It has only been a little more than a month since Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster on the floor of the U.S. Senate. But it is looking more and more like a defining moment in American politics. It may be a defining moment in American history.
The dramatic sight of Rand Paul standing all alone, in the well of the Senate on March 6, 2013, speaking up for the U.S. Constitution, asking the questions that the media and the power establishment was too busy or too indifferent to ask, is a picture that will be forever burned into the psyche of many Americans.
And the key point here was that he was alone. The rest of Washington, D.C., the politicians, the television producers, the White House staff, had scattered across town to posh restaurants enjoying their cocktails, regaling each other with tales of the day's successes and making their deals for tomorrow, smugly content that they had put another day of work behind them.
That afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul had begun what would be a 13-hour filibuster, promising to hold up confirmation of the new director of the CIA until the president answered this simple question. “Does the president’s newly assumed power to kill a U.S. citizen, without arrest or trial, apply to non-combatants here in the United States?”
It was a reasonable question. Under president Barack Obama, the U.S. government had begun an unprecedented policy of killing U.S. citizens if they were deemed terrorists.
Forget Miranda rights, they couldn't even have a trial. And this could happen anywhere in the world. The United States did not have to be at war with a country. They could violate the air space and commit these killings in the Middle East, Asia, even Europe.
In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was killed in a drone missile strike on a desert road in Yemen. Two weeks later, his son, born in Denver, Colorado, with no ties to terrorism, searching for his father's body in Yemen, was likewise killed by an American drone strike.
The killing of al-Awlaki was justified because of his rabble-rousing sermons which had inspired terrorists. The son's killing, was oops, sorry, a mistake.
The media has been remarkably silent.
In February, when asked about drone missiles now circling key locations here in the United States, the White House was asked if the president had the power to kill U.S. citizens without trial, on American soil, or was this just something he could do overseas?
The White House assured the amazingly docile American media that the Justice Department had agreed that the president had this power.
President Barack Obama can be thankful that his predecessor, George W. Bush, did not, or Obama, himself, might not be around. By such reckoning, Obama’s own pastor could have been “droned out” for his tirade, when he famously chanted, “God damn America,” from his pulpit. And Obama, had he been in the audience for those sermons, might have been collateral damage, much like al-Awlaki’s son.
The country seemed to be lulled into a trance. This included its once fierce and uncompromising, professional, watchdog media, now held tightly by its corporate leashes, reduced to reading press releases and providing entertainment. The trance included its corrupt politicians, too busy making money off of insider trading to take time to defend something so esoteric as a constitutional right. It included its courts, now as malleable to public opinion and as intimidated by American culture as the politicians.
Even the public was silent, too intellectually lazy to care. No one could move lest they be stamped racist, liberal, conservative, unpatriotic or some other unpopular sticker.
So Rand Paul, like the sassy kid in the proverbial story “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” asked aloud the question that no one else dared ask.
The White House sniggered. The media ignored it. President Barack Obama would not answer. Nor would anyone else. Former president George W. Bush was silent on the subject, as was former president Clinton and Democrat Party leader, Al Gore. Republican leaders, John McCain and House Speaker, John Boehner didn't peep.
This was apparently a tough question.
And so, as it appeared to the nation, Rand Paul, all alone, without a single ally to hold his water, took to the Senate floor in a filibuster, demanding that this simple question be answered. If he was out of line and the rest of the country knew what they were doing, so be it.
At first there was not much of a reaction. In the afternoon, when a member of the White House press corps asked about it, the president's spokesman openly laughed. While Fox News Channel and MSNBC mentioned the event, mostly the national media ignored it, much as they had Rand Paul's father, when he raised issues of civil liberties. After three hours, fellow senator, and Liberty ally, Mike Lee finally made an appearance. Everybody else, including the president, went out to dinner that night and then home for the evening.
The vast Liberty online community was remarkably calm.
But as the night wore on and Americans finished their meals and sat at their monitors or picked up their IPhones to answer some mail, word of the drama unfolding on the floor of the U.S. Senate began to spread.
Some called it a Twitter blizzard, a mocking reference to the snowstorm that was not happening as predicted. First it resonated among the Liberty movement base. Rand Paul had launched a filibuster. He wouldn't stop talking until the president answered his question.
And then it began to spread across political and partisan lines. What's a filibuster? Why won't the president answer such a simple question? What happened to the watchdog media? How could they let such a question go unanswered? By 9 p.m. normal television viewing was skewed. NBC's popular “Law and Order” was losing its audience as people rushed to online streaming or YouTube captured videos of the drama. C-SPAN viewers spiked. Cable television was dominated by the spectacle.
With the public aroused, the politicians reacted. A parade of senators, Republican and Democrat, rushed back to help Rand Paul. Mike Lee made another appearance, this time with Ted Cruz and likely presidential contender, Marco Rubio. Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership fell into line.
They were all a minute too late and a dollar too short. Sen. Rand Paul, all by himself, without any help, had electrified the nation.
The next day, the politically savvy and thorough White House hauled out a canned moment that had been carefully preserved in case the filibuster went wrong. Attorney General Eric Holder had already answered the question to a senator before the filibuster began, they now insisted.
But one wonders what they would have done with that canned moment if the public had not reacted. Thursday morning, as Rand Paul began recovering from his 13-hour filibuster, the president finally answered the question. And his CIA director was promptly confirmed.
A lot of other things were confirmed as well.
1.) Rand Paul is an unquestioned leader of the Liberty movement and can inspire it whenever he chooses. Others will have to wait their turn.
2.) He is no political slouch. He is gutsy.
3.) Rand Paul is the first candidate since Ronald Reagan to actually lead a movement.
4.) The old left-right, Cold War paradigm is dead. Rand Paul represents a new philosophy back to the Constitution and it attracts support across the political spectrum from left to right.
5.) The fact that the country is moving in his direction and the packaging of his message is more palatable than that of his father's, Rand Paul can win the presidency.
From a purely historical perspective, one wonders how much further we will go in gutting our Constitution and sacrificing our rights to keep us "safe." How much bigger will government get?
How many more powers will be seized by the executive branch and how much future legislation will be accomplished by executive fiat? At what point will it go so far down this road that we cannot find our way back? And we learn that our form of government has changed before our eyes, without a discussion?
Will Rand Paul's filibuster be nothing more than an empty moment of theater on our way to a future government run by a single chief executive, serving at the pleasure of 50 television moguls? Or will it set the high-water mark of the new post 9-11 tyranny and the beginning of a self-examination that will take us back to a renewal of our hard won constitutional republic?
We can only hope and pray for the latter.
Doug Wead is a presidential historian who served as a senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential campaign. He is a New York Times best-selling author, philanthropist, and adviser to two presidents, including President George H.W. Bush. Read more reports from Doug Wead — Click Here Now.
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