This week we saw something rare in modern political discourse. The junior Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, invoked one of those archaic legislative tools from the nation’s past, the filibuster, to awaken the world to the reality that he was going to have a say about the nation’s future.
The venerable filibuster, the action by which a Senate action can be delayed, adjusted, or withdrawn on the basis of a single individual’s action, has been under attack by the controlling interests in Washington, who have been embarrassed by its quirky nature to upset carefully laid plans for culmination of the elites’ agendas. Elite dominance of the legislative process is nothing new, nor is the concept of filibuster. Cato the Younger, zealotrous defender of the idea of Rome as a republic, formally initiated the concept to foil Julius Caesar’s manipulation of the Senate by devising long winded speeches that would delay any action on Caesar’s requests until nightfall, where , by edict, the Senate had to adjourn. The United States Senate has been the stage of a filibuster over the many years since its founding, for good or ill, but in inevitably as a device to assure an overwhelming majority of support is present for an action, as it takes 60 votes out of 100 Senators to obtain cloture on the filibuster.
Recently, both Republican and Democrat leaders have considered the elimination of the filibuster, for in a closely divided nation, the ability to push things through the Senate has become considerably more perilous. The filibuster, evoking the rights of the individual against the weight of the majority, has in reality on many occasions been a delay tactic without structure or inherent value. It has often looked silly with debate being artificially extended with reading into the Senate record baseball statistics, or names and numbers in the phone book. Rand Paul took the concept and wrenched it back into its deeper reason for existence, “talking back” Senate action on the basis of principle. In a carefully crafted recitation on the principle of the rights of the individual and the concept of limited governmental powers, Paul exploded the idea that elemental ideas that founded the nation were from and for another era, and were immaterial to the way the government currently views itself.
Paul invoked intense discussion on whether the government that currently viewed itself as having an ultimate right to view an American citizen overseas as an enemy combatant and thereby attack him without due process, had the same right to deny an American citizen due process on American soil. The war against terrorism over the last decade has progressively placed American military action on the side of decisiveness rather than discretion, and Paul was having none of it. Paul’s almost thirteen hour filibuster to delay a vote on John Brennan, the Obama Administration’s nominee to take over the CIA, on the lack of Brennan and Attorney General Holder’s response to one question, whether the United States government felt it had the right to perform a drone strike on an American citizen on American soil without due process, was a wonder of the concept of principle, logic, and philosophical depth. This was no reading of the phonebook. In the end, the Obama administration got their vote on Brennan, but not before Paul stunned Washington by gaining the acquiescence of the administration in formal letter response, that it did not have a constitutional right to such action.
Rand Paul and a new group of citizen legislators are filling a need that a jaded Washington has been too long without, the idea that principle matters, and that the country has not entirely succombed to the concept of having their priniciples bought off. Dismissed as a “a tea party generated son of a kook” by establishment types when the kentuckian Paul first won the Senate seat in 2010, Rand has instead projected himself into a modern version of palatable libertarianism, and with measured, intelligent defenses of the most basic rights endowed in the Constitution, a formidalble opponent to the usual Republican”to win we must be more like them” strategy. The idea has intense appeal among people who feel that government and rights are philosophically constructed, and based on principles, not laws that can be changed on a whim to prevailing winds. The people that Paul appeals to see the Bill of Rights as a critically secured set of principles independent of time, read the Federalist Papers to understand the Constitution, conceive the framework of the constitution as the living protector of the basis of why an America exists, and find modern disdain for carefully crafted principles disdainful in and of itself. Paul is not alone, as Senators such as Rubio, Lee, Cruz, and Johnson are of like seriousness and internal mettle. The concept of “kookdom” is becoming more and more absurd when the “kooks” are arguing individual rights, state rights, budget discipline, right to life, sanctity of the concept of marriage, and reduced American adventurism, while the modern establishment in the form of progressivism is arguing enforced restrictions on speech, ignoring border stability, global warming, alternative lifestyles, abortion on demand, budgetary obliviousness at the expense of future generations, and drone strikes on American soil.
Whether Rand Paul and his fellow Principlitarians can create a new consensus in the country that a serious discussion of ideas and future actions start with a foundation of principles, not desires, formative policy, not reactionary indulgence, is certainly unclear. The forces represented by President Obama, that use demagoguery and bribes to convince the voter, has always been powerful, and the fuel of trillions of dollars of persuasion is a devastating weapon against the desire for identifying and promoting personal responsibility and a freedom in life’s choices. It appears however in the personage of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, principles to live by will not go quietly into that good night.