Rand Paul’s months of hard work have paid off; the Feinstein-Lee amendment eviscerating that awful NDAA 2012 Section 1021 passed in the Senate 67-29. If this passes the House and the president signs it into law, libertarianism can take pride in a major victory — the law will not permit American citizens to be held indefinitely. The language reads: “an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.”
If not for the persistent yet delicate advocacy of Fourth Amendment principles Rand Paul has advocated in the Senate, U.S. law would still permit the executive branch to indefinitely detain any American citizen suspected of supporting terrorists (which can apparently be proven just by liking a status on Facebook), without charge or trial. Yes, at least for now, politics have actually repealed a small but crucial snippet of state power and pushed us in the direction of liberty. Pinch me, I still can’t believe it.
So why was Rand successful?
In short, the Good senator from Kentucky learned that the art of effective advocacy does not involve bludgeoning your opponents with your ideals, but showing them that their own ideals already align with your goals — they just have to realize it.
Watch Rand in action on the Senate floor. He doesn’t present libertarianism as a revolutionary value system; he doesn’t blast the immorality of his opponents for disagreeing with him or accuse them of fascism. He even refers to NDAA supporters like Lindsey Graham and John McCain as “my well-intentioned colleagues.” He showed, rationally, why the provision was both relevant and harmful to freedom, comparing it to similar laws in oppressive countries like Egypt; showed that previously existing law already addressed security concerns; and made a well-researched, technical argument to assuage the fears of senators who were, under intense public pressure, willing to sacrifice a 225-year-old constitutional freedom for alleged (and rather dubious) improvements in security.
It took time, pressure and phone calls to senators but good can ideas prevail if good advocates stand their ground. You don’t need to be a majority; you don’t even need to be a substantial portion of the electorate. You need a voice in power with the courage to be isolated and unpopular and support by a dedicated grassroots movement.
I wrote this not just to celebrate a victory for liberty, but also to remind fellow libertarians, many of whom have expressed contempt for him, that Rand Paul is on our side and deserves our support. He may not self-identify as a libertarian, he may have reluctantly stumped for Mitt Romney to show he can play ball with the party, and he may not be purely Rothbardian; His technique involves subtlety, persistence and some brinksmanship, but he has shown his unrelenting dedication to constitutional principles and the cause of liberty. I’m sure his father is proud.