Rand Paul’s dramatic Filibuster deserves both praise and criticism.
First the (muted) criticism:
The hypothetical Senator Paul railed against, a President ordering up a drone fired missile to kill an American citizen, eating in a cafe or sleeping in his bed – in America – because he was “suspected” of terrorist associations, was too far fetched to take seriously. Even if such an order came from a psychotic future President (we don’t like President Obama but we don’t think he’s a psycho) it would be an unlawful order and nobody in the military or the clandestine services would obey it.
Senator Paul may have discredited himself, the Republicans, and the Conservative/tea party movement in the minds of some voters who might otherwise have been persuadable if his issue had been more realistic.
Now the enthusiastic praise:
The President’s representatives including his Attorney General had been asked about a hypothetical drone execution several times. They had been unwilling to simply say that no, the Constitution doesn’t permit the President to deny a citizen his right to a trial and summarily execute him, on American soil, when he is not actively engaged in violence.
The attention drawn by the Filibuster forced Attorney General Holder to do something he, Obama, and those on The Left vigorously avoid, issue a concise, unambiguous answer to a Constitutional question. The Left’s relentless expansion of federal power is possible only with ambiguous, long-winded interpretations of their version of the Constitution, a so-called “living” or “evolving,” or we would say, meaningless document. Their ideas clearly violate the plain meaning of the text in the real Constitution. Any time they have to demonstrate that ordinary people without law degrees can understand the Constitution and determine what violates it, they’ve lost a round.
Unfortunately, too many Republicans, including Mitt Romney, fail to do what should come naturally to the party of liberty and free enterprise, evoke the powerful language of the Constitution to develop compelling campaign themes. But Paul used the Constitution to great effect during his 13 hours of Filibuster. Consider this excerpt:
Your government was given [by the Constitution] a few defined powers, enumerated powers. There are 17-19, depending on what how you count them. They’re few and defined. But your liberties are many, basically unlimited and undefined. When you read the ninth and tenth amendment, it says that those rights not explicitly given to government are left to the states and the people. They’re yours, not to be disparaged. These are important debates we’re having.
This language could be the beginning of an argument against almost any big government plan to spend vast sums on politically motivated schemes that are not authorized by the Constitution.
Now consider excerpts from Mitt Romney’s standard, stump speech repeated countless times on the campaign trail. He usually began with stirring references to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Here’s a sample:
Now is the time to reaffirm what it means to be Conservative. The very heart of American Conservatism is the conviction that the principles embodied in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are uniquely powerful foundational and defining…
Good start. While public education abandoned serious instruction in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence decades ago, millions of Americans have recently begun reading them and, inevitably, found themselves shocked by the gulf separating the limited government chartered by the Constitution and the government of nearly unlimited power wielded by Barack Obama.
Today we borrow 40 of every dollar we spend. This is unconscionable, immoral, and it will end in my Presidency. I will approach every spending decision, every budget item with these questions: Can we afford it and if not is it really worth borrowing money from China to pay for it.
Wait! What about the Constitution? It should provide the criteria for what is and is not worthy of government spending! Romney hoped to appeal to our emotions with what seemed like decisive criteria. Unfortunately his criteria was meaningless.
Every dollar of spending is affordable and “worth borrowing from China” to whomever it benefits.
President Obama continuously insists that we can’t afford not to “invest” in all his myriad programs. Indeed, we’ve just endured weeks of his hysterical warnings of calamities from merely shaving a couple of percentage points from the rate of spending growth!
As election statistics show millions of potential Conservative voters perceived too little difference between Obama and Romeny to bother turning out. Obama won 3.5 million fewer votes than he won in 2008. But Romney won only about 1 million, or 1.6% more votes than McCain won in 2008, even though he spent at least three times as much money as McCain.
The Romney campaign ignored the Constitution and became a sort of mirror image of the Obama strategy. Obama, like all Leftist candidates, segments the electorate into ethnic, age, and gender identity groups and then feeds them customized, emotion-driven messages designed to assure each group that the candidate understands and will command government power to address its specific fears and concerns.
Romney’s offensive “47%” remarks were actually intended to inform high-end donors that he would not develop Constitutional themes to try to persuade anyone who happened to be, by accident of birth rather than choice, in one of Obama’s targeted groups. Rather he would mirror Obama’s tactics but with different groups.
Rand Paul’s Filibuster was a stunning political and public relations success. As the hours wore on the Twitter reaction measured in millions of enthusiastic and supportive tweets was dramatic evidence of broad acceptance.
Sadly, some in the Republican establishment still don’t get it. While criticism of Paul from the left was weak and cautious, GOP Senators McCain and Graham proved they had no idea what he was doing when they angrily denounced him the next day, speaking from the Senate floor to ensure maximum TV coverage.
But McCain and Graham were outnumbered by scores of Republicans from the House and Senate who did get it, and will emphasize the Constitution in their campaign messages and governing agendas.