March 7, 2013

Rand Paul Brings Drone Debate to the Forefront of the American Political Scene

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While sifting through political commentary on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but notice the image of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) plastered to the front of the Huffington Post website. “RAND’S STAND” shown in big, blue letters across the top of the page while subheadings read “GOP Senator Eviscerates Obama Drone Policy, Targeted Killings in John Brennan Filibuster,” “‘Are We Going To Give Up Our Rights To Politicians?’” and “Where Is The Barack Obama of 2007?”

Proceeding to Drudge Report — the opposite side of the Internet — I saw a familiar face, which was none other than that of Senator Paul, with the headline “DR. PAUL GOES TO WASHINGTON” in Drudge’s traditional italicized font.

After finding similar front-page headings for other major online news publications, I began to realize that if Arianna Huffington and Matt Drudge’s respective websites were promoting similar stories centered around a polarizing politician — both arguably with positive spin — then something unusually relevant was happening in Washington, D.C.

While foreigners have expressed concern over the United States’ use of drones abroad, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R) gave the topic of domestic drone use national media exposure as he filibustered the confirmation of now-CIA Director John Brennan for nearly 13 hours on Wednesday. Paul claims his motivation for dissent was not because of Brennan or drone technology in particular, but rather to open a discussion the use of force against United States citizens on American soil. Although Brennan was easily confirmed this morning, the filibuster prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to send the following response:

“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”

Rand’s avid fretting of the Obama Administration drone program came from an earlier letter in which the Attorney General wrote “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” with Paul’s fears concerning the inclusion, or lack thereof, of imminent threat as a necessary condition for action.

What is interesting to note is that, even as Paul and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) rambled on about the fifth amendment and Constitutional concerns on the Senate floor on Wednesday, both sides appear to have very few areas of disagreement — that is, both Paul and the Obama Administration agree that drones may be used against Americans, hypothetically, in the case of an imminent threat. Although I won’t delve deeper into drone policy in this column, and won’t pretend to be an expert, the meaning of the phrase “imminent threat” is likely to become one of the more significant points of contention between the two sides during future debates.

Although Paul’s filibuster may not have a direct impact on the drone policies of the Obama Administration, the headlines it has generated have already begun to make the public more aware of a growing political topic that is often kept under wraps. As Cornell Daily Sun blogger Michael Sun implies in his recent column on drones and the expansion of executive powers, drone policy is an area that is ripe for bipartisan agreement — an intersection of conservative-emphasized “Constitutional freedoms” and liberal-emphasized “civil liberties.” Just as Republicans have begun to alter their rhetoric on topics such as immigration reform, the Democrats have an open invitation to make the public more aware of, and to challenge or defend, the Administration’s drone policies. Although Paul’s filibuster was primarily a Republican affair, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden did join in on the action.

Whether or not you support the outspoken Senator, well-known columnist Charles Krauthammer perhaps best summarized the impact of Paul’s filibuster as a “stroke of political genius. He will be remembered. This raises his image and he’s completely sincere about this … [T]his will be a moment that people say launched him as a national figure.” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell deemed the 13-hour speech as merely a “fundraising stunt.”

If this does mark the rise of Rand Paul, then we must keep our fingers crossed that the freshman Senator will use his newfound national exposure to focus on issues that can be used to unite, rather than divide, the American public.

Original Author: Chris Mills