The real shame for liberals and leftists tonight is seeing a cause that should be popularly recognized — ending drone strikes against American citizens overseas, or drone strikes in general for that matter — now being championed by a series of Tea Party and mainstream GOP legislators many on the other side see as members of the far right.
However small the contingent of GOP legislators who agree with Rand on philosophical (rather than political) grounds, it's also a prime position to attack the president on mostly accurate grounds. This is free cheap political points for the Republican Party, just a few scant years after their man Bush was the primary architect of the programs they're now criticizing.
It must be a bitter pill to swallow seeing Rand Paul, of all people, champion basic civil liberties for prominent Senate Democrats like Harry Reid.
But civil liberties need to be respected on all sides, not just partisan ones. President Obama has done an admirable job of redirecting federal agencies and proposing or supporting legislation to combat other civil rights violations such as hate crimes and violence against women. He has not, however, seriously challenged America's growing surveillance state. Obama may have actually grown it a permanent foothold by institutionalizing and tolerating it. Congressional Democrats have done themselves a serious disservice by prioritizing political winds above morals.
As Rand has correctly pointed out tonight, very few people are opposed to codified use of drones as law enforcement, counter-terrorism, or legal surveillance technology. Drone strikes, however, are counterproductive to any meaningful terrorism strategy and morally unjustifiable based on the amount of civilian casualties, as well as those of persons unconfirmed to be real combatants except by the loose standards of the CIA.
As a CIA official joked to the New York Times, the intelligence community's standard for determining whether a foreigner might be an insurgent is as low as three guys doing jumping jacks. This should be low-hanging political fruit, a hangover from the worst of the Bush years, and yet the Obama administration has staunchly defended strikes as a legitimate tool to fight terrorism (and indeed, in doing so upheld at least in part some of the core interventionary impulses of neoconservative Bush-era policies).
Assassinations are not, and should not, be part of American foreign policy, regardless of whether they are effective or politically expedient. Chickens come home to roost, and terrorists killed today become martyrs tomorrow. Root causes like extreme poverty or reactionary movements against perceived neo-imperialism go unaddressed and unabetted.
Rand is a little hyperbolic. Domestic strikes are not a foreseeable future possibility. Unfortunately, overseas targeting of an American citizen (Anwar al-Awlaki) is very poor judgment at best and at worst a permanent stain on civil liberties on the president's record.
Imagine the furor there would have been had President Bush assassinated an American citizen overseas for alleged terrorism involvement. That very same standard should apply to Barack Obama.
Continuing these policies isn't just a moral and ethical violation, as prime as those motivations should be when public officials set policy. It's also likely to damage the president's legacy.
This is an embarrassing night for the Democratic Party.