Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, is drawing attention as a potential Republican candidate for president come 2016, part of a new generation of GOP leadership.
But ladies and gentlemen, Rand Paul is also a bit of a nut. The deep streak of paranoia that he displayed for almost 13 hours on the Senate floor last week would, in ordinary times, disqualify him as a party leader, let alone a potential president. But sadly, these are not ordinary times.
Let’s start by admitting that the stunt itself was a nice piece of political stagecraft. The one-man, TV-friendly filibuster gave Paul the opportunity to play Jimmy Stewart, a lone hero standing up in defense of the Constitution. It’s the type of role that Paul covets.
However, if you’re going to grandstand on the national stage like that, shouldn’t you have something sane to say?
According to Paul, he rose to address the nation because he was deeply, seriously concerned that the Obama administration might start using drones to kill U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil, without due process and even if they posed no imminent threat.
“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be 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, Ky., is an abomination.”
It is a nonsensical, ridiculous issue. In a letter to Paul earlier in the week, Attorney General Eric Holder had already made it clear that no American was going to be droned by his or her own government in his or her own country:
“As members of this Administration have previously indicated, the U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter, moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat….
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.”
That’s an entirely reasonable, common-sense and constitutionally appropriate response to an inherently silly query. But to Paul, that wasn’t enough to calm the fear. He and a few others, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, seized upon the Holder letter as proof that the administration was keeping its options open.
As Paul later noted in his filibuster:
Those and other rantings inspired a second letter from Holder, much more succinct than the first:
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer is no.”
Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard, was properly dismissive of the Paul stunt, and what it might mean to the Republican Party:
“Will it ultimately serve (Paul) well to be the spokesman for the Code Pink faction of the Republican Party? How much staying power is there in a political stance that requires waxing semi-hysterical about the imminent threat of Obama-ordered drone strikes against Americans sitting in cafés? And as for the other Republican senators who rushed to the floor to cheer Paul on, won’t they soon be entertaining second thoughts? Is patting Rand Paul on the back for his fear-mongering a plausible path to the presidency for Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz? Is embracing kookiness a winning strategy for the Republican Party? We doubt it.”
I doubt it too. I didn’t think it possible for the 2016 GOP presidential field to even approach the 2012 field in terms of wackiness, but given early indications, I may have to reconsider that notion.
– Jay Bookman