American factions are coming together over drones

American factions are coming together over drones March 11, 2013

It has been said that America is polarized politically, but now an issue has emerged that is uniting conservatives and liberals, rightists and leftists, tea party activists and occupy Wall Street types:  Concern about drones.

Virtually all of these factions are praising Rand Paul’s filibuster protesting the Attorney General’s ruling that American citizens on American soil are subject to being zapped from above by drone technology.  All are opposing establishment-types from both parties who hail the new military technology.

Might this herald a new political consensus around civil liberties?  How about a Bill of Rights agenda, which would uphold the conservative causes of religious freedom and gun rights AND the liberal causes of freedom of speech and expression?

Are there other issues that might serve as a similar rallying point?

From the New York Times:

The debate goes to the heart of a deeply rooted American suspicion about the government, the military and the surveillance state: the specter of drones streaking through the skies above American cities and towns, controlled by faceless bureaucrats and equipped to spy or kill.

That Big Brother imagery — conjured up by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky during a more than 12-hour filibuster this week — has animated a surprisingly diverse swath of political interests that includes mainstream civil liberties groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, conservative research groups, liberal activists and right-wing conspiracy theorists.

They agree on little else. But Mr. Paul’s soliloquy has tapped into a common anxiety on the left and the right about the dangers of unchecked government. And it has exposed fears about ultra-advanced technologies that are fueled by the increasingly fine line between science fiction and real life.

Drones have become the subject of urgent policy debates in Washington as lawmakers from both parties wrangle with President Obama over their use to prosecute the fight against terrorism from the skies above countries like Pakistan and Yemen. . . .

On the right, Mr. Paul has become an overnight hero since his filibuster. Self-proclaimed defenders of the Constitution have shouted their approval on Twitter, using the hashtag #StandWithRand and declaring him to be a welcomed member of their less-is-better-government club.

“The day that Rand Paul ignited Liberty’s Torch inside the beltway!” one Tea Party activist wrote on Twitter. “May it never be extinguished!”

But even as the right swooned, the left did, too. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — the only Democrat to join Mr. Paul’s filibuster — said the unexpected array of political forces was just the beginning, especially as Congress and the public face the new technologies of 21st-century warfare.

“I believe there is a new political movement emerging in this country that’s shaking free of party moorings,” Mr. Wyden said. “Americans want a better balance between protecting our security and protecting our liberty.”

P. W. Singer, whose 2009 book “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century” anticipated the broad impact of drones, said he believed they had shaken up politics because they were “a revolutionary technology, like the steam engine or the computer.”

“The discussion doesn’t fall along the usual partisan lines,” he said. The dozen states that have passed laws restricting drones do not fall into conventional red-blue divisions, nor do the score of states competing to be the site of the Federal Aviation Administration’s test sites for drones.

via Visions of Drones in U.S. Skies Touch Bipartisan Nerve –

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  • Kirk

    I see the Drug War becoming increasingly unpopular and opposition to it uniting various political ideologies. The real lefties have always been pro-drug due to the supposedly vitcimless nature of drug use. Libertarians agree for many of the same reasons. I could see fiscal conservatives getting on board due to the dollar savings from slackening enforcement and increasing tax revenues from legalizing and regulating soft drugs. Civil rights types would prefer to see a less militarized and intrusive police force, along with lower prison populations . I don’t think its quite in the same place as drones, but over the next few years, I see the Drug War headed in the same direction.

  • sg

    Democrats don’t oppose the drug war, nor do they support legalization. The drug war facilitates keeping the criminally inclined off the street. Lots of democrats live in cities like New York City where folks are totally subject to police searches and almost anything goes in enforcement. Do you remember what New York City was like in the 70’s? The drug war won’t be going away. A few liberal western states may legalize pot, but even pretty chilled out Oregon voted against legalizing. Anyway NYC voters seem to approve of strong arm police.

  • Kirk


    The legal trend is definitely in the opposite direction. Saying nothing of the recent ballot initiatives that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Washington and Colorado (and, for the record, Colorado isn’t that liberal), 19 states have decriminalized possession of marijuana and/or legalized medical marijuana, many within the last 10 years (and since you brought it up, NY decriminalized pot in the 70’s. And stop and frisk is for weapons, not drugs). Initiatives attempting to legalize pot have been making it to the ballot more and more of late, and though they’re being defeated, the margin of opposition to support is rapidly waning.

    I think you’re probably right about the drug war, in general. And I should amend my statement from “the war on drugs” to “pot legalization.” I don’t think hard drugs will be legal any time soon, if ever. I think marijuana will be quite soon, though.

  • DonS

    The core of conservatism in the past forty years has moved sharply away from a “law and order” mentality toward a healthy fear of government’s intrusiveness and its tendency to align with big business to reduce liberty and increase government. However, at the same time, the classic civil liberties activists on the left have moved sharply toward libertinism. They seem only to care about drugs and sex, as if those were the core liberties protected by the Constitution. Otherwise, they embrace statism as a way to impose equality on society. Which, of course, is the very antithesis of the basis for the Constitution — which was to protect the people FROM their government and its inevitable tendency to increase in size and to impose on freedom.

    I was heartened to see that the ACLU, which has had a tendency to ignore liberty issues that do not fall into the sphere of the popular media sex and drug arena, supported Rand Paul in his filibuster. Unfortunately, they have not yet seen the light on issues such as homeschooling, or the HSA mandates. But maybe there is hope of a meeting of the minds someday concerning the inherent inability of government, which can only act coercively, to increase liberty, other than by getting out of the way.

  • tODD

    SG said (@2):

    …even pretty chilled out Oregon voted against legalizing.

    That’s a pretty un-nuanced take on it. Oregon’s legalization initiative was far less restrictive than either Washington’s or Colorado’s. Those other two were intentionally crafted to win over those who aren’t drug users, with restrictions on possession, growing, etc. Oregon’s was pretty much written by the marijuana lobby, and it failed. But only barely.

  • tODD

    Anyhow, color me cynical, but the real surprise in Veith’s article comes from (Democratic) Sen. Wyden’s support of Paul’s filibuster (and therefore criticism of Obama’s drone position). Republicans may actually be opposed on principle, but they also might be opposed because Obama. We can’t really know until there’s a Republican president who wants to fly drones over the US — will the Republicans in Congress still be so brave in opposing him? I certainly hope so, though memories of Republican reactions in the Bush era are still fresh in my mind.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 6 said:

    Republicans may actually be opposed on principle, but they also might be opposed because Obama. We can’t really know until there’s a Republican president who wants to fly drones over the US — will the Republicans in Congress still be so brave in opposing him? I certainly hope so, though memories of Republican reactions in the Bush era are still fresh in my mind.

    Exactly. Kudos to Wyden for his consistency and principles. Because none of the other Democrats who were so opposed to Bush and his implementation of the Patriot Act so much as raised a finger in support of Paul.

  • Kudos to everyone on both sides willing to focus on the issue and on the widespread agreement we share.

    It is hugely more productive to frame our discourse around “Here’s something practically the entire country agrees on! so let’s get to work fixing it” than to say frame it around statements like “[Other party] wants to shred the Constitution!” What we agree on, we can fix. Solutions are almost a foregone conclusion in that scenario. So there’s no practical need for divisive, inflammatory rhetoric, and definitely no need to continue making it a red-vs-blue issue that flips ends every four years.