Establishment hacks are lining up to sneer at Rand Paul’s filibuster as accomplishing nothing (see for instance, here and here in The Economist). “The U.S. government is not going to use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil,” so the line goes. “So what’s the point?”
It’s hard to know what to make of lines like that. Are the writers feigning stupidity, or are they really stupid?
A majority of Americans currently support the drone strikes the U.S. government is conducting in Pakistan and Yemen, far away from any actual battlefields or imminent threats. They’re wrong to do so. But how do you show them that they’re wrong? You show them the logical endpoint of their principle: If the U.S. government is authorized to assassinate alleged enemies in neutral countries away from any battlefield or imminent threat, then what is to stop it from assassinating alleged enemies within the U.S.?
The assertion that the U.S. government would never do this because it has better alternatives is beside the point, even if true. Our constitution isn’t designed around the principle that politicians will always do the right thing. The point of Rand Paul’s filibuster was to establish that it would be unlawful, not just impractical, for the U.S. government to target its own citizens on its own soil in the absence of an actual attack. And if that would be unlawful, then so is what the U.S. government is actually doing. The Obama Administration saw this threat clearly and for that reason refused to concede Paul’s point. Even the letter they ultimately issued doesn’t clearly concede the legal issue.
Paul himself says his filibuster was just the beginning. Let’s hope so.