment believes it has settled things. They’re reminding us of 9-11, as if we need reminding. They’re telling us that we’re the good guys. We’ve got a President who’s very bright. He can even be charming when he puts his mind to it. He’d never entertain the thought of abusing political power. Therefore, Rand Paul must be paranoid.
A little over four years ago, Barack Obama spoke at the National Archives. He began by chiding the previous administration for setting aside Constitutional principles as “luxuries” and employing an ad hoc legal approach to fighting the war on terror. He decried the use of warrantless wiretaps, military tribunals, and the Patriot Act. It was a great start. If only he’d stopped at that. But, then he launched into the deep, describing his new program of “prolonged preventive detention” to incarcerate anyone who “might” engage in some loosely defined future act of war against the United States. How would this be done? By constructing a “legal regime” and “reshaping the standards.” Apparently the Fifth Amendment and the old notion of due process were too confining. The litmus test became the possibility that someone “might” do something.
That was four years ago. It’s gotten worse over time. The abuse of the Espionage Act of 1917, a kill or capture list that he personally reviews every day, drones, programs like Ragtime P, and expanded surveillance of innocent American citizens are all part of our new reality.
How does he get away with it? Barack Obama is endowed with an unusual blend of gifts. He’s charming, intelligent, and wily. He has a special gift for making the road to perdition seem like the primrose path, using clever catch phrases like “we’ve got to protect the American people.”
Unfortunately, it’s an all too familiar historical refrain. Politicians often abuse power. When Andrew Jackson didn’t like a Supreme Court decision, he told Justice John Marshall “You have your decision, now try to enforce it.” Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court. When asked about his criminal activity by David Frost, Richard Nixon said, “If the President does it, it’s not illegal.”
But there’s more to it than Barack Obama’s wiles and charms. It has a lot to do with us and our collective frame of mind. While the back room shredding of the Constitution is going on, many of us seem preoccupied with whether or not Beyoncé lip synched. And, didn’t we love seeing the First Lady, flanked by the palace guard, announcing the Oscar for best picture. Style, it seems, is far more comforting than substance.
We’re living in a precarious time. Power’s being abused, we’re complacent, and few are willing to stand in the gap for the people. German academic Milton Mayer described this social confluence as: “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand.”
Thankfully, Rand Paul stood in the gap. Some say he was driven by paranoia. If he was, we need to pray for a lot more like him.