The Rand Paul Show

So there it was, more or less out of the blue: Rand Paul holding the Senate floor (with some help) for thirteen hours in opposition to John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director, more or less over the administration’s poorly articulated insistence on executive authority to kill American citizens overseas (or perhaps here at home).

As Brother Benen notes this morning, the sensation created by Paul’s “talking filibuster” comes from a variety of sources: sympathy with his substantive argument, appreciation for his direct filibustering technique, and of course, pure partisanship. This last factor is interesting given the general position of the GOP on the civil liberties of terrorism suspects:

[A]s Paul’s allies grew throughout the day, it was hard not to wonder whether at least some of his new-found friends endorsed him on the substance or whether “Stand with Rand” had become a temporary fad on the right, driven by Republicans who were simply happy to see President Obama’s national security agenda facing criticism, even if they happen to agree with President Obama’s national security agenda.

Were GOP senators like Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey rallying to Paul’s defense out of anything but opportunistic instincts? If there were an up-or-down vote on executive power and the appropriate scope of the national security state in combating terrorism, would they vote with Paul?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Paul’s fellow Kentucky Republican, once said the Casey Anthony trial proved that terrorist suspects cannot and should not be tried in U.S. courts — and yet, there he was last night, standing with Rand, too. Is it unreasonable to wonder how much of this had to do with his re-election fears?

Adam Serwer noted that four of the senators who joined Paul yesterday “voted against a ban on indefinite detention of US citizens.” Are we to believe they’ve had a change of heart or is it more likely that they just wanted to be part of an anti-Obama demonstration that was causing a stir among conservative activists?

Put it this way: if Paul’s remarks and tactics were used by a Democrat in 2004, how many of these Republicans would be happy to call him or her a “fifth columnist”?

All good questions. Paul himself was pretty clear in accusing the Obama administration of continuing the dubious civil liberties policies of the Bush administration; perhaps some of the more out-there Republican senators joining Paul had no problem with that line of attack since they view W. as a covert socialist RINO. But it will be interesting to see if this particular coalition will hold together once the echoes of the filibuster have faded.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.