Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Drones and Droning On

Yesterday, Rand Paul gave an old-style filibuster where he talked on the Senate floor for 12 hours and 54 minutes about drones and executive power. At first, Paul wanted the Obama administration to come out and say that it is unconstitutional for the government to kill American citizens on American soil without due process. Obama's response: "No comment."

Later, Paul was willing to compromise and end the filibuster for a vote on a non-binding "sense of the Senate" resolution that "the use of drones to execute or target American citizens on American soil who pose no imminent threat clearly violates Constitutional rights." Democrats (in particular, Majority Whip Dick Durbin) refused.

Ultimately, Paul ended the filibuster without accomplishing his explicit goals, though he has clearly energized his supporters and apparently turned a libertarian talking point into GOP policy. The Minority Leader Mitch McConnell showed up to explicitly support Paul and encourage other Republicans to do the same.

Not all Republicans agreed, however. Senator Lindsey Graham called the whole thing "ridiculous," and he's right -- it should be. The proper response from the Obama administration would have been, "Of course, it's unconstitutional to kill citizens on our soil without due process." This should not even be a question. Indeed, if they had responded quickly enough, they could have devastated Rand Paul's credibility and painted him and libertarians in general as paranoid freaks. But they didn't, and that really has me puzzled.

Obama had the opportunity to give the Tea Party and libertarians a roundhouse kick to the face on prime time TV, and he didn't. He did nothing, and doing nothing gave Paul an incredible victory. Durbin went even further, and objected to just a vote on a non-binding resolution on the issue. Why are Obama and Durbin (and the rest of the Democrats) willing to hand Republicans such a PR coup just to hold on to a power they claim they don't want to use anyway?

At this point, it would be easy to fall into conspiracy theories, but I suspect the Democrats are being honest when they say they don't want to kill Americans in the streets. However, being in power, they thought they had an opportunity to expand that power, and they took it. Everyone likes to have options. They just didn't think anyone would notice. Once libertarians did notice, the Democrats thought no one would pay attention to the libertarians anyway. Now that Paul has forced the issue and gotten people to pay attention, the Democrats don't want to turn around and admit that he's right, because they think they'll look bad if they do. They don't seem to recognize that digging their heels in and insisting on the right to kill American citizens without due process makes them look even worse.

Now that Paul has everyone talking, it will be interesting to see what he does with it. Can he inspire actual change?

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