This past week, Rand Paul stood in the U.S. Senate and conducted an old fashioned filibuster. He spoke for close to 13 hours. He didn’t sit down and he didn’t yield the floor. Many people used the same reference I thought of, that it was like the old black and white movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, where Jimmy Stewart stood until he could no longer stand and spoke until his voice was but a whisper. Luckily, I had seen that old movie, as kids we frequently watched old movies that Mom put on the VCR. Senator Paul finally yielded the floor after midnight, some 12 hours and 56 minutes after he began. So why would his use of a Senate rule to talk for hours be important? Was it showmanship to just raise his own profile? Or something more?
As we look at how news now flows, via 24 hour television channels, twitter, facebook and a host of other mediums. Paul’s story was still a big one for several days, but it won’t be in a few more. Something else will come along to distract us, as ideas no longer percolate and fester and stew until they become big ideas. Instead, they bubble up quickly, people offer a snap decision, post support on social media, and act like they have done something. But what Paul did yesterday was pretty remarkable. He spoke for hours upon hours about the Constitution. Our Constitution. The Constitution that gives us liberty and allows us to live such good lives in America. He didn’t resort to the usual filibuster tactics, such as reading from the dictionary. Strom Thurmond holds the filibuster record in the Senate of 24 hours straight, and he did things like read the voting laws of all 48 states (there weren’t 50 at the time). But Paul spoke on the context of liberty in our lives, and the importance of asserting the Constitution over anything else. He was able to speak clearly and forcefully about the advancement of technology in warfare i.e. drones, and what impact that could have for ordinary Americans. The fact that he spoke for that long about important topics is in itself remarkable. That he chose to do it oh a whim, is even more so.
Also, Paul dominated Twitter. What Twitter has is the power to drive the news events of the day, and people decided it was important to chat about. #StandWithRand “trended” for much of the day, and in fact trended for three days. It’s rare on Twitter to have a topic trend for more than a couple of hours and is usually assigned to an event like the Super Bowl or the Oscars. But he dominated it because his message made sense: When will the government get up and say its illegal to kill an American citizen without due process? You would think this would be an easy answer for our President(regardless of party), members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, and the citizens of our nation alike. But many remained silent. Twitter helped Paul spread this question and get people to actually watch C-SPAN to watch his speech. (Yes, I watched like 6 hours of this. I’m a nerd) Twitter helped Rand raise his profile and he took advantage of the moment. Where I think the idea really hit a nerve was the fact that many conservatives, liberals, libertarians all came together to support what he was speaking about. Finding common ground these days in politics has been a rare occurrence indeed.
So Sen. Paul was able to convey his beliefs and convictions on this topic and not sound like a partisan goon when discussing it. Too often politicians cannot get up in front of a camera or the media without sounding like a hack, someone just toeing their party’s line about some topic. Paul frequently stated yesterday that this wasn’t a partisan issue, that it was a subject that needed to be spoke about because it’s important to Americans of every party. He said he would be protesting this if it were a Republican in the White House as well. I believe him. I believe he stands on his convictions. Is it a gimmick? Perhaps in time, Paul will be found out to be a phony or perhaps not. But for now, we should look at some of his recent speeches as the way we want our politicians to act.
Finally, I have thought a lot lately about the future of our country. I don’t believe it’s an Republican versus Democrat thing. Rather, in my mind it’s people being complacent in politics versus being engaged. It’s a laziness and a thought that we will just end up okay because we are Americans versus proving ourselves each generation. It’s the thought of security versus your freedom. Events such as 9/11 and the Iraq war taught us that the issues and dangers facing us are more complex than we think. Good intentions, however good they may start out, can sometimes start us down a path that could restrict our rights. Many politicians have the best of intentions, even when the other side immediately accuses them of the opposite. In some cases they start to pull down the pillars of freedom, allowing someone with bad intentions in the future to take advantage of the nation. Some Americans will feel their elected officials are “good enough” to make the right decisions. But I choose to support Paul’s view on this, that I want the Constitution to protect my rights, not some politician who people feel makes good decisions. I chose to trust not a political party, but the ideas that founded us. The Constitution establishes for each of us the ability to live our lives free. But there is also the responsibility for us to actually live up to it and want to be free, to want to be self governed.
As far as the reason Paul was speaking this week, the hypotheticals may indeed be extreme, as some who opposed him said. But they are worth talking about, because our citizens understanding of the Constitution will depend on our freedoms for future generations. Do I believe that President Obama is going to take a drone and drop it on a restaurant in Denver on a citizen? No. I don’t, nor do I believe Bush would have either. But as technology grows and becomes easier, do we give in to the temptations to make it easier to be safe, while forfeiting our freedoms? That’s the decisions we have to make as a nation, and we have to make them together. So when Democratic Senator Ron Wyden stepped to the floor to support Paul’s filibuster, he directly addressed the President and I think it sums everything up pretty well.
”Mr. President, what it comes down to is every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them.”
We need more passionate people with convictions getting involved in our nation’s future, or we may not have one worth fighting for.