How would you characterize the folks who oppose the U.S. drone program?

If you didn’t know it already, after 11-plus hours of Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, you now know you’d have to say libertarian conservatives, worried about an unaccountable Obama. And yet you’d also have to say anti-war liberals and other progressives, also worried about an unaccountable Obama. Indeed, one of the more sustained criticisms of the president from the left has been about the drone program.

This suggests two questions:

1. If opposition is from both ends of the political spectrum, why is the filibuster led by a Republican and mostly supported by Republicans?

Because the issue at hand is the president’s pick of John Brennan as head of the CIA. Liberals, especially those elected to office, have little to gain from blocking the president’s choice. Conservatives, even those who might have tolerated a drone program run by a conservative, have much to gain.

Forget it, Jake, it’s partisanship.

So even though Democrat Ron Wyden helped out with Paul’s filibuster (and is credited by Paul as the first to raise the question that was at the center of the filibuster), in the end, Wyden plans to vote for Brennan.

This is not to say that Rand Paul does not believe what he stands for. No one could repeat the same argument as many times as Paul has and not believe it. But when you stand definitely depends on whom you sit with.

2. Doesn’t that mean that ideology is just another name for partisanship?

Well, no. First off, remember all those anti-drone lefties and other non-Republicans. The anti-war movement has been muted in general since Obama took office, but opposition to the “military industrial complex” and all things security-over-liberty is still quite common on the left. Meanwhile, there are more than a few conservatives and Republicans whose criticism of Obama is generally that he is too soft on terrorists, not too aggressive. The PATRIOT Act has never lacked for Republican votes.

But ideology is complicated, and foreign policy — especially security vs. liberty questions — is particularly complicated. It’s what brings the ACLU and Cato together. These are the kind of issues that separate the libertarian wing of the Tea Party from its “reactionary” wing. And they are the kind of issues that separate those who were meeting inside the Democratic National Convention last summer from those protesting outside.

It is convenient to think about ideology as a single liberal-to-conservative dimension — something I have done myself quite a bit. But we would do better to understand the true variety within ideology more than we do. The drone program is just the sort of case that illuminates that variety.

[Originally posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Hans Noel is an assistant professor of government at Georgetown University.