On the most practical level, Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster from Wednesday morning til after midnight accomplished this: delaying for a day the vote on President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan. Soon enough, Paul ceded repeatedly, Brennan will win confirmation.
So, did Paul accomplish anything besides “blowing up Twitter,” as his cohort Ted Cruz put it? He certainly did. How much he accomplished will be determined, but here are some places to look:
- He got the major media talking, for almost the first time, about the government’s ability to kill U.S. citizens, without trial, even when they’re not posing an imminent threat, on U.S. soil. Also, more broadly, about our government using drones to execute people that maybe we should be trying to capture and try.
- He got many Republicans to express objections to extrajudicial drone killings. Republicans, as a party, haven’t been very worried about U.S. overreaches in the “Global War on Terror.” Paul was something of a loner on this front when he was running in 2010. But Paul’s filibuster captured the attention of the media, and the heart of conservatives and libertarians around the country.
Twitter provided such instant feedback, that it was pretty easy for Republican politicians to see there is a real demand for these sorts of civil liberties concerns on the Right. It may even be that some conservatives who rushed to “Stand to Rand” were really coming out of the closet, emboldened by Paul. Probably, most politicians coming to Paul’s side were being opportunistic. Certainly many conservatives in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere were motivated a bit by partisanship — knocking Obama’s hypocrisy on due process and civil liberties.
But still, even when politicians move for opportunistic or partisan reasons, they move, and the bounds of permissible dissent move with them. It’s now easier for any future Republican politician or conservative commentator to push back on military overreach.
Paul spent hours yesterday setting the case against extrajudicial drone killings in various conservative contexts. He made pro-life arguments. He made Edmund Burke-sounding arguments. He mostly made constitutional arguments. He drew the lines from conservative principles to his more libertarian foreign policy conclusions.
The only check on an executive armed with flying death robots is the separation of powers and an understanding of the Constitution as a limit on government power. This has implications beyond counter-terrorism and war.