Civil liberties tend to be an arcane kind of subject, sort of like home insurance coverage. You assume that if your house burned down that insurance will take care of it. You assume that if you were arrested you’d have that due process, right to a fair trail etc. Drone attacks? Oh those only happen to bad people, far away. The US government is careful about targeted killings and you know WAR ON TERROR. It’s just broken into the mainstream media in the past year or so that we have been killing people without any pretense of due process, some as young as sixteen years old. These media reports have emphasized the supposed guilt of the person; it’s always a high-ranking “terrorist”. Drones and extra-judicial killings didn’t get as much play during the campaign in 2012 as it should have, partly because people don’t like to think about them but also because they were not a point of disagreement between the Democratic and Republican candidates.
So Rand Paul did a filibuster today, the old-fashioned kind where you have to “take the floor”—aside from talking you can’t actually sit—to protest John Brennan’s CIA nomination. Rand Paul is awful on many levels and the filibuster itself is awful—but this does not negate the fact that it was Rand Paul who stood up for 12+ hours (actually as of this writing he's still going) to insist for some simple answers to some serious questions. He had very little company, and on the Democratic side only Senator Wyden demonstrated any support, (Durbin did come to the floor briefly) and even he made it clear he was still voting for the nominee.
Going through my twitter feed was interesting, the people who were tweeting about it and who were not, the people who were supporting Paul and who were not. Apparently, there is this thing when a person does something you support, but he’s not a person you like, you can’t support his position. Those of us who truly believe in rights for all and the rule of law—there are not as many of us as we should be and we need to take what we can get. As Glenn Greenwald tweeted, you’re not marrying him you’re just supporting him on an issue. It would have been nice if out of the fifty some Democrats, most of whom railed against George W. Bush on similar issues, had stepped up, but only one did in a meaningful manner. If there was any question about the lack of difference between Democrats and Republicans on executive branch power it was on full display on Wednesday. There IS no difference, Paul had little principled support from Republicans either. It’s worth noting that the liberals favorite Senator, Elizabeth Warren, was nowhere to be found. Although Warren has been strong on the financial issues she championed before coming to the Senate, at least so far, she has been quiet on foreign policy. It’s an example of how the system keeps people in line; Warren may be allowed to challenge the banks but if she wants to have a career there are issues she will not speak about. The people of Illinois can take comfort that, when given a choice between ending the filibuster or having a vote regarding a non-binding resolution regarding drone killing of US citizens on US soil, Dick Durbin went with the filibuster.
The fact is the executive branch always wants all the power it can, it always has and it always will. This did not start with 9/11, it started from the dawning of the republic, with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton (as William Hogeland is always reminding us), and it continues to this day. It’s the office, not the person, and the only way to stop it is to demand change. At a minimum we should expect more from the congressional body, in this case the Senate, to truly act as a body of checks and balances. It should not matter who leads that fight.