Note: Justin’s regularly scheduled column will be delayed. His next piece will be posted for Friday.
The response to Rand Paul’s historic filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan met with rapturous applause from civil libertarians and anti-interventionists on the right and the left – followed by harsh denunciations from Democratic party partisans and their neocon allies. It was a moment when the political landscape redefined itself, traditional categories of “left” and “right” underwent a seismic shift – and the true friends, and enemies, of liberty stood revealed.
On the right, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to the floor the next day, livid with rage. “To my Republican colleagues,” lisped Lindsey:
“I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone, do you? They had a drone program back then, all of a sudden this drone program has gotten every Republican so spun up. What are we up to here?
“People are astonished that President Obama is doing many of the things that President Bush did. I’m not astonished. I congratulate him for having the good judgment to understand we’re at war. And to my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war.”
Poor wittle Windsey: he’s sooooo disappointed. The party’s over. The hysteria of the Bush era – when “don’t you know we’re at war?” could dispense with the petty objections of constitutionalists, who worried we were losing our freedoms in the process of defending them against the Big Bad Terrorists – is history we’d rather forget. What Republicans are “up to” is that they’re suddenly remembering they’re supposed to be the party of individual rights, a legacy Sen. Graham would rather forget.
Notice with what alacrity Graham repeated the talking points of Democratic party hacks who reacted in precisely the same way: the man has an ear for the conventional wisdom, a talent that has gotten him on more Sunday morning talk shows than anyone except his fellow “amigo,” Mad John McCain. The master of bombast, McCain raged:
“To allege that the United States of America, our government would drop a drone hellfire missile on Jane Fonda, that, that is… that brings the conversation from a serious discussion about U.S. policy to the realm of the ridiculous,”
“We’ve done, I think, a disservice to a lot of Americans by making them believe they’re somehow in danger from their government: they’re not. But we are in danger from a dedicated, longstanding, easily replacable leadership enemy that is hell-bent on our destruction, and this leads us to having to do things that perhaps we haven’t had to do in other more conventional wars.”
The Senator wants to convince Americans – especially his fellow GOP’ers – that we have nothing to fear from our own government, but too many of them remember Waco – where 76 men, women, and children, all US citizens, were murdered in cold blood by order of then Attorney General Janet Reno in a military-style assault. And he’s going to have an equally hard time convincing African-Americans the US government is a harmless, and even benign entity they needn’t fear – because too many of them remember the aerial bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia. Sixty-one homes were destroyed in the resulting firestorm: eleven MOVE members were killed, including 5 children as young as 7 years old.
If McCain’s message to his fellow Republicans is “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help,” he had better go back to his focus groups and come up with a new line. Underscoring his own cluelessness, he even had the nerve to cite a War Street Journal editorial which sneered: “If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms.”
This is precisely what McCain fears, and that fear is shared by the so-called “progressives” of the Democratic party, who would much prefer to run against Bush era troglodytes than the new breed of Ron Paul Republicans who have arisen to revive a party that has just about died.
This same fear – and loathing – was all over MSNBC the day after #StandwithRand exploded the Twitterverse. The thuggish Ed Schultz ranted and raved that “Rand Paul is dangerous,” although he did not say to whom. He even took a poll of his brain-dead audience: 90 percent agreed that Sen. Paul is indeed “dangerous! Lawrence O’Donnell showed a video montage of sentences from Sen. Paul’s speech taken out of context, ranted that the Kentucky Republican is “ridiculous,” “paranoid,” and “sick,” and then invited his two guests – E. J. Dionne, and Huffpo writer Ryan Grim – to agree with him. They didn’t. Dionne opined that Sen. Paul’s performance was certainly effective, and gave him credit for bringing attention to a subject few Democrats will touch. Grim made a very good point that almost made the permanent smirk on O’Donnell’s face disappear:
“Frankly, if there is a classified kill list that includes American citizens — if you don’t want conspiracy theories to start circulating then publish that list. If the people on that list are dedicated revolutionaries or extremists they are not going to be surprised to find their name on the list. Publish the list and let people challenge them. As long as there is a secret list of people the President thinks he can kill, you are going to have people concocting all sorts of theories, and there is no way, beyond transparency, that you can challenge that.”
Sen. Paul and Grim are surely not the first people to raise this point: indeed, the same question the junior Senator from Kentucky insisted on getting an answer to was made by none other than MSNBC’S very own Rachel Maddow a few days before the Brennan hearings. Here‘s Rachel:
“The questions themselves are so basic that they are almost more telling than some of the answers they could but probably won`t receive. Questions like, for example, how much evidence does the president need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?
“Also – this is one that sticks with me – does the president have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?
“And, are there any geographic limitations on the intelligence community`s authority to use lethal force against Americans? Including, can intelligence agencies kill people under this authority in the United States? Could the CIA or any other intelligence agency come kill you if the appropriate high-ranking official in the Obama administration, say President Obama, decided that you were affiliated with al Qaeda, and you were a threat, and you might act eminently to endanger their nation? Could you then be legally killed as you lay in your bed?“
If you read the transcript linked above, it’s clear Maddow imagined opposition to the Brennan nomination would come from the left – which is why she found the possibility “interesting” – but what happened was that, except for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) – who wound up voting for Brennan – the “liberals” were mute (except for Dick Durbin, who came to the floor to defend the drone program). Instead, the opposition came from the right – which is why, after having raised precisely the same question brought to the Senate floor by Sen. Paul, Maddow pointedly ignored the #StandwithRand filibuster, leaving it to her MSNBC colleagues to trash it.
Like Shultz and O’Donnell, the neocons were in a frothy-mouthed frenzy over Rand’s spectacular success. David “Axis of Evil” Frum wrote:
“Executive assassinations, hyperinflation leading to populist dictatorships, ordinary Americans protecting themselves by launching insurgencies against the state – these are themes of Rand Paul’s politics, now endorsed by his Republican Senate colleagues. Out of what doom-haunted imagination are such dark fantasies born? The Republican party used to be the party more serious about defending America. Now it provides a home to those more doubtful that America is worth defending.”
Of course, the “doom-haunted imagination” out of which such scenarios are born is history itself, but ignoring the lessons of history is what the neocon doctrine of “American exceptionalism” is all about: we are supposedly immune from such afflictions. But are we? Frum’s own literary effusions prove this is not the case.
In a book co-authored with Richard Perle, An End To Evil, Frum advocated the establishment of a comprehensive government database that would keep tabs on the credit histories, political activities, religious affiliation, and “biometric” information on every American citizen: a TIPS program that was, in effect, an elaborate “snitch” network that “might pick up a break in the certain rhythm or pattern of a community,” as George W. Bush’s Homeland Security director Tom Ridge put it. Frum wants to establish a “domestic intelligence agency” to keep tabs on “subversives.” No, the FBI isn’t good enough: we need real spies, says Frum, linked to a volunteer network of amateur sleuths – your ever-vigilant neighborhood neocon peeking in your window, and reporting his findings to Frum’s political police.
It can’t happen here? It can and will happen here if the David Frums of this world have anything to say about it.
Naturally, the neocon-of-neocons, Bill Kristol, wasn’t standing with Rand, not for a minute: “A Republican party that follows the path of Rand Paul will end up as thoroughly defeated at the ballot box as Macbeth was routed on the battlefield of Dunsinane. And as deservedly so.” Really? Will the Republican party be as thoroughly defeated as it was when Kristol and his chosen team of McCain-Palin were thoroughly throttled – or when neocon sock-puppet Mitt Romney was beaten within an inch of the GOP’s life, and basically reduced to a regional party? Kristol, who has been consistently wrong about everything for the past ten years or so, is hardly qualified as a political prophet. Yet he persists, and his methods – and those of his allies on both sides of the left-right divide – were best described by the witches of MacBeth:
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
Yes, the air is plenty filthy in Washington, D.C., but at least we know there is someone sitting in the US Senate who has yet to choke on it. Long may he breathe and prosper, and that’s why I #StandwithRand – as should you.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I had great fun on Twitter the night of #StandwithRand, somehow acquiring over 200 more followers (!), and I urge you to join me on this wonderfully interactive site: you can do so by going here.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).