As I write, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has been speaking on the floor of the United States Senate for nearly eight hours. He’s conducting a personal filibuster, provoked by a letter that he received this month from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in which Mr. Holder refused to rule out the use of drone strikes within the United States under “extraordinary circumstances.”
“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the C.I.A.,” he said. “I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights 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.”
I admire Senator Paul. I admire his commitment to principle. My wife and I had dinner with him and a couple of others two or three years ago in Las Vegas, and, afterwards, listened as he addressed a meeting there. I found him very pleasant, and very bright. Also less rigid and a better politician than his father, the legendary Representative Ron Paul. Which is good, because Senator Paul is a potential candidate for the presidency of the United States.
He’s been spelled a few times during his speaking by Senate friends, including Mike Lee (R-UT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL, a potential rival presidential candidate), and, to Mr. Wyden’s credit, Ron Wyden (D-OR). Senator Paul told me in Las Vegas that his closest friend in the Senate is Utah’s Senator Lee. During particularly appalling speeches by colleagues, he said, Senator Lee will sometimes text him, expressing fear for the future of the Republic. Senator Paul’s standard response is to text back “Buy gold!” (At the invitation of a mutual friend, I had lunch with then-private-citizen Lee a year or so before he challenged Bob Bennett, with whom I’ve also spent time and whom I also admire. I was similarly impressed with him, and particularly with his knowledge of, and commitment to, the Constitution.)
I’m not quite sure where I stand on the specific issue motivating Senator Paul’s filibuster. I certainly see enormous danger in granting a blank check to a president — even one as totally transparent as Barack Obama! — effectively to assassinate American citizens on American soil. But I can also envision situations where a drone strike might be the most effective way of taking a bad guy out, and sometimes it’s necessary to take bad guys out before they’ve been formally indicted, to say nothing of before they’ve been convicted by a court.