Sen. Rand Paul hasn’t done much in his career on Capitol Hill, but he certainly managed to cause a stir this week with his 13-hour filibuster. With one rather long spectacle, the Kentucky Republican not only gained national notoriety, he also drew cheers from libertarians, progressive skeptics of executive power and the national security state, and Republicans who are reflexively pleased by criticisms of the Obama administration.
Given the attention and the senator’s ambitions, it stands to reason that Paul would take steps to exploit the success of his grandstanding. Indeed, it wasn’t at all surprising that the senator sent out a fundraising appeal, trying to cash in before the headlines faded. The problem, however, was with the pitch.
“I had been trying for more than a week to get a straight answer on whether or not the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drones to target and kill American citizens on American soil – without due process. And after receiving a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder claiming they DO have that authority, I could no longer sit silently at my desk in the U.S. Senate.
“So I stood for thirteen-straight hours to send a message to the Obama administration, I will do everything in my power to fight their attempts to ignore the Constitution!
“Millions of Americans chose to stand with me and put President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and Congress in the spotlight… And the good news is, it worked! Just hours ago, I received a letter from Attorney General Holder declaring the President DOES NOT have the authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.”
Apparently, donors are supposed to contribute so that Paul can “continue the fight.”
The problem, as Mother Jones’ David Corn noted, is that Paul’s claims aren’t true. Holder, Corn explained, initially told Paul “if the United States were under attack from within, the president might have to order the use of lethal military force within the territory of the United States.” For more Democrats and Republicans, including Paul himself, this isn’t problematic.
The fundraising letter goes on to say the filibuster “worked” when the Obama administration reversed course. Except, it didn’t reverse course – the Justice Department’s position hasn’t changed. Holder’s second letter just reiterated what was already true – there could be no strikes against Americans “not engaged in combat.”
Paul’s letter tells prospective donors that his tactics “worked,” but the administration’s policy is identical to what it was before. So why is the senator suggesting otherwise? Apparently because he wants you to write him a check.
Corn added that Paul, at the height of his notoriety, seems to be a “crass operator,” “untethered from the truth,” pushing a “money-shaking email.”
Take away all Paul’s hyped-up hysteria – watch out, Jane Fonda! – and he didn’t truly disagree with the administration’s position that in an extraordinary circumstance, such as an ongoing terrorist attack, the U.S. government can deploy lethal force against evildoers who happen to be American citizens. So why did Paul go ballistic? Here’s a clue: the day after he ended one of the longest filibusters in U.S. history, he tried to cash in on his stunt by zapping out a fundamentally inaccurate fundraising email for his 2016 reelection campaign.
Those with legitimate questions about the legality, morality, and efficacy of counter-terrorism strikes could use more champions shining a light on the issue. These are critical, life-and-death questions that need to be subjected to a transparent debate.
But given his flexibility with the facts, and his inconsistent principles, Rand Paul is a poor choice to serve as one of those champions.