Senator Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) now famous 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's CIA nomination on the Senate floor was one of the most impassioned, principled, and articulate defenses of civil liberties and constitutional law I have ever seen (he even quoted Lysander Spooner!). While his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, has been more principled on these issues, the younger Paul had the power of a larger stage with the filibuster, and bottom-up support on C-SPAN, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets immediately followed.
What Paul's filibuster also proved is that while the establishment, "old guard" GOP constantly ponder over how to attract new voters and a broader base — especially millenials — the one issue that time and time again works is war and peace.
This was immediately apparent once the dust had settled. The day after Paul's filibuster, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took to the Senate floor and dismissed Paul's concerns as "paranoid," partisan and once again reiterated that "we are at war!"
MSNBC's Ed Schultz, a partisan Democrat in every sense of the word, proclaimed Paul as "dangerous" (to whom, Ed?). Lawrence O'Donnel followed suit. And as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, many popular liberal blogs quickly fell into party lines, offering either very tempered support or outright hostility and weak excuses.
How could a Tea Party Republican be standing up for civil liberties against their sainted President Obama? Surely this must be a political ploy, and in this climate of the left-right spectrum, anything a conservative says is suspect, wrong, or at the very best, like a broken clock.
Paul's filibuster drew lines in the sand, and for the first time in a long time, they weren't partisan. Instead of left vs. right, it became state power vs. civil liberties. From my end, all over Facebook and Twitter I saw my generation #StandwithRand and put bickering aside over these vital issues to confront the reality of presidential assassinations, kill lists, indefinite detention and lawless drone war in a supposed free republic.
On our side of the line stood everyone from the likes of Rand Paul, the ACLU, Code Pink and millions of young people in support of the Bill of Rights and basic civil liberties. Left, right, middle, libertarian; what exactly do these labels mean anymore with such a populist support as was seen for Rand? To use the Wall Street Journal's post-filibuster screed against them, "If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms.” Exactly.
On the other side of the line are the aging Republicans mentioned and the establishment Democratic media outlets before, and the neocons who simply just will not go away. Bill Kristol, who has been wrong on every prediction or policy that he puts his name on, lamented that the Republican Party is finished if it embraces Pauls' "doom-haunted imagination."
Even more than ideological differences, the future of the GOP — and public discourse on these issues — is why the old guard is so fuming. McCain, Graham, and Kristol see the writing on the wall: They are losing their control of the party and finding themselves on the wrong side of history. These are the folks who gave us McCain and Romney the last two elections, two politicians as boring and bland as can be and who differed very little from President Obama. McCain would even rather defend the president over his fellow Republican senator!
No, I see things in the exact opposite manner. For all of his faults, Senator Rand Paul has received the most vocal and loud support from traditionally non-Republican demographics whenever he takes a position against state power and in favor of liberty. Just witness the backlash he received over endorsing Mitt Romney, his trip to Israel, and voting in favor of Iran sanctions compared to reception he gets when he principally stood up for constitutional restraints on government power like last week.
Interviewers and commentators always ask former Congressman Ron Paul why he had so much appeal to millennials. I can tell you from personal experience, more than anything, it was Ron Paul's defense of peace and civil liberties that always drew the loudest applause. Speaking truth to power, combined with a growing distrust of foreign interventionism, is what seems to fuel us.
Undoubtedly, there are many other issues that millennials do and should care about; student debt, the broken state of "entitlement" programs, a stagnant economy. But Senator Paul's brave defense of civil liberties proves that occasionally principles can trump left and right and that a GOP that defends peace and civil liberties is the only way it will grow and be successful.
While I tend to have little faith in the political process at creating change in the direction of liberty, I sincerely hope Rand Paul remembers the reaction from his filibuster and continues the momentum. After Attorney General Eric Holder finally answered (sort of) Paul's question, Paul vowed that this fight isn't over. On Sunday, he went on CNN and told Wolf Blitzer to bring all the troops home from Afghanistan (!).
Questioning and publicly discussing the state's right to kill and/or kidnap people without trial and wage aggressive, perpetual war is firing us "impressionable" kids up. Rand Paul has started the national conversation and it won't be going away. It's easy to see why President Obama, the establishment media, and Beltway Republicans are so frightened.