On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) served notice to both the Republican establishment and to the Democrat-Media Complex: conservatism isn’t gone. It’s not even on vacation. The new wave of conservatives is here, and they know how to play the game.
At approximately 11:47 a.m. EST, Paul took to the floor of the Senate to filibuster the nomination of counterterrorism czar John Brennan for CIA Director. Paul stated his reason specifically and clearly: the Obama administration has refused to answer question as to whether they believe it is acceptable under the Constitution to kill American citizens on US soil using drones if those citizens are not engaged in an immediate terrorist threat. Paul was broader than that, actually – he simply asked the administration for a set of rules that could be used to limit their power to execute American citizens here at home. Over and over again, the administration refused to turn over the legal memos detailing its policies.
And so Paul talked. And boy, did he talk. For nearly 13 hours, he talked, taking breaks only when spelled by Senators including fellow Tea Partiers Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Even an honest Democrat – apparently the only one in the chamber – got into the act: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Citing everyone from left to right, Paul pointed out the hypocrisy of an administration ripping into waterboarding of terrorists but happy to target them for death from the skies. He asked repeatedly why the administration could not answer his simple question about the boundaries of government power. And the American people listened.
It was an astonishing demonstration of the power of ideas. Paul spoke directly to the American people from the floor of the Senate. No media interrogators. No Obama functionaries. No spin machine. He was not strident, but he was firm. “No American should ever be killed in their house without warrant and some kind of aggressive behavior by them,” said Paul. “To be bombed in your sleep? There’s nothing American about that … [President Obama] says trust him because he hasn’t done it yet. He says he doesn’t intend to do so, but he might. Mr. President, that’s not good enough … so I’ve come here to speak for as long as I can to draw attention to something that I find to really be very disturbing …
“I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution …. The point isn’t that anyone in our country is Hitler. But what I am saying is that in a democracy you could somehow elect someone who is very evil … When a democracy gets it wrong, you want the law to be in place.”
Paul’s words stirred a firestorm on Twitter, where #StandWithRand trended for hours. At one point, Cruz took to the floor to spell Paul briefly with encouraging messages from Twitter. By the end of the night, though, it was clear that Paul needed no encouragement. Despite admonitions from the chair that there should be no reaction to Paul’s filibuster within the chamber, there was loud and audible applause for Paul as he concluded.
Paul’s performance signaled a groundshift in the power base of the Republican Party. While establishment figures like Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) were dining with President Obama, Paul was drawing the nation’s attention from the floor of the Senate with his invocation of the most basic of all Senate rights: the right to be heard, in the fashion of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And because Paul picked an issue of transparency – and an issue on which both left and right generally agree that lines must be drawn – he had few detractors, even though Democrats stonewalled his proposed resolutions attempting to draw lines regarding drone strikes.
Paul’s dramatic action today may not have stopped John Brennan from becoming CIA Director. But that was not the point. He proved that conservatism in America is not merely alive, but that it has the potential for post-partisanship. He proved that conservatives can still seize the narrative, and fight back against an authoritarian-minded, non-transparent administration. And he proved that a new generation of conservatives is about to take the field for Republicans. Over the next 24 hours, look for the Democrat-Media Complex to strike back against Paul. They know the battle is on.
Finally, it appears that Republicans do too.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).