Political Animal


March 08, 2013 11:10 AM Standing In Rand’s Quicksand

By Ed Kilgore

You have to hand it to Rand Paul. With an investment of 13 hours of his time earlier this week, the junior Senator from Kentucky (a) became the national hero of the conservative movement; (b) helped detoxify his position on national security and civil liberties issues, his (and his father’s) weak point with more conventional Republicans; (c) intimidated most other GOPers, including the senior senator from Kentucky, the ostensible leader of all Senate Republicans, into following his lead; and (d) made a strong initial bid to emulate John McCain’s old ability to stimulate admiration from people on the other side of the partisan and ideological spectrum. That McCain was largely isolated, along with his amiguito Lindsey Graham, in criticizing Paul made the whole thing even sweeter for the guy who came to the Senate bearing the family reputation for incorrigible crankiness.

By the end of his filibuster, Paul had the RNC chairman and McConnell himself (see this interesting backstory on that phenomenon from National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher and Beth Reindard) eating out of his hand. And lefty admiration of Paul became so robust that Adele Stan felt compelled to remind progressives of everything horrific about the man and his motives.

On top of everything else, as I fretted yesterday, Paul had rekindled the Romance of the Filibuster, precisely at the time we needed to get rid of it. Not a bad day’s work for a guy so fresh from the fever swamps that you could probably smell the sulphur on him right there on the Senate floor.

David Frum, for whom Paul’s sudden hyper-respectability is very bad news, summed up the Rand-o-Fest pretty well:

Paul’s filibuster ostensibly dealt only with a very remote hypothetical contingency: targeted killings on American soil of Americans who present no imminent threat to national security. Paul insisted that all the harder questions be taken off the table. He had (he said) no issue with a targeted killing on American soil of an American who did present an imminent threat. He avoided the issue of the targeted killings of Americans outside the United States - i.e., the actual real-world problem at hand.
Instead, Paul invoked a nightmare out of a dystopian future: an evil future president shooting a missile at an American having coffee in a neighborhood cafe, merely on suspicion, without any due process of law….
Paul emerges from a milieu in which far-fetched scenarios don’t seem far-fetched at all. Paul specifically mentioned the possibility of a democratically elected Adolph Hitler like figure coming to power in the United States. Looming federal tyranny - against which the only protection is an armed citizenry - is a staple item in the Rand Paul inventory of urgent concerns.
Most Republican senators don’t share this nightmarish vision of their country, thank goodness. But they do answer to an activist base that shares a nightmarish vision of President Obama. Rand Paul stipulated that he did not intend his remarks about a Hitler-like president to apply to the present president. But he must have a pretty fair idea of what his core constituency hears when he talks about looming tyranny - and so of course must the Republican senators who joined him at the rostrum.
They saw Rand Paul’s Twitter following jump. Perhaps they sensed a great fundraising bonanza at hand. Where Rand Paul led, other Republicans followed: some out of conviction, some out of opportunism, and some out of fear.

And thus conservatives followed Paul the Younger onto the quicksand of his broader ideology, which for the most part is in the mainstream of the John Birch Society. This is not what the GOP needs right now.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Josef K on March 08, 2013 11:25 AM:

    This is not what the GOP needs right now.

    I'm less interested in "what the GOP needs" versus what the country and economy need right-frelling-now. And the GOP is perhaps the single biggest impediment to getting it.

    Then again, this might be one of those rare instances where what's good for the Republican party might prove equally good for the country as a whole. Embracing and encouraging the far-fringe of their base, who don't seem to understand the world doesn't work like a season of "24" or Tom Clancy novels, isn't the best course of action to take when the economy is this unstable. It might prompt some of the more excitable members of their voting bloc to become more proactive against "those people" stealing their jobs and soaking up their taxes.

    Sounds far-fetched, I know, but so did the prospect of a US Army veteran building a truck bomb and exploding it at a building with a day-care center in it. I won't weep tears if the GOP collapses into permanent minority status, but I'd prefer they do it without screaming out conspiracy theories in the process.

  • c u n d gulag on March 08, 2013 11:34 AM:

    I hope it's quicksand.

    Though I wish it were a pool of molten lava, instead.

    As for any Liberals out there who think about liking him, let me remind you that, Rand Paul = Stopped Clock.

    He's right on pot, and sometimes close to right on war.

    At all other times, he's even more ignorant and delusional than most other Republicans in the Senate - where, most of the old timers are thoroughly Conservative, but not as ignorant and delusional as they appear to be lately, since the TeaBirchers took hold of their party.

    And if Paul decides to run from President, as he's hinting, and by some fluke wins, I'd bet this delusional clown stands a good chance of becoming that Hitler of his fevered and fearful nightmares.

  • gregor on March 08, 2013 11:38 AM:

    How can you not admire the guy who made up his own professional accreditation society out of nothing to become an Ophthalmologist?

  • ComradeAnon on March 08, 2013 11:39 AM:

    More pointing and yelling "SQUIRREL!"

  • Derek Todd on March 08, 2013 11:44 AM:

    That Rand Paul is no dove in the wilderness is very true, that self described "liberals" have sat like dummies while their President has engaged in an utterly cynical and egregious expansion of Bush era policies including jailing whistle blowers and letting torturers skate and of course pursuing a targeted assassination policy under the cover of Orwellian secrecy and double think is also very true. Republicans, apparently, are not the only ones who wish to escape the uncomfortable thorns of reality for the comfort of a bubble where all differences can be ascribed to familiar partisan boundaries.

  • Mimikatz on March 08, 2013 11:53 AM:

    I still don't understand this. Why would the Pres send a missile from a drone to kill some guy in a cafe when a gov't agent with a gun could do it much easier and more cheaply. Maybe a nut in a cabin in a forest he has boobytrapped, but why someone in a cafe? And why a drone missle rather than black helicopters? Paul just makes no sense. No one wants to talk about real problems, which in this case is targeted assassinations abroad that generate more enemies than they kill. Plus guns at home that kill thousands annually.

  • Bokonon on March 08, 2013 12:00 PM:

    Those "liberals" should listen more carefully rather than just reacting. This isn't opposition to drones generally - it is opposition to drones being used against US citizens, on US soil, without due process of law.

    In other words, a right-wing dystopian fantasy about possible government tyranny that isn't on the table yet. It is like being paranoid about local fire departments potentially being deputized to shoot people, and being issued AK47s by the UN to enfore Agenda 21. But this plays into the Tea Party's bircher anxieties and conspiracy theories.

  • T2 on March 08, 2013 12:11 PM:

    That Paul's tantrum was cheered by Tea party types is no surprise. They are founded to scream loud and long about non-existent threats, so as to cloud their obstruction when it comes to solving real ones...

  • Peter C on March 08, 2013 12:22 PM:

    Although there is talk of changes to the filibuster mid-session, I can’t invest any optimism in that. Our time to change the filibuster was at the opening of the session when rules are established with a majority vote. Reid failed us. A mid-session change would represented as unprecedented – the nuclear option. I can’t make myself believe enough Senators would take that step. I’d like them to, but I just can’t convince myself to hope that they will. If they were too scared to take a manifestly warranted step when doing so would be entirely within the rules, I can’t believe they will muster the courage to take the same step when doing so would be an unprecedented power-play. We don’t use the power we have; we’re not likely to seize new power when it might mean criticism, alas. Republicans make bold power plays saying “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Democrats don’t do that, sadly. We don’t even fire the torpedoes at the Republicans. We just complain about their recklessness.

    It takes more than one heroic act to transform a lunatic into a hero. If Rand Paul gained popularity by this stunt, he’ll lose it as soon as he opens his mouth. He’s a loony-tunes who believes his own spin. He’ll never have the sort of mass-market appeal to get elected nationally. He’s not an electoral threat.

    The big problem that Rand Paul poses has to do with his delusional followers. As @Josef K points out, there are seriously delusional people in our country (like Timothy McVeigh) who will kill people because of the fears that Rand Paul peddles. As one of 100 Senators, Paul gives such nonsense credibility. It is deeply irresponsible. But, don’t look for the Republicans to check his behavior. They don’t give a fig for responsibility; they only care about wresting power from us.

  • Renai on March 08, 2013 12:42 PM:

    Premature adulation. Rand will step back onto his own divisively ideological path again before long, his ego will demand it and his sense won't prevent it.

  • Robert G. on March 08, 2013 12:55 PM:

    Attention should be paid to those of "us" who have found time to praise Senator Paul. Eugene Robinson, Ari Melber, Van Jones to name but three.

    There is a remnant of the old conspiratorial cast of mind on the left that can not be expunged: understandably so, I suppose. But to praise someone like Paul because one of his more outlandish ideas intersects with your own is not a productive public posture.

  • boatboy_srq on March 08, 2013 1:01 PM:

    an evil future president shooting a missile at an American having coffee in a neighborhood cafe, merely on suspicion, without any due process of law….

    The wingnuttery of this is out there, but misplaced rather than unrealistic.

    Consider that this is essentially what happened to Ennis Cosby, and is not substantially far removed from Rodney King or any of a hundred such instances. If you substitute "law enforcement" for "evil future president" and add Othered before "American having coffee" then the threat becomes a lot less unreal, and the potential for such occurrences far higher.

    The trouble with Paul, and with other subscribers to this particular grade of Bircher hysteria, is that all too often they're likely to support the ones most likely to execute such plans and all too likely to Other the victims.

  • pbg on March 08, 2013 1:01 PM:

    It's a blip.
    If the Republicans trying to extend it beyond the blip, it will be a disaster for them:
    1) It's an attack on the military. Worse yet, it's an attack on military technology--and therefore an attack on defense contractprs. It's Obama Derangement Syndrome leading to saying "This is a dangerous technology! How do we know it won't be abused?" Bad, bad question for the defense idolaters.
    2) It asks for a repeat. Do this a couple more times and you have dramatic video of Congressional Gridlock--and they'll all be Republicans. It'll also cast light on the quiet non-Mr. Smith filibusters.
    3) He caved. "I demand a clarification!" "Here's your clarification.""OK." And he stops! Come on--what would happen if the Birthers acted that way? If the Benghazi hunters did that? He calls himself a Republican? Where's his ability to look at a pipe and say "that's not a pipe!"?

  • DRF on March 08, 2013 1:50 PM:

    The fact that the scenario outlined by Paul is extremely unlikely is no reason to dismiss the issue or the concern. Everyone with an interest in civil liberties should be interested in how and where we draw the lines between what is properly within the Executive's power and what isn't. We certainly would have preferred that the Bush Administration had paid more attention to these sorts of boundaries.

  • Zorro on March 08, 2013 5:22 PM:

    What annoys me most about both Ron + Rand Paul is that they claim to be libertarian... yet are anti-choice. If libertarianism stands for anything it's being pro-choice on *everything.* Being an anti-choice libertarian is as hypocritical as being pro-life and pro-death penalty- which, you'll no doubt note, it a very common combination in the GOP.


  • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on March 08, 2013 7:40 PM:

    We've already killed a 16 year old citizen on foreign soil.

    The issue here isn't Rand Paul, it's Obama's wholesale adoption of the Bush-Cheney war on civil liberties.

    And of course, "liberals" like Ed Kilgore are rolling over to defend it.

    As long as the boots say "D.N.C." on them, Ed's gonna lick 'em.

    Good boy, Ed! Good boy!

  • Doug on March 08, 2013 8:52 PM:

    A major reason for the Republican Party and its' elected members NOT being held accountable for their actions is that so much of what they have done has been behind the scenes; holds, etc. Anything that forces REpublicans to publicly obstruct nominations or legislation, in their own words, and on the Senate floor is fine with me.
    Republicans don't "do" transparency unless forced to. Grand juries or filibusters, I'm fine with either.
    (We'll get to the topic of the laziness/fear(of losing invites/jobs) of the MSM at some later time, I'm certain.)

  • Procopius on March 09, 2013 7:24 AM:

    Most Americans aren't interested in history, which is too bad because they seem to have forgotten the very serious reasons why the founding fathers felt in necessary to include the specific language they did in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Have you heard of the Star Chamber? Probably you've heard the name and that is was somehow bad but no more. The Star Chamber's origin is not clear, but it seems to have been created as a Special Court to deal with magnates (nobility) too powerful to be dealt with in a regular court of law. By the time of Charles II it had become the King's private authority for dealing with political enemies while only making a show of obeying the law (something else modern Americans seem to have forgotten: once upon a time even the King was required to follow the law). Anyway, even though it had been more than a century since the monarchy was overthrown (and then reestablished and then changed again), the founders knew from their own experience what happens when government is allowed to act without being constrained by law. The idea that the President might use a drone to kill a political enemy seems far-fetched now, but when he is allowed to kill anyone just by stating that person is suspected of being connected to a group that is supportive of some other group deemed by a government committee to be a terrorist organization, the certainty of future corruption is unmistakable. And the killing doesn't have to be done by a drone, a government agent with a .22 caliber pistol is also (apparently) authorized by the secret memos. It really doesn't matter whether the killing is done in the U.S. or in other countries, the precedent is the same and leads down the slippery slope to eventual proscription lists.

  • anonymous me on March 10, 2013 5:48 AM:

    Someone wrote

    So a republican has a discussion.

    Other GOP discussions -- banning abortion, restricting contraception, global warming hoax...naming post offices

  • smartalek on March 10, 2013 12:49 PM:

    "Perhaps they sensed a great fundraising bonanza at hand."

    Yes, and "perhaps" the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, as it did today.
    As I write this, the Google "Ad Choice" (ha! remember when their motto was "don't be evil"?) I've had for the last 2 days in the lower-right of the main page right here has been an RNC "Stand With Rand / Money Bomb" "petition" that, AFAICT, puts funds raised into the RNC's pocket, not Rand's.
    Publicans lying about anything -- but especially about money?

  • smartalek on March 10, 2013 12:54 PM:

    That was a brilliant observation, eloquently put.
    Don't think that's their only, or even prime, raison d'etre -- but it's clearly among the set.
    Thank you.

  • smartalek on March 10, 2013 3:35 PM:

    Wow -- among the finest threads I've seen on any blog anywhere, anywhen, on any subject.
    Damn, but there are some smart people posting here!
    I hope it's contagious.