Imagine for a moment that Dennis Kucinich had somehow been elected to the Senate. A Republican president sends his CIA chief nominee up to the Hill for confirmation. We're at war abroad, with terrorists still apparently intent on doing us harm here at home. And in the middle of all that, Kucinich decides to filibuster because he hasn't received assurances that the administration won't use new technologies to kill Americans.
Under that scenario, the howl of righteous outrage on talk radio and elsewhere would be deafening. Kucinich would be putting politics over national security. He would be a far-left loon, with radical ideas. And some might go so far to question what someone contemplating such nefarious possibilities must think about their country.
Now flip the script. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., does it. Many on the left, at least having the benefit of consistency, applaud him. But the far right? Now, suddenly, it's an heroic move.
The hypocrisy is staggering. And it may not be confined to the right wing peanut gallery. For all of the hosanna's he's receiving, it's hard not to wonder if beneath Paul's righteous rage there's some cynical political calculating going on.
Let's put the Paul filibuster into some context. Paul was elected in 2010. That was the wave election that swept Republicans into office on the strength of the so-called tea party revolt. The signature of the movement: a deep hostility towards, and suspicion of, the federal government. Paul was and is a darling of the tea party.
Here are some of the things tea partyers espouse about the president: He wasn't born in the United States. He is a secret Muslim. His allegiance is to something other than the America we all love.
Putting this president in charge of an already sinister federal government has led to an increasingly hysterical strain of conservative thought. Think Ben Shapiro or Mark Levin. The president's trying to tear down the country (literally, as if his hands are made of back hoes.) He's a secret socialist or a dictator in disguise. One reason we need all the weapons we can get in our homes is to defend ourselves from the growing threat of tyranny. The black helicopter conspiratorialists haven't just been invited to the party, they're mixing the cocktails.
OK, so taken in context, what was Paul doing on the floor of the Senate the other day? Expressing an authentic concern about executive branch overreach? Maybe. Resuscitating the oldie but goodie form of the filibuster? I guess so. But that's like looking at the tail of an elephant and calling it the entire beast. What Paul was articulating, over and over again, hour after hour, was the next evolution in the tea party's paranoid narrative, draped in the respectability of the U.S. Senate: Watch out, this malevolent president just might be getting ready to rain down death from the skies in an effort to silence dissenters, like you. The black helicopter has morphed into a drone and drifted right into mainstream Republican thought.
That may feed tea partyers' sense of grievance and outsized self-importance, but for anyone who understands the history of this country and believes in its future, it's a notion so preposterous as to be almost beyond words. Honestly, what kind of transformation would have to happen in the United States for the federal government to start using attack drones to secretly assassinate American dissenters? And how, exactly, would they do it? Bob from Arizona says something mean on talk radio. Four hours later his house is reduced to rubble. And suddenly we all find ourselves living under a regime that makes Assad look like a rookie. Really? This is what Republicans are thinking about America these days?
And, if we really are going to contemplate it, why would a federal government intent on stifling dissent through deadly force need to resort to drone strikes? Launching a missile at someone isn't a subtle business. And here's some breaking news: The federal government has a pretty full arsenal already. For most of us, a silencer at the end of a gun would do just fine.
But wait, you say. Rand Paul asked a reasonable question that the administration refused to answer.
Really? Here's what Attorney General Eric Holder said in his first letter to Paul: "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." He then cited two examples: Pearl Harbor and 9/11—in other words, when the United States is under attack. You may not agree with that position, though it is impossible to conceive of a single conservative, in the moment, actually disagreeing with it. But it's hardly a confusing one.
And yet, take a look at your Twitter feed. Everyone from Ari Fleischer to Matt Drudge are still stoking the paranoia Paul launched. And he's still got his defenders on the left, too. So let's be clear: There was no noble principle on display last Wednesday. No courage. No refreshing return to the way the legislative process is supposed to work. This was cynicism layered under hypocrisy birthing the next iteration of the ugliest politics on the scene today. At doing that at least, Rand Paul is proving to be a master.
What a sham. And a shame.