Monday, March 11, 2013

Showboat or Patriot?

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair
A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay the vote on a bill or issue.  It is sometimes called, “talking out a bill,” and is considered a form of obstruction in a legislative body.  Most Americans know about the filibuster from the movie, "Mr Smith goes to Washington." 

Clare Boothe Luce, the first women appointed to a major ambassadorial post and the wife of the publisher of Time magazine, said about the filibuster; “They say women talk too much.  If you worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.”

The elimination of the filibuster in Congress  has been debated for years, but it always stays intact because the majority Party recognizes that at some point they could be the minority Party and they may need it in their tool box.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul, (R-Kentucky), launched a talking filibuster to stall John Brennan’s confirmation vote for the position of Director of the CIA.  Paul demanded an answer to the question "Should a President be allowed to target, and kill an American by drone attack, on American soil, without due process?" Paul’s question was in response to comments from Attorney General Eric Holder before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When Senator Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), asked Holder whether he believed it would be constitutional to target an American terror suspect who was simply 'sitting at a cafe' .  Holder said it was, in his opinion, constitutional, but he could only seeing it happen in the most extreme of circumstances. 

Senators Paul, Cruz, Scott, Rubio, and eleven others held the floor of the Senate for thirteen(13) hours until Paul’s bladder could stand no more and he yielded the floor.  One of those who commended Paul for filibusting was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Kentucky).  McConnell faces re-election next year and that could be one of the reasons he spoke. 

As expected, John Brennan was confirmed as Director of the CIA, however Paul believed his question was relevant since Brennan is considered to be the main architect of the unmanned drone program used by the U.S. government.

Senator Paul held the floor for  12 hours and 52 minutes- the 9th longest filibuster in U.S. history. Interestingly, some GOP Senators were critical of their colleague.  Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Paul’s actions just fired up the opposition Party and were disingenuous.   Graham said,  “To my Republican colleagues, I don’t remember any of you coming down here suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone, do you?” Graham said. “They had a drone program back then, all of a sudden this drone program has gotten every Republican so spun up. What are we up to here?” McCain quoted from a Wall Street Journal editorial which said,  “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.”  

So was the filibuster a stunt or was it an act of patriotism? I believe it was the later and here is why:

First, Paul was successful in getting the media to cover the real issue- potential drone attacks in the US on Americans.  While McCain and Graham may not believe the government would ever think of using drones against their own citizens, how many events and misuses of governmental authority have transpired in our country in recent years we never thought possible?  And after Holder’s comments to Congress, why wouldn’t it be possible?

Second, the filibuster and the pressure from the general public forced Holder to clarify the administration’s position on drone use.  Holder sent a letter stating: "It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.' The answer to that question is no." If Paul would not have filibustered, then the ambiguity of

Third, the filibuster revealed that some of the newly elected younger Republican Senators will not be content to sit in the back of the room and wait their turn.  They have the ironrail up the shirttail to take on the administration and bad policy.

There may be hope for America yet.  Thanks Senator Jefferson Smith- I mean Rand Paul- for reminding us that one person can make a difference.

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