Obama Is on the Wrong Side of History — and Rand Paul — on Drone Warfare

National Journal

If it wasn't bizarre enough to hear Shakespeare, Patton, Jay-Z, and Wiz Khalifa quoted on the Senate floor this morning, Sen. Rand Paul's nearly 13-hour old-school filibuster on drone warfare exposed this jarring irony: A constitutional scholar who rode his antiwar views to the White House stands defiantly to the right of the GOP -- and probably on the wrong side of history.

What's up with President Obama?

Paul waged the rhetorical marathon to temporarily block the confirmation of Obama's nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan, after receiving a letter this month from Attorney General Eric Holder that refused to rule out the use of drone strikes against American terrorism suspects within the United States in "extraordinary circumstances."

"I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your right to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court," Paul said.

Alarms were sounded via Twitter and other social networks as a rag-tag coalition of civil libertarians, liberals, and oppose-Obama-on-anything conservatives rallied behind Paul. Under public pressure, GOP senators filed into the chamber to support the junior senator from Kentucky, including the state's senior senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Where were the Democrats? For the most part, they steered clear of confronting the president. How partisan of them.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon was a rare voice of Democratic dissent, praising Paul for pushing Brennan to explain whether the government could assassinate Americans in the United States.

"When I asked the president, "Can you kill an American on American soil?' it should have been an easy answer. It's an easy question. It should have been a resounding, unequivocal , "˜No,' Paul said. "The president's response? He hasn't killed anyone yet. We're supposed to be comforted by that."

No, we're not. As I've written before, there has been a shameful lack of outrage -- particularly among Democrats and liberal commentators -- over Obama's stance that a U.S. president can kill American citizens with no due process, no transparency, and no accountability. If President George W. Bush had taken this stance in 2008, is there any doubt that candidate Obama would have opposed it?

But this isn't just about Obama. Even if you trust his judgment and fidelity to the Constitution, Obama is setting a precedent for future leaders -- perhaps a president you wouldn't empower as judge, jury and executioner.

I tweeted shortly after midnight: "ATTN: Senators opposed to govt killing American in US (or even a wee bit curious abt modern warfare and Constitution) pls report to work."

Meghan Coan, who described herself as a "big Obama supporter," replied with a tweet chastising the president. "I'm actually afraid he's not on the wrong side of history, that drones will be the norm and accountability taken out of war," she said.

A voter from Virginia wanted to know whether the state's Democratic senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner were backing Paul. "If not," tweeted @TheMissLee, "they won't have my vote in the future."

Meanwhile, Paul droned on. "What will the standard for how we kill Americans in America?" he asked at one point. "Could political dissent be part of the standard for drone strikes?"

It could be. As long as Obama and his enablers refuse to explain and defend a reasonable standard, voters will assume the worst. They may demand better.