A reader writes via Facebook to dispute my dismissal of Rand Paul's filibuster.
Here's the reader comment. My reply follows.
Respectfully I think you're mistaken on Rand Paul. The prospect of abuse of power is not a "very remote hypothetical" -- after all we ALREADY have seen the Obama administration assassinate a 16 year old US citizen who has not in combat and was not even accused of any crime. Is it so far fetched to have concern that this and future administrations would never push this limit further?
You also mention a fictitious "dystopian future" - with machine gun toting soldiers in our streets, tanks in our towns, gropers at airports and suspicionless checkpoints on highways that future is now.
Aside from all this, you may feel the Obama administration, with his executive orders and unprovoked global bombing campaigns is as American as apple pie -- but nevertheless accountability must be given.
The reader may be offended by the killing in Yemen of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old son of al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. But it's important to understand that Rand Paul specifically endorsed this action. He said nothing at all to condemn any of the real-world counter-terrorism operations actually undertaken by the Obama administration. Rand Paul limited his strictures to a wild hypothetical, I'd say a scurrilous hypothetical:
"If you're in Poughkeepsie and you're on the internet and you say, I sympathize with, you know, some group around the world that doesn't like America, and you say bad things about America, are you a traitor?"
Charles Krauthammer later amped up Paul's example to an even wilder "what if":
I mean, after all, how many Americans are there who believe that the president, if he doesn’t like the cut of your jib or thinks you might be a little treasonous has the right to launch a drone-launched missile through your dining room, when you’re sitting down to a pot roast with your family?”
Krauthammer seems here to have emulated the forensic technique of Jim Hacker, in the British comedy series, "Yes, Prime Minister." Hacker wins the prime ministership by denouncing an EU plot to outlaw the British sausage. "Do you want to eat salami for breakfast? I don't. And I won't!"
Rand Paul flinches from debating the actual record of US counter-terrorism. He does not want to join my reader in describing U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan as "unprovoked." That's the kind of talk that banished Rand's father to the margins of U.S. politics. Rand wants to find a place inside the Republican mainstream, and he has shrewdly figured out that even formerly staunch hawks like Krauthammer will applaud any criticism of President Obama, no matter how at variance with any real-world fact.
Rand Paul is in the position of an ex-America Firster after D-Day. In his heart, he may think that Germany was more sinned against than sinning. He may still wish that the US had stayed out of the war. But he recognizes the political danger of such candor. So he says instead, "I have no problem with President Roosevelt ordering an armed invasion of Normandy. But how do I know he won't know order an armed invasion of Coney Island?"
Distracted by passion and partisanship, Republicans in Congress and out are agreeing with Rand Paul: "Yeah! Prove to us that Coney Island isn't next! Until you put it in writing, we'll insist on believing that Coney Island is next. And when you do put it in writing, we'll take credit that it was only our gallant stand for American constitutional stand for American liberties that prevented you from invading Coney Island!"
The Rand Paul episode tells us nothing about the Obama administration's intentions. The episode in no way helped resolve the very difficult problems raised by the involvement of U.S. citizens in al Qaeda terrorism. As the Henry Jackson Society has detailed, the majority of the 170 persons convicted by U.S. courts or commission for actions in support of al Qaeda were U.S. citizens.
Instead, Rand Paul has taken his brave stand in opposition to killing innocent people for eating pot roast. And with rare honorable exceptions - John McCain, Bill Kristol - Republicans have seconded him in his preposterous paranoia. That's taking partisanship too far.
And one more thing: about those "dystopian" sobriety checkpoints operated by local police departments. The Supreme Court found them constitutional in 1990, in an opinion written by Republican appointee William Rehnquist, and joined by Republican appointees Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Antonin Scalia. If that's tyranny, make the most of it.