If one of the very worst provisions of the Patriot Act – which the government has erroneously and illegally interpreted to gather the phone records of each and every American – expires, we’ll have Senator Rand Paul to thank.
And the truth is, we can’t thank him enough.
Yes, I’ve been critical of the Senator in this space and elsewhere, and yet with this brave stance – and up against a veritable storm of disdain and contempt from the Washington cognoscenti – he has in large part redeemed himself.
With everyone from the President to John McCain and Lindsey Graham attacking Sen. Paul for supposedly “endangering” the national security, the Senator has not only stood his ground but he’s also articulated the libertarian position on the utter impermissibility of what our government is doing and its dire implications for the future of our republic:
“Forcing us to choose between our rights and our safety is a false choice and we are better than that as a nation and as a people,” Paul tweeted. “It’s why I have been seeking for months to have a full, open and honest debate on this issue – a debate that never came.
“Let me be clear: I acknowledge the need for a robust intelligence agency and for a vigilant national security. I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies. But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not. There has to be another way. We must find it together. So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program.”
There is, of course, “another way,” as pointed out here. The government and its law enforcement agencies have plenty of legal alternatives to scooping up our communications indiscriminately, en masse: they’ll just have to put their lawyers on overtime and start obeying the law. This is the real essence of the fight Sen. Paul is making on our behalf: he’s fighting – almost alone – against the utter lawlessness of our rulers, who believe they can do anything to anyone and get away with it.
Lots of ostensible “civil libertarians” who support the USA Freedom Act are wondering why Sen. Paul is standing in the way of a bill that is supposed to “reform” the Patriot Act and rein in the government’s spying on Americans. They are either dishonest, or they just don’t understand the technical issues involved. The authoritarians in our government do understand, however, which is why Deputy NSA Director Richard Ledgett says that under the terms of the bill "the actual universe of potential calls that could be queried against is dramatically larger.” The USA Freedom Act isn’t a “first step,” it’s a step backwards, as I pointed out here, in November of last year, and predicted more than a year ago here:
“The final legislative product [the USA Freedom Act] will be an amalgamation of the language contained in both the original Sensenbrenner bill and the Feinstein extension of the NSA’s powers, leading to the creation of a new hybrid system in which the power of the State to track, surveil, and investigate Americans on suspicion of "terrorism" will be extended in more ways than it is (theoretically) restricted.
“The castle still stands, its inner sanctum unbreached – while, outside, the peasants with pitchforks gather …”
The castle, however, has been breached, thanks to Sen. Paul – and us peasants, i.e. the majority of Americans outside the Beltway, must stand ready with our pitchforks aimed in Washington’s direction. The blizzard of scaremongering lies, and outright hysteria being exuded by the DC Establishment in both parties proves Sen. Paul has struck a nerve – and they sure are howling! Well, let them howl: the measure of their pain is the measure of our pleasure at this great victory for the cause of liberty.
The question of whether or not we’re going to restore our old republic and overthrow the criminal elements who have seized control of our government in the post-9/11 era has always been a question of leadership. As Garet Garrett put it many years ago:
“No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose.”
When Garrett penned those words, which appear as the final paragraph of his prescient Rise of Empire, there was indeed no leader to make the people choose. There was only Sen. Robert A. Taft, a vacillating leader, at best, and the fading warriors of the Old Right, who had fought against Franklin Roosevelt’s wartime dictatorship – and lost. And in all the years since that tragic time, no leader — with one exception — has arisen to take up the banner of liberty and peace and held it aloft as it should be held.
I’ve been very critical of Sen. Paul, even going so far as to say he lacked the character to be President on account of his Taft-like vacillation in the face of constant (and no doubt wearying) attacks. But that was then – and this is now. By single-handedly standing in the well of the Senate and literally placing his body between the American people and the cretins who claim the “right” to spy on them, Sen. Paul is performing what is in effect – albeit not literally – an act of heroic civil disobedience unprecedented in the history of our nation. He is our Horatius at the bridge, and every lover of liberty – indeed, every ordinary American, libertarian or not, who values the rule of law and the Bill of Rights – owes him a great debt.
Paul is running for President, and there can be no doubt about the risk he’s taking here. With a phony “reform” bill providing cover for our cowardly legislators, and the leaders of his own party taking out after him hammer and tongs, Sen. Paul is placing his political future on the line for an overarching principle. Regardless of what one may think of Sen. Paul and his politics, we must honor – and support – him in this fight in any case.
Speaking of Sen. Paul’s politics: in what is almost a 180 degree turnaround, Sen. Paul has amped up his anti-interventionist message to the nth degree – proving that politicians can learn, and do respond to criticism from the peanut gallery (although I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to assume it had anything to do with anything I’ve written). In a recent appearance on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews, Paul responded to critics of his contention that GOP warhawks did much to make the creation of ISIS possible. Matthews asked him what if Bill Kristol – who stupidly likened Paul to Bernie Sanders – is right? What if you’re all alone out there? This is what Paul said in response:
“Here’s the interesting thing. Some of these pundits who know nothing but glory for war, they live inside the beltway and have not been to America so I invite them to come to Iowa. I invite them to come to New Hampshire. There was a poll in Iowa a couple of months ago, and it said, do you believe in more interventions, more foreign intervention, like John McCain or less intervention like Rand Paul? It was almost evenly split. There’s a good chunk of the Republican party who thinks that we should think before we act, that war is not always the answer, that war may be the last resort not the first resort …”
Paul is currently running in second place in Iowa polls – and he’s first among independents likely to vote in the GOP poll. He is tied for first in New Hampshire with Scott Walker.
Paul’s gamble may be paying off.
Now that’s he’s clearly abandoned the caution that characterized his campaign at the beginning, and – apparently – settled on a strategy of “let Rand be Rand,” he’s gaining traction. Which just goes to show that the libertarian message, undiluted by the nervous-nellie “pragmatism” of the professional know-it-alls, works with the electorate, if not with the Washington pundits.
I write this before any vote has been taken in the Senate, and so please stay turned for updates in this space. Our battle has just begun, and we don’t as yet know the outcome – but I have to say it’s a great relief in knowing that we have a commander-in-chief who isn’t afraid to fight.
UPDATE: As of this writing, it looks like Sen. Paul’s efforts to block extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act have succeeded, and that section, including two other sections, will expire on June 1. Senate rules will make is impossible for that body to vote on a replacement until sometime in the middle of the week. So a great symbolic victory has been won, due primarily to Sen. Paul’s efforts.
However, the Senate also voted, 77-17, to open debate on that replacement, a phony “reform” bill egregiously named USA Freedom Act, which simply outsources the job of storing our data to the big phone and internet companies, which will then be served with general warrants.
One bright spot: Sen. Paul and others have some amendments in mind in order to make the “Freedom Act” somewhat less horrible. So Paul’s victory may not be purely symbolic after all.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
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 Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.