Shut Down Of Senate A Path To Washington Working?

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The filibuster is one of the great moments which remain of political theater.  It’s been the subject of actual classic theater.  Jimmy Stewart is responsible for many of us even knowing what this somewhat arcane Senate parliamentary procedure even is, courtesy of his Mr. Smith who went to Washington.

The US Senate is, by design, our branch of government that is responsible for occasionally putting the brakes on the whims and wants of the majority and the masses.  It remains the body that must rely on some form of civil relations between its members.  It is also the body that, largely because of that camaraderie, affords great individual power to any member who chooses to hold up all the activities of the entire Senate so long as he chooses to exercise a moment of personal privilege.

Senator Rand Paul, the Junior Senator from Kentucky and son of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, chose to exercise one of those moments on Wednesday – a day which most of DC had already shut down because of a snowstorm that failed to arrive.  Instead of snow, Paul brought fire. And as of the time of this writing about midnight Wednesday night, he was still bringing it with the help of some of his more conservative Republican peers and even a couple of Democrats.

Officially, the filibuster was to stop the vote on the name of John Brennan to head the CIA.  More specifically, however, Paul has been using the time to demand from the White House answers to questions regarding the legal standards of when a drone can be used to attack and kill an American citizen on American soil.

He was joined by several Republican Senators who asked questions in order to give him time to rest his voice during the 12+ hour marathon.  The first to assist were among the newer and more conservative Senators within the GOP caucus, but Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon also joined in support.  When Senate Leader Harry Reid moved to cut off the debate and either vote or resume activity in the morning, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss objected along with Paul, giving the Paul the right to continue so long as he was able to remain standing.

Not lost on those closely watching the event was that Paul was managing to bring together the far left and the far right, with sane, rational talk.  Most observing from both political extremes weren’t calling them “crazy” or “fringe”.  Instead, it was a twelve hour lesson on civics, individual rights versus government power, and above all, the Constitution.

Twelve plus hours is an exercise in the anti-soundbite.  For those who watched even some of it, they were able to witness the kind of debate that is romanticized in movies and television but rarely happens in reality.  And many were able to learn, see complex sides of an issue, and get to an understanding that while all the answers on the topic won’t be easy there is a rational way to discuss and reason.

During the evening as he continued to speak, 11 of Paul’s Republican colleges met for dinner with the President at the Jefferson Hotel – neutral ground from Capitol Hill and the White House.  President Obama has been criticized during his Presidency for being aloof and distant from Congress, lacking substantive relationships with leaders of his own party as well as Republicans.  The dinner appears to be a first step in fixing this perception, focusing on those Senators most likely willing to deal on issues of the budget as well as immigration reform.

Many supporting the filibuster on social media were openly derisive of the dinner meeting hosted by the President.  Yet despite the contrast of a meeting of “the establishment” with an anti-establishment filibuster, it should not be lost that there was movement toward discussing actual problems and solutions on Wednesday in Washington.

On a day when snow was supposed to keep Washington from working, there were signs from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that those who are supposed to govern us may be beginning to understand what it will take to work more than any in recent memory.  And it started by a small form of government shut down.  That by one man with one point – One that he made very well.


  1. bowersville says:

    That’s one side of the story. Let’s see how Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham saw it.

    McCain: If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms. McCain called Paul’s concern that the government could kill any American with a drone “totally unfounded.”

    Graham: “People are astonished that President Obama is doing many of the things that President Bush did. I’m not astonished. I congratulate him for having the good judgement to understand we’re at war,” he said. “And to my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war.”

    Read more:

    • WeymanCWannamakerJr says:

      McCain was just telling those libertarian kids to GET OFF OF MY LAWN!

      As to Sen. Graham’s statement I would suggest that many Americans from both conservative and liberal persuasions wish very much that we were no longer at war in Afghanistan. Trying to bomb them back into the Stone Age is not a very large leap and they will revert to their own way of life after we depart. President Obama’s continuance of President Bush’s policies in Afghanistan only go to prove President Eisenhower’s parting words.

  2. Spacey G says:

    Lindsey Graham was also recently chastised, publicly, for spouting weird nonsense about how if law enforcement wasn’t able to obtain and use assault weapons (on U.S. citizenry, presumably) in a disaster scenario, such as post-Katrina New Orleans, then we’d be nowhere in our domestic weaponry/localized law enforcement standards. Dude’s got a weird weaponry/warfare “issue” bad. If you know what I mean.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    I have concerns about drone executions, but I’m not sure I agree with using the filibuster of a nominee to bring the matter to attention or hold the nomination hostage.

  4. peachstealth says:

    As I see it, the whole kerfuffle was caused when AG Holder failed to give a direct answer to a direct question.
    The question was: Is it constitutional to kill an American citizen on American soil if you believe him to be involved with terrorist even though he is not posing an imminent danger ?
    The correct answer is ” Of course it unconstitutional. You arrest him and give him a trial.”
    Holders answer was that it was probably inappropriate to do so. “INAPPROPRIATE???” NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

  5. Three Jack says:

    Spot on analysis Charlie, thanks!

    McCain, Graham, time to move aside and let the new guys who actually seek to perform the duties of the senate correctly perform those duties. If either senator wanted to be relevant today, they should have tuned into the debate last night. Instead they both take to the floor today to shore up their MSM credentials by criticizing Rand Paul. The dinner invites are sure to continue.

    The debate was far more than whether drones will be bombing Jane Fonda at a cafe. It was more about the overall role of government in our lives and whether we will continue trading pieces of freedom for a larger, more protective security blanket. Hopefully this was the first of many intelligent debates about civil liberties in the age of so many technological advances.

  6. John Konop says:

    The core debate on this issue should a suspected terrorist be treated like a person committing a crime or like we are at war? If a terrorist was even in the mountains of Georgia planning a massive attack on metro Atlanta. We saw the weapons ready to be deployed via a satitlight, and we can only use a drown to stop it, does anyone not support the use? If we had used drones and a quick strike special forces off shore military strategy, over the heavy footprint strategy to go after Bin Laden and other terrorist, would that not make more sense?

    As many of you know I spoke out early and enough about the war strategy in Iraq and Afghanstan. I have been a big advocate of the post Reagan/ Powell/Gates strategy of war ie quick in and out with overwhelming force if you cannot use special force type strategy. Drones are an extra tool in the special force strategy. Irronicaly, the extreme Neocons, Libertarins and liberals are not being realistic about the reality of the risk and best strategy…….

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Yes it would make more sense. An issue is that “we” citizens don’t see weapons by satellite. But we do remember that decision maker Bush saw WMD in Iraq. (Not to single out Bush as now it’s on Obama.)

      • John Konop says:


        Let’s say Bush used drones in combination with special forces over a large footprint war, would that not of been better policy over what happen? We are living in a dangerous time via terrorism combined with technology……If the bar is only at 100% certainty, the lack of action via threshold, puts us at greater risk. That is what extremist on all sides do not understand…..The issue should be about what is the best policy, knowing that most times it will never be a 100% easy call…….I am a pragmatist not an ideologue……That is why many of you are very confused about views……a pragmatist realizes life is very gray, and we just look at the odds, in a risk verse reward model. This thought process confuses ideologues on all sides.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          John, I’m advocating for oversight, not 100% certainty. A very public decision on WMD cost 100,000 lives and us $1T, utlimately because neocons had it in for Saddam. It’s yet to be admitted it was a mistake by those responsible, starting with the “decider” and continuing well down into the ranks.

          There’s every reason to presume even worse decisions are being made (not in terms of consequences, but with respect to facts) in secret, as there’s even less accountibility at all levels in the operation than with war in Iraq.

          • John Konop says:

            I do not disagree we need tighter court oversight……..the problem is we are dealing with tough calls many times with a short window of time to make the call…….

            In this debate the use of a drones is not a policy it is a tool of war. You can argue about not using the tool, when, why……but it is a tool. If the Libertarins and liberals do not want to use that tool than they should explain why relative to other tools of war, bombs, tanks……..

            If you understand it is a tool verse a policy, than clearly you understand that drones do less callteral damage than traditional tools missils, carpet bombing, burning cities down……?
            As far as the bad call on Iraq…….Once again I spoke out early and often against the Bush strategy. Yet with that said if I had actionable intelligence instead of going to war I would of used drones combined with special forces against Sadam , based on what we knew, instead of attacking the country…….

            We should of used a similar strategy in Afghanstan as well…… was special forces that took out Bin Laden not traditional………the use of drones has also taking out surgically other terrorist threats as well…….

            I realize that sadly it has created issues with civilian damage……Would you want us to do nothing? Do you think it is better to use traditional methods ie large troop engagements…….?

            The Powell doctrine strategy worked well in the first Iraq war as well as Bosnia…….drones are a tool to implement the policy better.

            • Dave Bearse says:

              Drones as tools are a product, not a precursor tool, of recent wars. Yeah they were around beforehand, but there’s nothing like carte blanche and billions of dollars sloshing around to perfect such tools.

              There’s no arguing the calls are tough, but as with torture, there’s often plenty of time to decide if the trigger should be pulled should opportunity arise.

              I’m not buying a secret definition of imminent threat, justified by secret legal opinions, applied in secret to secret circumstances, with secret outcomes.

  7. gcp says:

    A drone filibuster? Where is the filibuster concerning Obama’s continuation of the war? Over 1000 troops lost during the Obama administration yet strangely we hear nothing from Repubs or Dems.

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