Ben hopes that Rand Paul’s filibuster yesterday can turn civil liberties and checks and balances into bipartisan issues.
I hope so too—and I think there’s some reason for hope—but I’m still extremely skeptical. While lots of people are “standing with Rand,” the support isn’t nearly as universal as one might hope.
Among liberals, the MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell called the filibuster “rambling madness,” while Dave Weigel at Slate breezily writes it off as silly “paranoia.” Nancy Pelosi claims that “life is too short” to care about it—though for many future drone victims, life would be much longer if Pelosi cared a little more.
Likewise, if you read the comments sections of the various Slate and Huffington Post articles on the filibuster, you will find a shocking amount of virulently anti-Rand, pro-drone comments, presumably from regular, middle class, non-pundit voters who would have been up in arms if Bush ever claimed the right to target American citizens like Obama does. The vitriol hit a particularly horrifying note when one HuffPo commenter—jocrin—fantasized about Obama sending a drone to murder Rand Paul in the middle of his speech. Checks and balances, indeed.
And of course, the other side is nearly as bad. It is very hard to imagine people like Ted Cruz opposing drone strikes if it were a President Romney ordering them. Anyone who can remember back to last week might recall the Tea Party’s hyperbolic attacks on Chuck Hagel, for Hagel daring to suggest that the Iraq War was anything less than sunshine and roses. Lest we also forget, Rand Paul did not carry himself well through the Hagel hearings, though he ultimately did the right thing.
It’s possible to take these claims of hypocrisy too far. Many of the HuffPo commenters tend to focus myopically on such Tea Party hypocrisy—a tactic that looks a lot like a coping mechanism to avoid the uncomfortable question of whether their own president is pursuing policies that they should, consistently, oppose. Just because some people are hypocritical doesn’t mean we should oppose them when they do good things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t take what they say at face value.
Still, the powers of partisanship notwithstanding, it seems safe to say that Rand Paul has never been more popular than he is today. Principled liberals like the ACLU, Code Pink, and even Van Jones have expressed their support. Van Jones went so far as to call him a “hero.”
Maybe this will be a lesson to Rand that he can garner more support by standing against war and supporting civil liberties than from endorsing Mitt Romney or pledging war on behalf of Israel. He can never please the Obamaphile hordes who have sworn allegiance to their leader, right or wrong. But maybe he will realize that his cultural base lies more with the younger generation of antiwar civil libertarians than with the Fox News-watching septuagenarians that he has hitherto courted.
We will have to wait and see. Like all else with Rand Paul, his filibuster was an enigma.