Standing In Rand’s Quicksand

You have to hand it to Rand Paul. With an investment of 13 hours of his time earlier this week, the junior Senator from Kentucky (a) became the national hero of the conservative movement; (b) helped detoxify his position on national security and civil liberties issues, his (and his father’s) weak point with more conventional Republicans; (c) intimidated most other GOPers, including the senior senator from Kentucky, the ostensible leader of all Senate Republicans, into following his lead; and (d) made a strong initial bid to emulate John McCain’s old ability to stimulate admiration from people on the other side of the partisan and ideological spectrum. That McCain was largely isolated, along with his amiguito Lindsey Graham, in criticizing Paul made the whole thing even sweeter for the guy who came to the Senate bearing the family reputation for incorrigible crankiness.

By the end of his filibuster, Paul had the RNC chairman and McConnell himself (see this interesting backstory on that phenomenon from National Journal‘s Shane Goldmacher and Beth Reindard) eating out of his hand. And lefty admiration of Paul became so robust that Adele Stan felt compelled to remind progressives of everything horrific about the man and his motives.

On top of everything else, as I fretted yesterday, Paul had rekindled the Romance of the Filibuster, precisely at the time we needed to get rid of it. Not a bad day’s work for a guy so fresh from the fever swamps that you could probably smell the sulphur on him right there on the Senate floor.

David Frum, for whom Paul’s sudden hyper-respectability is very bad news, summed up the Rand-o-Fest pretty well:

Paul’s filibuster ostensibly dealt only with a very remote hypothetical contingency: targeted killings on American soil of Americans who present no imminent threat to national security. Paul insisted that all the harder questions be taken off the table. He had (he said) no issue with a targeted killing on American soil of an American who did present an imminent threat. He avoided the issue of the targeted killings of Americans outside the United States – i.e., the actual real-world problem at hand.

Instead, Paul invoked a nightmare out of a dystopian future: an evil future president shooting a missile at an American having coffee in a neighborhood cafe, merely on suspicion, without any due process of law….

Paul emerges from a milieu in which far-fetched scenarios don’t seem far-fetched at all. Paul specifically mentioned the possibility of a democratically elected Adolph Hitler like figure coming to power in the United States. Looming federal tyranny – against which the only protection is an armed citizenry – is a staple item in the Rand Paul inventory of urgent concerns.

Most Republican senators don’t share this nightmarish vision of their country, thank goodness. But they do answer to an activist base that shares a nightmarish vision of President Obama. Rand Paul stipulated that he did not intend his remarks about a Hitler-like president to apply to the present president. But he must have a pretty fair idea of what his core constituency hears when he talks about looming tyranny – and so of course must the Republican senators who joined him at the rostrum.

They saw Rand Paul’s Twitter following jump. Perhaps they sensed a great fundraising bonanza at hand. Where Rand Paul led, other Republicans followed: some out of conviction, some out of opportunism, and some out of fear.

And thus conservatives followed Paul the Younger onto the quicksand of his broader ideology, which for the most part is in the mainstream of the John Birch Society. This is not what the GOP needs right now.

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.