Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) conducted an exhausting 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul did this in order to draw attention to the Obama administration's drone program, which has a history of killing non-combatants in the Middle East merely on the suspicion that they are involved in terroristic activities.
Since Brennan was one of the architects of this program, Paul saw this as an appropriate time to force a discussion on how drones would be used at home. Paul sought the administration's assurance of something that ought to have been easy to assure: that the American people would not have to fear being attacked by their own military on their own soil.
In Pakistan, when an Al-Qaeda militant is known to be somewhere, our Predator drone operators fire Hellfire missiles at the target. Any non-combatants in the area are deemed to be affiliated with the militants, and are killed as well.
Presumably, there may come a time when an American citizen is suspected of being affiliated with Al-Qaeda and engaging in terroristic activities However, America is not an overseas battlefield. In America, all citizens are guaranteed certain rights by the Constitution. The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment states that all Americans cannot be arbitrarily deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
The drone strikes conducted overseas would thus be unconstitutional at home, even if conducted against someone suspected of being part of Al-Qaeda. That person would be entitled — by law and by moral right — to a trial before a jury of his peers. Paul's 13-hour filibuster successfully forced the administration to answer his concerns with an obvious but necessary "no." The fact that this was ever in doubt is in itself a proper justification to twist the administration's arm on the issue.
America's legal abandonment of habeas corpus and regression towards a 12th-century approach to justice is embarrassing enough for the country, yet most of the Senate tacitly supports it. Wednesday, in a vulgar display of partisanship, all but one of the Senate Democrats opposed Paul. This example of the Democrats' spineless abandonment of civil liberties, while pathetic, can almost be understood, simply because they feel obliged to support President Obama's every move.
Opposition to this on the Republican side of the aisle, however, is incomprehensible. Despite a record on civil liberties that was shoddy at best during the Bush years, the Republicans like to market themselves as the party of political freedom and the Constitution.
Since the Democrats defaulted on their responsibility to defend civil liberties in 2008, some Republicans have taken over the mantle of protecting the Bill of Rights. Congressmen like retired Ron Paul (R-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and several others have been representing the civil libertarians of the nation who have been largely ignored since President Obama took office.
This wing of the party is responsible for the influx of enthusiastic young activists who support the Constitution, limited government, and individual rights. These articulate and passionate defenders of the free market and a free society are the future of the Republican Party; the libertarian-leaning wing of the GOP is the only thing standing between it and complete obsolescence.
Meanwhile, the dinosaurs of the neo-conservative wing of the party insist on preventing progress at every turn. While Rand Paul is attempting to right the listing ship which is the GOP, his fellow Republicans Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are hard at work, drilling ever more holes through the hull.
After spending Wednesday night having dinner with President Obama, McCain and Graham came out of bed Thursday to oppose the filibuster, hopefully as the final death throes of a withering wing of the GOP.
McCain agreed that a conversation must be had over drones, and stated, "that conversation should not be talking about drones killing Jane Fonda and people in cafes. It should be all about what authority and what checks and balances should exist." The Arizonan Senator seems to be unaware of the fact that Paul's filibuster was exactly about what authorities and checks and balances should exist — including the example McCain cited.
Graham said that he "[finds] the question offensive. As much I disagree with President Obama and as much as I support past presidents, I do not believe that question deserves an answer." Really, senator? You do not believe that a query as to whether or not due process ought to still be upheld in the United States of America is worthwhile — even though the Attorney General was able to answer the question in one word of a three-line letter? Why do you find defending the Fifth Amendment offensive?
I wonder who picked up the tab at dinner last night.
It is disturbing to me that two prominent Republican Senators have such little regard for the document they swore an oath to uphold. The Republican Party cannot afford to support men whose views are relics of a long-since past Cold War at a time when they have such a unique opportunity to affirm their commitment to the Bill of Rights.
While Paul leads the fight for the Constitution on the Senate floor, McCain argues against him in contradictions and Senator Graham bleats that he is offended. Who represents the future of the party; who represents the long-since-past? Who will lead the Republican Party back to its traditional defense of the Constitution; who will lead it to be a decaying corpse?
The answers, I think, are obvious. If the Republican Party seeks to be a relevant political force among the next generation, their course of action is clear: They must turn their backs on the paranoid authoritarian wing of their party and allow it to collapse into a pit of its own senility. The Republicans must instead adopt the only direction that offers them a future: A clear and unabashed defense of political freedom, the Constitution, and individual rights.