Rand Paul filibustered the nomination of John Brennan to CIA Director for over twelve hours yesterday, demanding clear answers about the federal government’s authority to target US citizens for drone strikes without a trial. It was an exciting performance that blurred the tired left/right political lines as Paul won rare praise from both Heritage and the ACLU, from both Rachel Maddow and Sarah Palin.
For the record, while I think our overseas drone strikes are unethical and counterproductive, I think malicious use of drones to assassinate non-“imminent” US citizens on US soil is completely hypothetical, and not something the Obama administration ever wants to use, just like I don’t think Obama really wants to “take all our guns away.” But, on principle, I still think the President shouldn’t have powers that he just promises not to use; that’s the fundamental reason behind our notion of a Constitution, of limited government, of being a nation ruled by laws and not by men. Even democratically-elected leaders can abuse their powers; just look at Hugo Chavez, who in many ways was the socialist that many American conservatives still think Obama actually is.
So I think this is an excellent discussion to be having, and I’m ecstatic that in a few months we have gone from hearing no questions about drone policy in the entire election campaign to leaked memos, Congressional hearings, and now 12-hour filibusters that make national news! Whatever your opinion of Paul’s particular arguments, I think this was a much-needed pro-civil-liberties event that was led by Paul and supported almost entirely by fellow Republican Senators (with the admirable exception of Ron Wyden, D-OR).
Of course, the political affiliation of last night’s speakers caused no shortage of irony:
Fascinating day: Tea Party Senator filibusters torture-supporting CIA nominee over civil liberties, while Dem establishment mocks & fumes
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 7, 2013
Republicans arguing in favor of civil liberties. Democrats arguing against. We are officially in Bizzaro World. #filibuster
— Garrett Quinn (@GarrettQuinn) March 7, 2013
Not sure I can handle the whiplash if the GOP rebrands itself as the civil liberties party, but whatever, roll with it!
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) March 7, 2013
The whiplash is fun, but it’s not really that rare. This “Bizarro World” should only surprise you if you’ve swallowed the revisionist history of the status quo, which includes the concept that “Republicans are always on the wrong side of history.” But this is only our generation’s “always at war with Eurasia,” and it’s demonstrably false.
Spielberg’s Lincoln (my thoughts here) resurrected the uncomfortable truth that the abolition of slavery was almost entirely opposed by Democrats, and almost entirely supported by Republicans, who in fact essentially became a party for that very purpose.
Now Paul’s filibuster is resurrecting the uncomfortable truth that the longest filibuster in history was by a Democrat opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, where 87% of the opposing votes also came from Democrats. It’s actually kind of funny how many in the media are still trying to keep that a secret as they provide context in today’s articles, either by not mentioning Strom Thurmond’s party affiliation at all…
The record for the longest individual speech on the Senate floor belongs to former Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
….or by actually listing Thurmond as a Republican:
The record for the longest filibuster belongs to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes beginning on Aug. 28, 1957, in opposition to civil rights legislation.
It is true that Thurmond later switched parties, but he was very much a Democrat while he filibustered the Civil Rights Act. In fact, a few years later, Democrats led by Robert Byrd filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 57 days! (Conveniently, if you didn’t know any better, you might see that “R-S.C.” and assume that it was obviously Republicans who opposed that legislation.)
Now, you may be able to point to economic / political / demographic / game theory / public choice theory / etc explanations for these twists and turns of history – and we haven’t even opened the can about whether or not the above Acts were good laws did what they were supposed to do – but historical twists and turns they remain. Parties shift just as the electorate does. Meanwhile, humans have short memories, especially political pundits. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but it’s already been a pretty fun ride so far.