Content Section

Latest Updates

Slam Dunk

Shaq Backs Christie

The NBA superstar is endorsing New Jersey's Republican governor—and so are many other African Americans. John Avlon on what Christie can teach the GOP.

The big man of basketball is endorsing the big man of politics.

Newark-native Shaquille O’Neal is elbowing his way into the campaign scrum by backing the re-election of New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie in a television ad revealed days before the start of the NBA season and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

In the 30-second spot, the star center who won four championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat makes his case for why New Jersey-ites of all political stripes should support the re-election of the man campaigning simply as “The Governor.”

“I don’t endorse many politicians. But Chris Christie is different,” Shaq says. “He’s working with me to bring jobs back to our cities and on a new program to help kids in tough neighborhoods get ahead. Governor Christie’s provided more funding for schools, given parents more choices in what schools their kids can go to, and merit pay for good teachers. He’s a good man. Excuse me, he’s a great man. Please join me in supporting Chris Christie–the Governor.”

Not all endorsements are created equal–and some celebrity endorsements can backfire (see Clint Eastwood’s interrogation of an empty chair at the 2012 GOP convention). But Shaq backing Chris Christie sends a message that should resonate in both the Garden State and throughout the national Republican Party.

Amid a fall of plummeting poll numbers and signs of a GOP pummeling coming in Virginia and New York City elections, Chris Christie is cruising to a landslide victory over his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono. While the strident social conservatism of Ken Cuccinelli scares off swing voters in the Old Dominion and Joe Lhota is being attacked on Gotham airwaves as a son of the Tea Party, Chris Christie is defying political gravity. His unapologetic center-right governance appeals beyond the base, providing a rare bright spot as the GOP tries to get out of the demographic trap of being the party of old white men.

Because Christie is consistently in the top-tier of potential 2016 GOP contenders, his re-election is a bellwether–sure to be studied and touted as much as George W. Bush’s 1998 Texas re-election landslide provided an argument for the appeal of “compassionate conservatism” after repudiation of the Gingrich revolution.

Stalemate

We Need a Hostage Negotiator

With Washington held hostage by the far-right, the shutdown crisis is stuck in stalemate. John Avlon talks to a former FBI hostage negotiator about how to break the deadlock. Yes, it's come to this.

With the government shutdown entering its second week and debt ceiling default less than two weeks away, polarization has turned poisonous and confusion reigns on Capitol Hill.

131005-avlon-negotiator-tease

Everett, Getty

“It actually reminds me of a prison siege,” says Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, as he surveys the dysfunctional congressional deadlock. “The opposition isn’t particularly organized. The smart move is to pick among the leadership on the other side who is the most reasonable. Then you empower them by talking with them and granting some sort of small concession. And they suddenly gain a lot of influence on their side.”

Yes, it’s come to this: Washington’s shutdown stalemate looks like a hostage crisis to high-stakes negotiators. And in their eyes, the inmates are running the asylum.

Republicans and Democrats are barely speaking and the right is divided, consumed with paranoid intra-party negotiations. Some conservative congressmen are now insisting that the shutdown was never their intention, despite repeated votes to the contrary. Emotions are running high and logic has left the building, best evidenced by this instant classic absurdist outburst by Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-IN): “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

It’s time to call in a hostage negotiator. I met Voss at CNN after he was summoned in an inspired bit of booking for Christine Roman’s Your Money. After taping a segment, we sat down to talk in greater detail. Voss handled hostage negotiations for the F.B.I. and served as a longtime member of the Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York City. He is now the CEO of the Black Swan Group consultancy and teaches negotiation at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. And if Voss is discouraged by the situation in Washington, it should be a wake-up call for all of us. Our democracy is in serious disrepair.

“I hate watching it break down to this degree,” Voss says. “Washington, by definition, is often run by compromise—and that’s not happening.”

So how did it get to this point? “Its fear-driven behavior,” says Voss. “They get angrier because they feel they’ve been defeated. People notice losses twice as much as they notice wins. It’s a sports metaphor you hear all the time: ‘I hate losing more than I like winning’…I think there’s a very strong sense of loss on their part over what they refer to as Obamacare and resentment over that is carried forward.”

Watch This!

‘I Have a Dream,’ Annotated

Ever wondered where ‘Let freedom ring’ came from or whether there were any Lincoln allusions? To mark the national holiday that honors the civil-rights leader, watch Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, with annotations by John Avlon.

Fifty years ago, hundreds of thousands gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Watch Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, with annotations from John Avlon about the reverend’s allusions and the context of his words. Press play on the video below to begin.

MR. FIX-IT

Jim Messina’s New Mission

David Cameron hiring the head of Obama’s reelection campaign is a coup in large part because it highlights the fact the Third Way is alive and well, writes John Avlon, and can translate to Election Day support.

The incumbent was underwater. Low poll numbers and a still-sluggish economy, soaring campaign promises of hope and change that never quite materialized. The opposition attacked him; so did some of the ideological absolutists in his own camp.

That's the situation Jim Messina inherited when he took the helm of President Obama's reelection campaign in 2011. And it applies to the thicket of problems he's going to confront as the newly announced senior adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron's 2015 reelection campaign.

151132414MB00193_Obama_Acce

Jim Messina is taking his skills across the pond. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On the surface it is an odd-couple pairing: the University of Montana Democrat and the Oxford-educated Conservative. But Obama and Cameron are both pioneering members of Generation X, indulging in modest relatable rebellion before reaching the highest elected office in their land. Both men campaigned as candidates of generational change, presenting themselves as postpartisan coalition builders and rapidly rising to prominence on the strength of their speeches. Neither entered office with much executive experience, and the old political aphorism that "you campaign in poetry but govern in prose" quickly hobbled sky-high expectations.

But Messina distinguished himself as an all-purpose Mr. Fix-It on the first Obama campaign and subsequently as a deputy chief of staff in the White House. Understated and practical, Messina was the ER doctor called in to help pass high-stakes bills like health-care reform when they looked like they were on life support. A longtime Capital Hill staffer, the Wilco-loving 40-something understood the mechanics of Washington politics—and could quietly twist arms, massage egos, and get things done.

Fitting for a former field organizer, Mr. Messina does not take the mechanics of campaigns for granted—he knows that votes are won or lost by direct contact in communities rather than just by carpet-bombing the airwaves. His Western roots also provided a necessary check and balance to the Ivy League urban sensibilities of the Obama inner circle.

But his real insight in the 2012 campaign was to marry the individual contact philosophy of a field campaign with a massive but still targeted social-media strategy. For example. while the Romney campaign was spending millions on negative television ads, Messina saw that online platforms like Facebook were being all but ignored by the Republicans, creating room to present a positive digital grassroots message for the president that resonated with the millennial generation, who are understandably allergic to polarizing, hyperpartisan appeals.

As a result the 2012 Obama campaign shocked the political world by actually growing the electoral map for the incumbent, despite conventional wisdom that said the president would be unable to sustain the kind of record-breaking turnout he enjoyed in his first campaign. In addition, historic precedent said that presidential elections are essentially referendums on the economy.

Second Act

Spitzer’s Comeback Plan

First came Mark Sanford, then Anthony Weiner, and now Eliot Spitzer is throwing his hat in the New York City comptroller’s race. John Avlon on why the sex scandals of old are dead—and why Spitzer’s smarter than Weiner.

It’s official—the sex scandal is dead. Eliot Spitzer is running for office.

Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer speaks during the Dish Network War of the Words at Hammerstein Ballroom on September 13, 2012, in New York City. (Kris Connor/Getty for Dish Network)

Inspired by the unexpected success of Anthony Weiner, whose crotch shots and sexting with strangers seem only to have added to his street cred, Spitzer is echoing Weiner’s signature request for “forgiveness” and a second chance. Hubristic humility is now a thing in New York.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Spitzer had too much money and too much ambition to sit around with time on his hands and watch comparatively second-rate politicos rise to redemption. After all, few disgraced former governors who commit the unforgivable political sin—hypocrisy, not sex—find themselves offered a prime-time cable television slot within two years as compensation. And though all did not end well for Spitzer at CNN or Current TV, the man kept himself “in the arena.” But an outright run for office, even a lesser electoral perch, seemed unlikely this cycle.

It should be said that Bubba set the mold. Post-Monica, Clinton’s poll numbers climbed on credible claims of competence. He seemed liberated by dirty laundry aired in the open, finally free to be loved for who he really was: a talented, intelligent, testosterone-overproducing political machine. But he was already in his second term, without the need to face the voters again. And with time, the memory of Monica receded while the legend of Bill only looms larger.

From that foundation came the more audacious 2013 play—what if a politician tainted by sex scandal could use that notoriety to regain power and position? Mark Sanford set the template earlier this year with a successful run for his old South Carolina congressional seat. His request for a second chance was granted as high name ID, intelligence on the issues, and a deft political touch trumped any concerns about family values.

Anthony Weiner took notice and decided that now was the time to put his Q-rating and remaining campaign coffers to the test with a run for New York City mayor. Better-prepared, lesser-known Democratic challengers have failed thus far to turn Weiner’s public disgrace into a disqualifier—and buoyed by panting media coverage, he has turned the campaign into a referendum on relatability, going so far as to compare his struggle to the "hero’s arc." Overcoming the embarrassment of a sex scandal is now apparently the equivalent of serving time on Robben Island.

It must be said that Spitzer is smarter than Weiner, at least in terms of his target selection. Weiner could not help himself—he had to run for the highest office in his land, City Hall. As I’ve argued before, a far smarter if uncharacteristically modest move for Weiner would have been to run for a secondary citywide office, such as public advocate or comptroller. Pay your penance while demonstrating a commitment to public service. Work hard, keep your head down, and four to eight years later, electoral redemption would have been well earned. That is now Spitzer’s game plan.

Immigration Fighter

He Wasn't Afraid

Of all the Gang of Eight, Sen. Lindsey Graham had the most to lose—but instead of playing to the base with reelection looming, he got immigration reform passed through the Senate. John Avlon on a true profile in courage.

Profiles in courage are rare in our politics these days, but the Senate’s passage of comprehensive immigration reform is bright example of how Washington does not need to be a place where good ideas go to die.

graham-041-061113.JPG

Lindsey Graham has proven himself a maverick when it comes to immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call, via Getty)

Credit goes to the “Courageous 14” Republican senators who joined with the Democratic majority to make this legislation pass by a towering bipartisan margin of 68 to 32. Building squarely on the tireless efforts of the Gang of Eight—led by Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, and John McCain—the bill’s passage was a timely reminder that common ground is the only practical problem-solving space on Capitol Hill. That matters if you believe Congress should be more than an ideological debating society.

But the first among equals in the profile in courage sweepstakes is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Of all the Gang of Eight senators, he was the most unvarnished in his advocacy and he has the most to lose.

Immigration reform isn’t exactly a popular agenda item in South Carolina. It has no natural constituency, as in Arizona or Florida. There is no obvious political upside for a senator already viewed as suspect by the Tea Party crowd and facing reelection—and a possible primary fight—in 2014. A lesser public servant would shy away and let others do the heavy lifting, but Graham instead said: “I don’t want to stop being a senator to be a senator.”

Instead of playing to the base and dealing in demographic denial, Graham spoke bluntly about the stakes of failure on immigration reform. “We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community, in my view, is to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” he said on Meet the Press. “If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who we run, in my view,” in 2016.

After Vice President Joe Biden announced that the immigration reform bill had passed, chants of "yes we can!" broke out in the Senate.

As some party leaders counsel a strategy of simply trying to get out the white vote more effectively, Graham is not afraid to confront Republicans’ declining fortunes among Hispanics in presidential campaigns—down from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 27 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012.

The Thrill Is Gone

Obama’s Poll Numbers Plummet

Younger voters and independents have soured significantly on the president in the last month, writes John Avlon.

President Obama has a problem: the Teflon’s worn off.

75132658

President Obama delivers a keynote address at the Waterfront Hall ahead of the G8 Summit on Monday in Belfast. (Pool photo by Paul Faith)

That’s the clear conclusion of a new CNN/Opinion Research poll (PDF) showing the government-surveillance scandals taking a real toll on the president’s popularity—particularly with the younger voters who have been among his staunchest supporters. In just one month, support for the president among voters under age 30 plummeted by 17 points.

Perhaps the most devastating poll number, though, is the reversal of perception on what has been one of this president’s core characteristics: honesty and trustworthiness. Around three in five voters have consistently seen Obama possessing these traits, meaning that even voters who didn’t approve of his job performance saw him as an essentially honest guy and a trustworthy chief executive. No more. On this measure, too, the president is underwater at 49 percent—a nine-point drop.

Political independents are also souring on Obama, with just 37 percent approving of his job performance, a 10-point drop. But because the independent voter cohort has moved right in the wake of the Tea Party movement, we see a continued split between independents and self-described moderate voters, 53 percent of whom still approve of the job the president is doing. The support of centrist voters is President Obama’s life preserver, stopping him from going underwater entirely.

Given that the president’s overarching goal of effective and efficient progressive governance, it has to hurt when only 47 percent of Americans now believe he can “manage the government effectively” and just 42 percent say Obama generally shares their view on the size and power of government. These results might give Chris Christie and Rand Paul hope about their 2016 prospects presenting themselves as the balance to eight years of Obama. 

One poll shouldn’t be seen as determinative, but this poll could be a leading indicator and it should cause concern in the West Wing. Right now, only 35 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling government surveillance. That’s lower than the 39 percent of Americans who approved of Bush’s approach to the issue back in 2006, just months before Republicans lost control both houses of Congress. Moreover, 43 percent now say the White House has “gone too far” in terms of restricting people’s civil liberties to fight terrorism, more than the 39 percent who felt the same way about the Bush-Cheney administration in 2006. 

To some extent, Obama is paying the cost of high expectations. Hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics, and though Obama has been consistently hawkish on the counterterrorism front, there were reasonable expectations that he would reign in some of the excesses of the Bush-Cheney era. Instead, many policies have continued and some have been expanded, creating a blowback that the president will need to address in actions more than words. 

Hypocrisy

The Block-and-Blame Game

While 41 Republican Senators and five Democrats voted against the bipartisan bill for universal background checks, the RNC says it’s Obama’s fault. That's despicable, writes John Avlon.

There’s chutzpah, and then there’s rank hypocrisy.

The RNC released a slick but cynical Web ad this week commemorating the first 100 days of President Obama’s second term. Politics ain’t beanbag, and no one expected their assessment would be sunshine and light. But there’s a particularly low place for folks who block and then blame—in this case, intimating with mock sadness that the president is legislatively impotent for failing to pass universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook slaughter.

Was7461503

President Obama, accompanied Gabrielle Giffords (left), Vice President Joe Biden (center), and families who suffered gun violence, speaks on gun control April 17 at the White House Rose Garden. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Reality check: 41 Republican senators (and five Democrats) voted against the bipartisan compromise bill crafted by Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin. And among Republicans controlling the House, the modest background check bill—supported by 90 percent of Americans—was considered DOA. 

This affront to common sense and common decency is difficult to defend. And so the RNC response is to blame the president for a failure to lead, despite that his bipartisan outreach was rejected by most Republicans.

Don’t take my word for it—listen to Pat Toomey: “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized,” Toomey told the Times Herald editorial board. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

This is ugly stuff, deeply self-defeating to the cause of self-government. It is also the new normal. Now polls show that you reap what you sow: Republicans face a credibility gap based on the perception that they are too inflexible and unwilling to compromise. And so the apparent solution struck at the RNC is to skip over the facts as if we all have the attention span of gnats. 

But in the wake of the Senate rejection of universal background checks, we already see that Republican senators from swing states who voted against the bill are facing a backlash, while red-state Democrats who took the risk of voting for the bill are seeing a boost in their political fortunes. The lesson is that we do pay attention—especially if there is a moral dimension and frustration over popular will being ignored.

ROUND 1

South Carolina Slugfest

What about those Argentinean trips, Mr. Sanford? Colbert Busch went right for the jugular in South Carolina. So who won? John Avlon, who hosted the debate, reports from Charleston.

There was rolling thunder and rain outside the Citadel on Monday night, but the lightning was inside the packed auditorium where Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch clashed in the one debate of the one congressional race in the country right now.

Busch and Sanford

Republican candidate for the open congressional seat of South Carolina, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford greets Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch before their debate at the Citadel on April 29, 2013, in Charleston. (Richard Ellis/Getty)

Argentinean affairs? A confident Colbert Busch went there, slamming the former governor for leaving “the country for a personal purpose" on the taxpayer dime in 2009.

Sanford returned fire with repeated references to Nancy Pelosi and the labor union donations that have flowed into Colbert Busch’s campaign coffers. The practiced groans of the Colbert Busch staffers and supporters showed that this line of attack is at least as effective as it is hackneyed.

To get a sense of the surreal tacking to the center in the debate, consider this: Democrat Colbert Busch quoted Dick Cheney and Republican Mark Sanford compared himself with Bill Clinton.

Colbert Busch 'went there' during the debate, alluding to Sanford's infidelity.

From the perspective of the national media, this sometimes seems like a special election between Jenny Sanford and Stephen Colbert. But the scandal and celebrity factors distract from the real drama—Charleston’s first competitive congressional general election in three decades. And according to polls and last night’s debate performance, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch should now be considered the narrow frontrunner in this decidedly Republican-leaning district.

Behind the scenes, her campaign team had been anxious going into this debate, sponsored by Patch.com and the South Carolina Radio network (and which I hosted, introducing the candidates and the rules of the debate on stage at the outset as well as developing the questions with the moderators). A small army of staffers was at the debate site by noon, combing over every detail of the stage and requesting that their candidate be introduced as “businesswoman” Elizabeth Colbert Busch, “Mrs.” not “Ms.”—“she’s a happily married woman,” one staffer explained.

The conspiracy theories percolating up to local party leaders and even the halls of Congress should be a warning sign for the GOP, writes John Avlon.

A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.

Glenn Beck

As Jonathan Swift famously put it, “You cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into.” (Rob Kim/Getty, Corbis)

“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”

She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing Is Staged Terror Attack.

Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.

Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”

Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of—conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from the average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.

Of course, craziness is a bipartisan issue, with Republicans frequently pointing to former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Democratic example—but the right has been particularly prone to paranoia since Bush Derangement Syndrome on the left gave way to an epic case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from the other side.

The Week in Wingnuts

DUI Chain Gang

Members of the Maricopa County DUI chain gang line up for work Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007 in Phoenix, Az. (Matt York/AP)

Introducing The Daily Beast’s weekly rundown of the wildest ideas being proposed—or passed—by state lawmakers.

North Dakota’s state legislature this week passed what would be the nation’s strictest anti-abortion package, which would ban abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could come as early as six weeks. Arkansas, which currently has the toughest abortion laws in the U.S., bans the procedure after 12 weeks. Republican governor Jack Dalrymple, who’s yet to signal his position, has until Wednesday to either veto or sign the package, which would likely be challenged immediately in court if it becomes law.

South Carolina State Rep. Bill Chumley (R) this week sponsored a bill that would enlist low-level inmates in modern-day chain gangs. The idea was first thought-up by a local sheriff, who said convict labor would shorten prison terms and save money for the state. “You work somebody six days a week, 12 hours a day, they don't have time to sit around and think about how to be stupid anymore," said Wright.

Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh (R) tried to slip an amendment into a bill this week that criminalize the use of public bath rooms, changing rooms and locker rooms that don’t match-up with the sex on the individual’s birth certificate. Violators would be subject to up to six months in jail, and the proposal aimed squarely at the transgendered earned Kavanagh—who last month said he feared a Phoenix anti-discrimination statue would “serve as cover for pedophiles”—the moniker Bathroom Birther.

The Arkansas State Senate this week approved a bill that would allow worshipers to carry concealed handguns into houses of worship. Similar provisions have also advanced in South Carolina, Wyoming and Louisiana in recent months, leading The Seattle Times this week to profile one of the churches in its state (where there are no laws baring guns from churches), which offers firearm training classes.

Listening Tour

The Westboro Defectors Speak

Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its hate speech, but two granddaughters of founder Fred Phelps have fled the church and their family. Now they’re speaking of revelations about tolerance.

On Thursday afternoon Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. They’d been inside only a few minutes when they saw a photo of their family. 

130307-westboro-defectors-avlon-tease

(From left) David Abitbol of Jewlicious with sisters Grace and Megan Phelps-Roper. (Rachel Bookstein)

There, as part of the permanent exhibit, was an image of their grandmother and sister at the murder trial of Matthew Shepard’s killers, holding the signs for which the Westboro Baptist Church has become infamous: “God Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Gays,” and “Matt in Hell.”  

This was once their way of life. Now 27, Megan had been taken to protests since age 5; her younger sister Grace had been attending since birth—all as part of the Kansas ministry founded by their grandfather.

Four months ago Megan and Grace decided to take a different path. They left Westboro Baptist Church and were excommunicated by their family. Now they are embarking on an adventure in the wider world together, spurred by a determination to think for themselves and reconcile their faith with reality. In the process, they are meeting a wider array of people than they ever expected and breaking down the fear-fueled stereotypes that defined the world to them—and vice versa—for so long.

“We were taught that what we were doing was the only thing that would help people,” explains Megan. “Because from their perspective, everything bad that happens in the world is because people don’t obey God. When people don’t do what he says, then horrible things happen: school shootings, tornados, and hurricanes. So if I really care about people, I’m going be out there with a sign ... Looking back, I knew that it was hurtful emotionally for people, but I thought that if it caused somebody to believe and to obey God, then their lives would be so much better.”

“You’re taught that everyone outside the church is evil,” adds Grace. “And we couldn’t change any of it, because if we disagreed, we would get in trouble.” 

The culture of conflict bred an us-against-them identity among the church members. “They believe that Jesus said that ‘If you follow me, the world is going to hate you,’” says Megan, “and so when the world in fact hates their message and sometimes reacts violently, it definitely reinforces the idea that you’re right.”

Filibuster King

The Rand Paul Marathon

With his 13-hour filibuster speech against the possibility of drones strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, the Kentucky senator got us all thinking—and talking about—civil liberties. He deserves some credit, says John Avlon.

Give Rand Paul credit—he decided to kick it old school on the Senate floor and filibuster in person rather than simply filing a procedural motion.

Brennan CIA

This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Rand Paul speaking on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday. (Senate Television/AP)

The result was the kind of spectacle we only see in Frank Capra films and Strom Thurmond lowlight reels: a U.S. senator on a one-man speaking marathon designed to bring national attention to an issue he believes is of critical importance to the country and the Constitution. In this case, it’s the Obama administration’s reluctance to say it would not rule out drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. That’s why Paul decided to filibuster the president’s nominee to be CIA director, explaining: “I don’t rise to oppose John Brennan’s nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle.”

Things got off to a surreal start around 11:50 Wednesday morning when, a few minutes into his filibuster, Paul asked: “Has America the Beautiful become Alice’s Wonderland?” and then imagined the queen screaming “Release the drones!” This is a scenario Lewis Carroll never contemplated.

Instead of resorting to cheap filibuster tricks like reading the dictionary or a phonebook, Paul delivered a real speech—albeit Castro-esque in length—discussing the constitutional principles at stake more or less off the top of his head for nearly 13 hours.

Paul warned of the inherent absence of due process that comes with drone strikes, memorably saying: “Your notification is the buzz of the propellers on the drone as it flies overhead in the seconds before you’re killed.” Paul also took aim at the practical implications of a perpetual war on terror: “When people say, ‘Oh, the battlefield’s come to America’ and ‘The battlefield’s everywhere,’ ‘The war is limitless in time and scope,’ be worried, because your rights will not exist if you call America a battlefield for all time.”

At times, Paul wandered into hyperbolic fantasies and indulged in dystopian nightmares to make his point, such as imagining whether a caravan of Americans traveling from a Constitution Party conference to a Libertarian Party conference might be targeted for assassination by drone strike like New Mexican–born Anwar al-Awlaki. “That Americans could be killed in a café in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination,” he thundered. “It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.” It is also something that is not remotely contemplated.

Rand Paul showed us there are only so many things you can come up with in 13 hours until you start saying 'gobbledygook.'

IMMIGRATION LEADER

Can Jeb Bush Save the GOP?

The pundits are breathless—Jeb has refused to rule out a 2016 run! John Avlon says Bush is uniquely positioned to help resolve the GOP civil war with his leadership on immigration and tough talk on extremists.

Moon Reagan and Don Nixon never got this kind of reception.

But Jeb Bush, the brother and son of presidents, is already getting the full-court press to run for the White House in 2016. The Drudge Report went breathless with banner headlines on Monday when Jeb refused to rule out a future run on the Today show while promoting his new book with Clint Bolick, Immigration Wars.

At the Manhattan Institute, Jeb Bush explained why he believes in comprehensive immigration reform.

The title of the book itself indicates that this isn’t a typical courtship. Jeb is presenting himself as a policy wonk and party reformer, not the typical approach to winning the GOP nomination. And for all the institutional benefits of being a Bush—a ready-made political and fundraising structure fueled by the promise of restoration to power—the reality is that his prospects would be far better if his last name were anything but “Bush.”

With another surname, Jeb would have catapulted to the top ranks of contenders back in 2012 on his own merits, as a popular former swing-state governor with a bold record as an education reformer and demonstrated success at winning over Hispanic voters. After Mitt Romney tanked the party’s performance with Hispanics in the last election, most Republicans realize that they need to change course and begin reaching out in earnest. That’s why Jeb’s leadership pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, alongside his brother’s Commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Jeb’s Florida mentee Marco Rubio, is one of the most hopeful prospects for breaking through Washington gridlock this Congress.

A mark of Jeb’s seriousness is his willingness to criticize party power players. Romney comes under particular fire in Immigration Wars for his primary-campaign tactics. “By sharply criticizing Texas governor Rick Perry for his in-state tuition program for certain children of illegal immigrants, and by making his leading immigration advisor a prominent proponent of ‘self-deportation,’ Mitt Romney moved so far to the right on immigration issues that it proved all but impossible for him to appeal to Hispanic voters in the general election,” Bush and Bolick write. “However little or much anti-immigration rhetoric counts in Republican primaries, it surely succeeds in alienating Hispanic voters come the general election.”

This is true—and rarely said so bluntly by Republicans with presidential aspirations. Jeb also points out that Romney tanked with Asian-American voters and takes to task conservative pundits such as Heather MacDonald and Sam Francis who have advised the GOP to resist trying too hard to court Hispanic voters. Likewise, Jeb is one of the few potential presidential aspirants willing to publicly question the wisdom of Grover Norquist’s tax “pledge,” writing: “I ran for office three times. The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people.”

157994899WC007_JEB_BUSH

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, center, during a meeting of the chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees, December 6, 2012, in Philadelphia. (William Thomas Cain/Getty)

About the Author

Author headshot

John Avlon

John Avlon is senior columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and the host of Beast TV. He is a CNN contributor and winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for best online column in 2012.

Who Is Frazier Glenn Miller?

Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon dissects the story of Miller, a 'nightmare image' of 'hate groups nestled in the heartland' who went on a Kansas killing spree on Sunday.

  1. The Tragedy of the Tea Party Play

    The Tragedy of the Tea Party

  2. Obama's 'Powerful Argument' Play

    Obama's 'Powerful Argument'

  3. Glenn Beck's Apology Is Not Enough Play

    Glenn Beck's Apology Is Not Enough

Unlimited Funds

Probing the Super-PAC Economy

The Dark Money Shuffle

The Dark Money Shuffle

The strange, opaque world of politically minded nonprofits. By John Avlon and Michael Keller.

Our Toothless Watchdogs

BENEFACTORS

Stop Hating the Super PAC Moneymen!

The Coming GOP Super-PAC Tsunami

The Super-PAC Economy

See More Politics

From The Daily Beast

Red State Obamascare Tactics

Red State Obamascare Tactics

In Kansas and Georgia, Democrats running for governor are closer than expected. The GOP response? Rewrite the laws so they couldn’t take Medicaid money. It’s 2014’s sleeper controversy.

SEEING RED, VOTING BLUE

Dems, Get Angry or Lose Congress

Fired Up

Hopelessly Devoted to Hillary

Political Dynasties

Why America Needs Mary Cheney

Fake Baby?!

The Chelsea Clinton Birthers