Starting shortly before noon last Wednesday, the curly-haired and elfin-faced Kentucky Senator Rand Paul spent thirteen hours filibusterin’ Barack Obama and Eric Holder’s balls about whether the federal government claimed the right to kill American citizens on US soil without trial. His performance earned both praise and scorn from both left and right, which suggests that the country’s prefab and punchably tiresome blue/red divisions may be undergoing a tectonic realignment.
Or maybe not. Despite the tremendous publicity his marathon speech generated, Paul did not appear on the usual Sunday-morning round of political TV programs, which chose instead to interview the puffy-cheeked and criminally unexceptional Jeb Bush, who’s sort of the Carl Wilson of the Bush family dynasty.
Still, the tremendous reaction to Paul’s speech suggests that while he may not be as principled as his father Ron, he might be a far shrewder politician. The fact that a Republican can deliver a 13-hour speech that draws praise from Bill Maher and Jon Stewart while angering John McCain and Lindsey Graham hints that Paul may have some sort of strange and unprecedented cross-platform appeal.
The filibuster was technically aimed to delay the nomination of new CIA Chief William Brennan, but it focused specifically on a leaked Department of Justice white paper that raised the question of “imminence” and whether the feds had the right to use drones to kill American citizens within US borders if they felt someone posed an imminent threat to national security. Paul said that Barack Obama had made comments suggesting such a right existed. Paul said he’d also hectored Attorney General Eric Holder and his egregiously obnoxious mustache whether such a right existed but that Holder’s responses were evasive.
Paul said that just as the feds have continually expanded their definition of what exactly constitutes a “terrorist,” he expressed concern that they would expand the neocon illusion that America is engaged in a “perpetual war” against terrorism to the point where the battlefield extended into American soil:
I think our rights are gradually eroding. I think they are gradually slipping away from us….The problem is, they don’t see an end to the war. They—they see perpetual war, perpetual war without geographic limits, and they see the battlefield here. So they want the laws of war to apply not only there but to apply here. Another way of saying the laws of war is martial law. These are the laws of war, these are the laws that are accepted in war. We accept a lot of things on the battlefield that we don’t want to accept here. I acknowledge, we accept it, you don’t get Miranda rights on the battlefield. You don’t get due process. You don’t get an attorney.
During the course of his 13-hour exposition he cited Friedrich Hayek and the mighty Lysander Spooner as well as sundry modern bloggers and pundits. He was careful to praise Martin Luther King while condemning Jim Crow laws and calling Adolf Hitler a bad, bad, bad, bad, evil man. After thirteen hours he could maintain bladder control no longer, which astounds me since I can rarely last thirteen minutes.
Twitter exploded with over a million Tweets during Paul’s marathon, leading to the creation of the hashtag #StandWithRand. His performance earned the expected praise from Tea Party and libertarian types as well as mainstream right-wing stalwarts such as Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and breitbart.com.
Far less enthusiastic were the sclerotic mainstays of the neoconosphere. The ancient squirrel-jowled failed presidential candidate John McCain quoted a Wall Street Journal article that said Paul’s speech was designed to “fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms” and lamented that it’s “the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.” An unidentified McCain aide allegedly said, “Jumping on the Rand Paul black helicopters crazy-train isn’t good for our party.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Paul was “ill-informed” and that his complaints were “ridiculous.” Neither McCain nor Graham attended the filibuster, as they were busy having dinner with Barack Obama.
Charles Krauthammer, whose face, indeed, resembles sauerkraut that has been smashed with a hammer, derided the idea that the feds would authorize the killing of American citizens on US soil without trial as “ridiculous and absurd.” William Kristol, who cleans his fingernails with the dried bones of Muslim infants, dismissed Paul’s speech as “fearmongering” and “kookiness.” David Frum, who I imagine masturbates to footage of Middle Eastern drone strikes, said that Paul “emerges from a milieu in which far-fetched scenarios don’t seem far-fetched at all.”
On the left side of the Holy Church of Left/Right Binary Thinking, MSNBC’s Krystal Ball (who expects people not to laugh at her name) and the eternally smirking Touré (who, when it comes to smarminess, is the equal of any white man) mocked the idea that a nice black man such as Barack Obama would ever abuse his executive power. A writer at Mother Jones, who apparently possesses the mystical ability to read his enemies’ souls, said that Paul didn’t mean a word of it and only pulled this stunt so he could release a fundraising letter the following day. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who won an award as the homeliest and least charming anti-racist witch-hunter in world history, said that Paul had stirred up the paranoid and utterly baseless delusions of leftist nutjobs as well as “the black helicopter crowd of the folks on the far right.” And a blogger for AlterNet wondered why Paul never expressed such concern that the USA was drone-bombing “innocent brown people abroad.”
Miraculously, Paul was able to at least temporarily win the approval of leftists such as bullet-headed commie Van Jones. The wacky and disruptive antiwar group Code Pink even delivered chocolates and flowers to Paul’s Senate office. And during the filibuster, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden summed up in 26 words what it took Rand Paul 13 hours to say:
Mr. President, what it comes down to is every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.
But even though Rand Paul was able to impress people across the arbitrary and ultimately nonexistent left/right spectrum, he has often had trouble appeasing his own tiny core base. Hardcore acolytes of his father have repeatedly slammed him for endorsing Mitt Romney and kowtowing to Israel.
On Thursday, Eric Holder yielded to pressure and sent Paul a terse letter conceding that the government does not have the right to kill its own citizens on US soil without trial, and it’s refreshing to see Eric Holder concede to anything.
Only time will tell whether Rand Paul emerges as a formidable presidential contender in 2016 or whether he threw all his lightning bolts in one shot and will slowly fade away. For now he remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma swaddled in the Constitution.
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