Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’s filibuster against the confirmation of CIA Director and “drone czar” John Brennan offers a “teachable moment” to the media and the left about the Tea Party. As they seethe in outrage and confusion that it took a Republican to question the constitutionality of drone attacks, it is important to remind our friends on the other side that it wasn’t just any Republican, but a–gasp!–Tea Party Republican who spoke “truth to power.”
Not only that, but the Senators who were first to offer their assistance were also Tea Party Republicans–the so-called McCarthyist Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of Texas, and Marco “Water Break” Rubio of Florida. All three of these Senators won their primary elections against candidates favored by the Republican establishment. All three have been attacked by the left and smeared as racist and extremist for belonging to the Tea Party. Yet without them, no one from either party would have questioned a policy that the left once saw as a dangerous abuse of executive power.
Only one Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) of Oregon, supported Paul. (Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois came to the floor very late in the game to offer a few challenging questions and formally end debate when Paul finally yielded.) Ryan Grim and Mollie Reilly of the Huffington Post observed: “…progressives who might have assumed to have been supportive were absent, leaving members of the GOP as the sole defenders of civil liberties. The White House was equally silent.” Some Democrats, notably Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), even slammed Paul as “destructive.”
What many on the left and in the media have willfully failed to understand is that the Tea Party exists to defend the Constitution from unconstitutional encroachments on power and dangerous expansions in the size and cost of government. It did not merely arise in opposition to President Barack Obama; it had its roots in conservative outrage at the bailouts of the last months of George W. Bush’s presidency. At its core, the Tea Party is about American values, not Republican politics. It exists not to obstruct the Democrats but to restore the Constitution.
Rand Paul’s filibuster provided a useful contrast between the Tea Party and the GOP establishment. While Paul stood on the Senate floor, unable to leave the chamber to eat, a dozen other Republicans chose to dine with President Obama in a gesture of bipartisanship. (The contrast is not exact; a few Tea Party favorites attended the dinner, too, and joined Paul later in the Senate chamber.) It had already been hours since Wyden joined Paul’s protest, illustrating that true bipartisanship is forged on the basis of shared principles, not just political necessity.
Democrats and journalists like to describe the Tea Party as “hostage-takers,” holding Republican leaders and moderates in their thrall while they try to dismantle the government. But in reality it is the Washington elite that have taken the country hostage, forcing through expansions of government power and spending vast sums of money that the nation will struggle for generations to repay. The Tea Party represents the last chance to escape the zero-sum politics and economic stagnation that has plagued much of Europe for the last several years.
As Paul continued, liberals who once railed angrily against Bush were forced to confront the fecklessness of their own party. Hollywood’s John Cusack asked: “Where are the so-called progressive Democratic senators?” Meanwhile, the supposedly racist Tea Party Senator from Kentucky was leading the charge. It was not a political ploy for votes, or even an attempt to block one of President Obama’s nominees, which Paul acknowledged he would fail to do. It was just a stand on principle–which is what the Tea Party has been about all along.