Sunday, May 11, 2014

America's Greatest Defender of Freedom: Rand Paul

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has many supporters on the right and on the supposed left due to the belief that he is substantially better on civil liberties issues than other politicians.  I have been a frequent critic of him in the past and have tried to show that this belief that he is better on civil liberties than other politicians is a clever manipulation of the media and an outright sham.

For the most part, this civil liberties belief surfaced after a filibuster the junior Senator led against the confirmation of John Brennan.  The filibuster, ostensibly, was about drone strikes.  In February of 2013, Paul had written to John Brennan requesting additional information on the Obama administration's belief of drone strikes on U.S. soil.  Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter back, dated March 4, 2013, to the Senator stating the administration has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and "has no intention of doing so."  Further, Holder dismissed Paul's questioning as entirely hypothetical and unlikely to occur.  Holder finally admits that there are extraordinary circumstances where the President would have no choice to authorize the military strike.  The examples Holder gave was Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attacks.  Soon after he received the letter, Paul issued a press release stating that Holder has not ruled out drone strikes on American soil, calling it an "affront [to] the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans."

On March 6th, hours before Paul's filibuster began,  the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on oversight for the Department of Justice.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) began a line of questioning on Holder to clarify the position of the administration on drones.  The line of questioning led to a question that was intended to ask, does the Constitution allow the United States to to use a drone to kill a United states Citizen, even one who is a suspected terrorist, while he is sitting at a cafe and not an imminent threat.  After a lengthy back and forth, Holder finally stated that no, the Constitution does not allow it.  Senator Cruz seemed pleased with this remark stating, in his usual grace, "after much gymnastics, I am very glad to hear that it is the opinion of the Department of Justice that it would be unconstitutional to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil if that individual did not pose an imminent threat."

Soon after that, Paul's filibuster began.  He criticized the letter issuing a blanket statement that "there is the use of lethal force that can always be repelled.  If our country is attacked, the President has the right to defend and protect the country.  Nobody questions that.  Nobody questions if planes are flying towards the twin towers whether they can be repulsed by the military.  Nobody questions whether a terrorist with a rocket launcher or a grenade launcher is attacking us, whether they can be repelled."  Senator Cruz and Senator Mike Lee both asked Senator Paul if he was aware of the Senate Judiciary hearing earlier and the response Holder had given.  He said that he was and that he was not satisfied as Holder had not said that it was unconstitutional but just responding to Cruz's question.  Senator Paul received a letter from Holder later stating simply that the president does not have authority to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.  Again, nothing about constitutionality.  Nevertheless, Senator declared victory stating that he finally received the answer to the question he asked.

Paul drew distinction between Holder's responses, despite saying almost the exact same thing as Holder did, in his letter to Paul.  During the filibuster, Paul stated, "I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime, without first being found guilty by a court."  That statement is not quite correct.  As Senator Paul pointed out in his filibuster multiple times, that there should be an imminent threat standard.  Paul was critical of the Obama administration not wanting to debate the 5th Amendment, saying "if we're going to do something, so dramatic as to no longer have the 5th Amendment apply in the United States, to have no accusation, to have no rest, jury trials for folks that are to be killed in the United States, it's such a dramatic change that you would think we would want to have a full airing of a debate over this."  During the 4th hour of the filibuster, Paul stated bluntly, "I'm aware of no legal precedent for taking the life of an American without the 5th Amendment or due process."

On April 22, 2013, Senator Paul appeared on Neil Cavuto's Fox Business Network Program.  You can watch the video at this link, so you don't think I'm taking the Senator's words out of context. "I never argued against any technology, when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on.  If someone comes out of the liquor store,with a weapon in $50 in cash.  I don't care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him."  Police officers are only authorized to use deadly force if a suspect is an imminent threat to the life of an officer or the people nearby.  This should be concerning to the 2nd Amendment supporters and gun rights activists who believe that the Obama administration will take away their guns.  Senator Paul seems to believe that someone with a gun is an imminent threat and can be killed by a drone, onsite.  Sensing the contradictory nature of his words on Cavuto's program and his filibuster, Paul issued a press release: "Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations.  They may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing imminent threat.  I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster."  The scenario if you missed it was the 9/11 attacks or Pearl Harbor, essentially.  The same exact thing Holder said.  Senator Paul and his office said that it was unfair to single out one specific quote from his filibuster to show his hypocrisy.  Apparently, they were fine when they argued semantics about the Obama administration's position on drones.

Senator Paul is all about semantics and arguing the meaning of what someone says because his statements won't sound as bad if he can draw up the right analogy to confuse you.  If you remember correctly, in 2010, Senator Paul argued his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting private businesses from discriminating against customers based on skin color/race tramples private rights.  In his interview with Rachel Maddow, he kept bringing up that he is against "government, institutional" government but frequently does not mention private business and their policies.  The strategy for Senator Paul, after this information was brought up was to complain about the media.  Senator Paul simply opined that he would not repeal the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act.  He simply believes that it is a bad business decision. Near the end of the interview, Senator Paul has stated that he does not condone any form of discrimination.

His unwavering commitment to non-discrimination and complete lack of government intervention in private enterprises has led him to fight for the most discriminated of all people, big oil companies.  Paul argued, in a Senate speech that big oil should receive more favors from the government.  Arguing for constant tax breaks, Senator Paul wants to know what the problem is for big oil companies from making more money.  Saying simply, "we as a society need to glorify those that make a profit."  Paul argues that clean energy companies should not receive funding from the federal government because "it just doesn't seem right that your tax dollars are sent to companies just because they are big contributors."  He also falsely stated how many jobs are created by the oil industry.  This is, in no way, surprising.

Every fiber of his being believes in non-discrimination but he won't support the Civil Rights Act desegregating private businesses or supporting the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  Senator Paul pawns off most of his views on LGBT issues on the belief that someone else should make the decision.  His spokesman stated that the military should make the decision of "don't ask, don't tell" but did not offer support for the repeal even after military support came.  For same-sex marriage, he believes in the historic and religious nature of marriages, supporting same-sex marriage bans stating that federal courts ruling to the contrary are illegitimate.  Getting the federal government out of the business of prohibiting same-sex marriage, counts as a socially liberal issue to most, I guess. His continued commitment to state's rights, include introduction of a federal fetal personhood bill.  His belief in private business extends all the way to include an attempt to add the national right-to-work law on ENDA.  The reason Senator Paul does not want to discuss social issues is that he doesn't want to lose your support.

Even his national security stances are incoherent and nativist, at best.  Initially, he favored the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Senator Paul, during his filibuster argues that we should arrest enemy combatants. In other placess,  he argued that "foreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution...these thugs should stand before military tribunals and be kept off American soil."   Even though, it is not clear that there are dangerous enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay.  Of the nearly 800, arrested since its inception, only 10 went on to engage in terrorist activity later.  There are 44 who the government has said it lacks evidence to prosecute but considers them too dangerous to release.  There are 77 men cleared for release by the government that are still there.  For someone who touts not only his social views but his fiscal conservative views, holding the men in Guantanamo Bay is unfathomable.  It costs $161 million per year to hold the 77 men who have been cleared for release in Guantanamo.  92% of the prisoners held in Guantanamo are not categorized as Al-Qaeda fighters.

I could go on about Senator Paul's casual relationship with racists in his staff, the racism, sexism, and homophobia almost inherently intertwined in the Libertarian movement, Senator Paul's distant relationships with facts and the truth, his insane conspiracy theories, or Senator Paul's consistent plagiarism among any number of issues.  At the end of the day, when I see the hashtags to #standiwthRand or people casually assert that Paul will be the correct choice for 2016, I shake my head.  The idea that Senator Paul is some great defender of civil liberties is a creation of the political environment we live in.  People are inundated with articles supporting their worldview without questioning anything.  The environment rewards politicians for sound bites over political substance.  They enjoy the idea of someone who shares one idea of theirs and projects the rest onto them.  This environment allows people to project political ideas and terms onto whatever politician they would like.  These terms and ideas have real meaning and real impact but we would rather avoid them to listen to another politician reinforce what we already believe.  The idea that Senator Paul is some principled politician standing up to the abuses of arbitrary executive power are dramatically overstated.  If Senator Paul, becomes President Paul, we will see how he actually feels, if he can gravtiate towards a consistent political ideology.  Senator Paul may be better than some politicians on civil liberties; however, Senator Paul falls short of the idea of being America's greatest defender of freedom.

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