Last week a Republican Senator filibustered on civil liberties in wartime — and, get this, he was in favor of them! This remarkable event drew such attention that the filibusterer, Rand Paul, ended the week talking about running for President.
How did our friends the rightbloggers — who generally think that worrying about the rights of terrorists is something only Democrats and Frenchmen do — react to Paul’s speech? Mostly they loved it, even when they disagreed with Paul’s cause.
The nominal subject of Paul’s filibuster was the confirmation of CIA director nominee John Brennan, who defended the use of a drone in 2011 to kill an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen, where al-Awlaki was allegedly working for Al Qaeda. (Later a drone took out al-Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman, also a U.S. citizen, for which the Administration has not given an explanation — at least not a good one.)
Some of you will recall these issues were raised a month ago, when the press got hold of an Administration paper on civilian drone strikes, and rightbloggers did as good a job as they could of pretending to be outraged. But none of them had a Senate seat to amplify their performances; Paul did, and he used it to good effect Wednesday last.
Paul was given a great opening by Attorney General Eric Holder, whom he’d quizzed on the possibility that the Administration might use drones to take out U.S. citizen-terrorists on U.S. soil. The AG’s answers did not satisfy him, and he requested follow-up; Holder sent him a letter which, while stipulating that such a “hypothetical” situation was “unlikely to occur,” conceded that “it is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance” — such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11 — that would make such an attack “necessary and appropriate.”
Paul then commenced his filibuster of the Brennan appointment and talked extensively about the possibility of domestic droning. The 13-hour performance was what we might call a win-win-win; it got Holder to send another letter, clarifying that it was not U.S. policy to drone domestically; it focused the public’s attention on a civil liberties issue on which they might actually take the right side (for, while Americans don’t mind drones, they do seem to mind them being used stateside); and it gave rightbloggers a fresh opportunity to embarrass themselves.
Take, for example, Ace of Spades. During the Bush years, there was no civil liberties concern about the conduct of the War on Terror that Spades wouldn’t mock. For instance, in his 2005 post, “Treating Terrorists With Dignity and Respect and Other Tactical Mistakes,” Spades attacked the lily-livered Democrats who groused about Gitmo: “Do they really imagine that the American public is clamoring for better treatment of self-made monsters who have vowed to slaughter innocent Americans, Jews, and ‘non-righteous’ Muslims?” he wrote. “…They are playing to the worst segment of their constituensty, the fire-breathers, the professional protestors, the San Francisco Democrats, the America-haters… They are insisting we treat unlawful combatants and actual terrorists BETTER than we’d treat lawful soldiers.” (Eccentric typography in original.)
But in his more recent post, Spades admitted, “I still consider myself a hawk. But I don’t consider myself a super-hawk. Post-9/11, I became a super-hawk. I’m not one any longer.”
Lest you think Obama being president accounts for all the change in Spades’ hawk-level, he recalled another time he was less-than-super-hawkish: “I remember the Kosovo air war,” he wrote. “I was plenty against the Kosovo air war, because I strongly suspected we were only in it because of Monica Lewinsky.”
Spades attacked John McCain for opposing, along with Senator Lindsey Graham, Paul’s filibuster, on the grounds that the former POW had an outmoded idea of war — a “medieval notion that ‘honor’ is only satisfied when there’s a cost in blood” — which was now endangering “the concept of interventionism itself” by making the country sick of foreign wars despite Spades’ best efforts back in his super-hawk days. “If he keeps pushing his No Limits doctrine,” warned Spades, “he’s going to find the country is now embracing All Limits.” By the end of his rant Spades was almost unrecognizable, going on about “the human cost to our boys and civil liberties” like a San Francisco something-or-other.
But rightbloggers had one thing going for them: This time is was them complaining about executive overrerach, instead of the lefties. “For eight solid years, we heard screeching and gnashing of teeth from the Left about how George W. Bush wants to kill us all and eat our babies and of course shred the Constitution through wars based on lies and the horrible PATRIOT Act,” wrote ColoradoPatriot. “But in the end, who is it who’s actually standing up for these ideals?” Besides, that is, filibuster-supporting Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (whom ColoradoPatriot did not mention), The New Yorker, AlterNet, Mother Jones, Code Pink, The American Prospect, Rolling Stone, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and maybe a couple of others.
Walter Russell Mead looked forward to the possibility of “a significant Republican and conservative movement for a less aggressive, less global foreign policy.” A few years earlier, Mead explained, “the world looked like such a dangerous place that a certain amount of proactive global policy seemed attractive, but with the death of Osama bin Laden the Jeffersonian worldview has gained new support. Al Qaeda looks more like a nuisance than an existential threat… Maybe it’s time for the Atlas of the West to take a break.” Thanks Obama! Kidding.
Even more interesting, though, were the rightbloggers who did not pretend to be against drone warfare, but nonetheless applauded Paul’s speech against drone warfare.
“Whatever you think of the point he was trying to make–and in our case, that’s not much–there’s no denying that Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster yesterday was quite a piece of political theater,” said James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal, and applauded Paul’s “vindication” by the second Holder letter. But how could Paul be vindicated for defending the wrong position? Because he managed to “underscore the hypocrisy and opportunism of supposedly antiwar liberals,” said Taranto — a tactic “worthy of Saul Alinsky,” which he meant in a good way.
“Rand Paul is the first Washington politician since Paul Ryan to seize an opportunity on a controversial issue that cuts across partisan lines — in this case, the Obama administration’s use of unmanned aircraft to target and kill terrorists — and run with it,” wrote John Podhoretz at the New York Post. “Like Ryan, he did it with supreme competence.” Podhoretz also tweeted, “Attention everybody in Washington: This is how you make yourself a star.”
Sounds great! But Podhoretz also found Paul’s POV “highly problematic at best and genuinely worrisome at worst… the logic of Paul’s view is that the United States is the aggressor in the war on Islamist terror rather than a bystander unwillingly drawn into a battle that has not yet been won. Rand Paul, who turned 50 this year, is one of the most talented politicians of his generation. And one of the most dangerous.” Well, a good review’s a good review; just make judicious use of ellipses on the poster.
“The irony is that the drone issue was not even one of the most popular issues among many conservatives until last night,” admitted Daniel Horowitz of RedState. But Horowitz knew what was really stimulating conservatives, and got them cheering Paul: that Obama is “an imperialistic president who has no respect for checks and balances,” as shown by his willingness to “abrogate our immigration laws, grant administrative amnesty, and let criminal aliens out of jail.” This drone thing was just the last straw.
Horowitz suggested that Republicans try other obstructive tactics to win public opinion: For example, “When the nomination of the new radical nominee for EPA director comes before the Senate, they should take turns launching filibusters into the night, educating the public on how that agency has cost jobs and raised the cost of living on the working class. They should draw attention to onerous policies like ethanol mandates.” Hell of a follow up! Then, when the time is right, dazzle them with monetary policy.
“Personally, I’ve long been in favor of blowing up terrorists with a variety of methods,” said Horowitz’ colleague John Hayward. Also, “I don’t have much of a problem with the drone kills we’ve learned about thus far, although it’s a bit disturbing that we don’t seem to learn about all of them promptly. And in the hypothetical ‘terrorist racing toward a crowded area with a weapon of mass destruction in the back of his truck’ scenario, I wouldn’t want law enforcement or the military to waste a lot of time fretting over whether a drone should be used to take out the attacker. But…” You can guess the rest — the rightblogger’s version of “I’m not gay, but that James Franco is a handsome devil.”
The attacks by Graham and McCain on Paul gave Paul Mirengoff at Power Line a chance to approach the issue from another angle: “Like McCain and Graham, I was not impressed by Paul’s decision to filibuster,” said Mirengoff. “But I’m similarly unimpressed by the ‘Old Bulls” critique of their ‘Young Turk’ colleague.” His reasons: “Ridiculing Paul and his libertarian supporters, on the Senate floor, strikes me as inappropriately disrespectful”; by using “inflammatory language, McCain makes it look like his beef [with Rand] is personal”; and “by basing his vote [to confirm Brennan] on the filibuster, Graham not only acted childishly, he abdicated his responsibility as a U.S. Senator.” It’s good to see Mirengoff has his priorities straight.
It got so that when conservatives such as Bill Kristol, Andrew McCarthy, and Roger Kimball took unmixed exception to Paul’s filibuster, we almost admired their consistency. But they needn’t have worried. As Washington Post rightblogger Jennifer Rubin pointed out, “[Paul] 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.” And there’s no evidence that Paul has changed his mind about jailing people for attending seditious speeches. (Oh, and Brennan’s nomination was approved.)
But, as they say in the big leagues, a win’s a win, and many rightbloggers felt that right or wrong, Paul’s feat would pay electoral dividends.
“Even those conservatives who may not agree with all of Paul’s views on presidential war powers,” said Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner, “were supportive if for no other reason than they relished seeing a conservative win a messaging war with Obama.” “One does not need to share Sen. Paul’s mistrust of American military interventionism — I certainly do not — to appreciate the monumental political shift his actions may presage,” said Noah Rothman at Mediaite. “The public is hungry for a check on the executive, and Democrats are vulnerable on the sprawling drone warfare program.” “By attempting to secure unprecedented unconstitutional authority to kill Americans at will, Obama may have pushed the envelope a bit too far in the minds of the American people,” wrote Lloyd Marcus. “…And here is another breath of fresh air confirming that the country has not gone totally reprobate. The Bible miniseries is enjoying huge numbers, even beating the zombies.”
Moonbattery dreamed big: “Having completely taken over the Democrat Party, American socialists are accomplishing what the Soviet Red Army didn’t dare try,” they wrote. “But maybe it isn’t too late to reverse them. Maybe libertarian patriots can play the same trick by taking command of the driverless vehicle of the Republican Party, infusing it with purpose, principle, and appeal to rebellious youth.”
Who knows? Now that the with-us-or-against-us days are over, a future Presidential candidate just might take the nation’s fancy by promising a new respect for the civil liberties of even its least popular citizens. Certainly Obama got some traction with that in 2008 — though once in office, alas, he went another way. But what are the chances that a Republican would deceive us like that?