I feel kind of dirty for saying this, but good for Rand Paul! The Republican senator from Kentucky, a libertarian and a Tea-Party favorite, yesterday took to the Senate floor to speak against the Obama administration's less-than-forthcoming responses to questions about its drone-warfare program. Specifically, he condemned the notion that administration policies seem to give the President legal authority to launch deadly drone attacks indiscriminately against anyone deemed to be a terrorist threat--even American citizens, even on American soil. Reasonable people can disagree about appropriate limits on executive authority when it comes to unleashing death from above on unsuspecting targets; nevertheless, the topic itself demands high-profile, public discussion.
What impressed me about Rand Paul, though, was less what he said than how he said it: He filibustered. And not one of these postmodern, virtual filibusters, either--the kind where senators basically promise to filibuster a piece of legislation in advance, thus requiring sponsors to round up 60 votes in order even to get a bill to the floor. No, Paul went old school: Before the Senate could vote on John Brennan's confirmation as CIA Director (effectively a foregone conclusion), Rand Paul stood up and began to talk.
And he kept on talking.
And he kept on talking.
And twelve hours later he was still talking, before he finally yielded the floor and Brennan was, eventually, confirmed.
A purely symbolic action? Sure. But so what? That's what a filibuster is: A piece of performance art, a hopelessly outnumbered partisan's last stand against mathematically overwhelming opposition, a final raging against the dying of the light. The most a filibusterer can reasonably hope to achieve is a temporary reprieve before whatever business he or she seeks to prevent inevitably proceeds. But the power of the symbolism derives from the act of that one person stepping up to be the face of opposition.
Suggestions for filibuster reform periodically bubble up. Most go nowhere. The filibuster is a weapon of the minority, and though those in the majority would love to limit the minority's power, they recognize that in the future they themselves may need the weapon and thus refuse to weaken it. Still, one basic reform would provide no particular advantage to either party: Anybody who wants to filibuster should have to get up and filibuster, a la Rand Paul this week and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) a few years back. No shortcuts allowed. A Senator with serious objections to a piece of legislation should have the courage of his or her convictions and stand up and talk for a few hours. A small requirement for impeding the passage of undesirable legislation.
And if anyone doubts the power of a legitimate filibuster, consider this: A legitimate filibuster has gotten me to say complimentary things about Rand Freakin' Paul!