The Spectacle Blog

A Reply to Ross, Reid & Matt Re:Rand Paul

By on 3.8.13 | 8:24PM

I am not surprised that my opposition to Senator Rand Paul's filibuster generated response amongst fellow TAS contributors. If it hadn't then I would have been disappointed.

Ross Kaminsky, Matt Purple and Reid Smith have each taken the time to respond and I will respond in kind.

I will begin with Ross since that he has probably the most vocal in his support of Paul's filibuster.

First of all, I apologize to Ross for calling him a conservative. He describes himself as an "objectivist/libertarian." While it's true that conservatives and libertarians have common cause they are far from mutually exclusive. The last thing I wish to do is attribute a set of values to someone who does not subscribe to them.

With that out of the way, all in all, Ross and I aren't that far apart on things. Ross agrees with my characterization of Paul as a demagogue and is far from sold on him as a presidential candidate although he'll take Paul over any Democrat. 

I appreciate where Ross is coming from vis a vis Brennan on previous questions concerning the use of drones. However, as Director of the CIA, his focus is on American interests abroad and thus the matter is beyond his purview. If Holder hadn't been so ambigious in his testimony this week then I doubt Paul would have even raised this matter. Brennan's views aren't the issue here. If they were, Brennan would not have been sworn in today.

Ross' main critique of my analysis is that I am too narrow on focusing my critique on drones instead of focusing on the limits of presidential power. But if wasn't for the drones and Holder's ambigious statement on them there would be no filibuster, at least not at this time.

For his part, Matt reserves his scorn for David Frum rather than myself. Indeed, Matt conveyed his appreciation of my willingness to go against the grain. He also acknowledges my point that Paul was engaging in political theater. However, I was struck by this particular passage:

Eric Holder isn't going to order a drone strike on an innocent U.S. citizen. But by not clearly answering Paul's question, he risked setting a precedent for a future administration more inclined towards horrific abuse.

This is where I disagree. In the event we were to have a future administration bent on doing grievous harm to civilians I doubt they would need Holder for inspiration much less justification. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes adminster cruelty on a whim, law or no law. 

Like Ross, Matt wanted to hear the Obama Administration acknowledge it did not have the authority to commit a particular act and praises Paul's filibuster for bringing about this particular outcome. By inclination, conservatives and libertarians believe in the limitation of governmental authority and Holder's initial response did certainly create some ambiguity as to how the President might use his authority. However, the Obama Administration also never said it would use drones in this way either and even Holder's ambiguity never left me with the impression that they would wantonly drop drones on unsuspecting morning commuters, filibuster or no filibuster.

Reid Smith is far less generous than Ross or Matt in his commentary. He takes umbrage with my characterization of Paul as a demagogue. I'm glad Reid got a kick out of the Alice in Wonderland references but the one area where I praised Paul was his use of political theater. To get anywhere in politics one must engage in theater. However, Paul was engaged in the theater of the absurd.

Merriam-Webster defines demagogue as "a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power." With this in mind, let's consider a couple of passages from the beginning of Paul's filibuster:

I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your right to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.

Moments later, Paul added:

I will speak today until the President responds and says no, we won't kill Americans in cafes; no, we won't kill you at home in your bed at night; no, we won't drop bombs on restaurants.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Demagoguery 101. Professor Rand Paul will be your instructor. Watch as he makes whole cloth out of thin air. The notion that the Obama Administration is planning or setting the stage for a future administration to kill Americans in cafes, restaurants and their homes through the deployment of drones is fatuous nonsense and Paul knows it. But Paul also knows that there are Americans who believe this will come to pass and he is feeding on this fear to fuel his political ambitions. Rand Paul is, by definition, a demagogue.

Reid is also untroubled with Paul's invocation of Hitler. It should be noted that Paul has been invoking Hitler for years going back to 2007 when he did so discussing the No Child Left Behind Act. If Paul is prepared to suggest that the No Child Left Behind Act could lead to the establishment of the Fourth Reich in Washington then he's in Naomi Wolf territory only without the earthtones. Anyone who invokes Hitler with such frequency clearly has no understanding of the meaning of Nazism nor does he care. If Paul did truly understand the horrors of Nazism then he would not speak of it so casually. However, if Reid thinks Paul's invocation of Hitler is good politics then that's his problem, not mine.

For good measure, Reid suggests that I should cross the aisle if I am unwilling to stand with Rand. Well, too  damn bad. I'm staying right where I am. This isn't an either or proposition. One's belief in conservatism or libertarianism does not rest on whether one "stands with Rand". On the contrary, Rand Paul and his filibuster aren't above criticism and scrutiny. Indeed, before conservatives and libertarians make Paul's filibuster the new Concord and Lexington, we need to think long and hard and ask ourselves if we are carrying on our revolutionary traditions or if we are engaging in the sort of buffoonery and hysteria that will drive people into the arms of Obama and his successors for generations to come.

Send to Kindle

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article