Although I lean towards libertarian thinking, I’ve never been particularly enamored with Kentucky U. S. Senator Rand Paul, who, like his father, is a staunch libertarian. Maybe it’s his messy curly hair. But I certainly don’t consider Paul to be a “wacko nut job” as Senator McCain called him on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week. If Paul is a “wacko nut job,” than I guess I’m one too.
The subject was the use of drones, and could they be used against American citizens on U.S. soil. Paul raised the question, a legitimate one in my opinion, as to whether America is now regarded as a battlefield where a U.S. citizen can be considered to be an enemy combatant who can be killed without due process of law. Paul further asked, “Is any president the judge, jury and executioner all in one.” The Senator’s concerns went to the heart of just what are the constitutional rights guaranteed to any U. S. citizen.
The drone question itself has raised many questions by skeptics as to their actual value, and could such strikes be doing more harm than good. Recently retired General Stanley McChrystal, who was commander of joint forces in Afghanistan, concludes that drone strikes have caused America to be hated in many areas of the Middle East. And he wondered just how Americans would feel if drones began being lobbed into the U.S. by Mexico.
“What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” General McChrystal said in an interview. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one, or seen the effects of one.”
The President and his attorney general, Eric Holder, could have stopped the debate early on by directly answering Paul’s direct question. Paul, with good reason, charged 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.”
In a letter to Paul, Holder answered a bit vaguely when he said,” The White House has no intention of doing so.” No intention? But is there a possibility? Is this a definitive “NO?” Remember that Barack Obama ran as an antiwar candidate, who was persistent in affirming basic constitutional rights. Paul, again with good reason, quickly began a filibuster on the Senate floor and charged, “When the president responds that ‘I haven't killed any Americans yet at home, and that I don't intend to do so, but I might,’ it’s incredibly alarming and really goes against his oath of office.”
And that’s when Senator John McCain, whom I have always respected for his military service and sacrifice, along with his Republican running buddy Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, went ballistic. McCain said it was "ridiculous" and "a stretch of the imagination” that any American would be targeted. But he couldn’t explain why the president would not definititively agree. Then, using an unattributed verbatim quote from a WSJ editorial published on March 7, McCain dug in deeper and charged,: “If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids..." McCain added on his own: "I don't think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people."
Reflecting an out of touch older Republican leadership that has driven the party into a series of recent national losses, McCain missed the point. Young voters, who overwhelmingly sense a degradation of their individual liberties, have bypassed presidential Republican candidates in droves. They feel, as do many Americans of all ages, that they are entitled to answers to basic questions about their rights, protections and their freedoms.
Jonah Goldberg summed up this concern well in the Chicago Tribune: “… a fundamental, dogmatic faith in the Constitution is a good thing. A dogmatic view that the president isn’t a king but a servant of the people is a good thing. A dogmatic insistence that the president give a member of Congress a straight answer about when the government can kill Americans is a good thing. And a dogmatic conviction that an American life has special status in the eyes of the government is a good thing, too.”
Rand Paul was making, what I believe to be a good faith effort to bring clarity to both the foreign affairs and the internal security landscape of the United States. For years, there have many gray areas. That was OK when the battles were halfway around the world. But these confrontations are coming home to roost. And “dogmatic convictions” should be clearly defined. That’s what Rand Paul was trying to do.
“Dogmas are not dark and mysterious,” G. K. Chesterton wrote. “Rather a dogma is like a flash of lightning – an instantaneous lucidity that opens across a whole landscape.” The nation’s protections of freedoms and constitutional guarantees have been clouded post 9/11. With all the gibberish spoken by many in Washington concerning our most fundamental rights and freedoms, substantially more clarity is in order. And if it takes a filibuster to get some attention over these “gut issues” of what it means to be an American, then go for it Senator Paul.