Rand Paul No Progressive Hero, Despite Anti-Drone Filibuster

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is winning plaudits from progressives for his 13-hour filibuster, launched Wednesday morning, against President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to the post of CIA director. While Brennan deserves to be ditched for his failure to speak up against the CIA’s use of torture and the administration’s drone assassination program, Paul’s Mr. Smith move is less one of courage than one of political opportunity.

Instead of lauding the anti-womananti-civil rights neo-libertarian senator, progressives would do better to ask: Why have nearly all the Senate Democrats signed onto the Brennan nomination?

Just last week, John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who blew the whistle on the U.S. Government’s torture program, began a two-and-half year prison sentence for having done so. Meanwhile, in his nomination hearing before the Senate, Brennan admitted that, while serving in the CIA’s number two spot, he never spoke against the agency’s practice of torture. And now, through the acquiescence of Senate Democrats, he’s to lead the agency.

And instead of applauding Rand Paul’s ostensible bravery, why are his progressive fans offering scant analysis of his motives?

It’s important to recall how Rand Paul made his way into the Senate in the first place, and who put him there, namely the neo-libertarian Tea Party-fomenting astroturf group, FreedomWorks, and the Senate Conservatives Fund led by Jim DeMint, the former senator from South Carolina who now leads the Heritage Foundation. Those two organizations backed Paul’s primary challenge to a candidate hand-picked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator, as a reminder to the Republican leader that he’d better toe the Tea Party line. And he has.

In his anti-drone filibuster, which admittedly offered C-SPAN viewers an often-enlightening education on the Obama administration’s flouting of the U.S. Constitution in its pursuit of al Qaeda and the Taliban, Paul also played to his paranoid base, suggesting that the U.S. Government was targeting survivalist right-wingers as potential terrorists and might soon be launching drones against them.

As right-wing activist Lee Stranahan tweeted: “I believe what Rand Paul is doing is showing how to run for president in 2016.”

What Rand Paul did last night was to put on an awesome show that won him a lot of attention. And, yes, it was gratifying to hear Spencer Ackerman, of Wired’s Danger Room site, and The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf name-checked on the Senate floor for stellar journalism that asks the hard questions about the Obama administration’s claim that it has the right to assassinate U.S. citizens -- even on U.S. soil -- in particular circumstances. (Yes, really.)

And it was surely entertaining to listen to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, read tweets on the Senate floor, when he was dispatched by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to give the Kentucky libertarian a break, and to state that the “technical term” for what was going on with Twitter right now because of the #StandWithRand hashtag, was that is was “blowing up.”

However riveting that all was, it was horrifying to see noted progressives using that very same hashtag simply because no Democrat was willing to make as dramatic a stand against having a torture apologist and assassination strategist for a CIA director -- not to mention an attorney general who is game to give cover to the unconstitutional actions of the administration.

But to stand with Rand means to lend support to a showman who opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he thinks private owners of public establishments, such as restaurants, should be able to turn black people away on the basis of race. It means giving a patina of honor to a man who held up a flood relief bill in order to attach an amendment that would give civil rights to zygotes in order to “end abortion once and for all.”

Courage? I suppose you could say George Wallace was courageous when he defied a federal order to integrate the public schools of Alabama. Rand Paul’s courage springs from the same well.

Progressives would do better to lean on politicians who claim to embrace the progressive agenda, and make it impossible for them to support the likes of John Brennan.


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