Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has found a fun way to run for president.
In a party desperately in need of a “Sister Souljah moment” — wherein a party leader takes a stand against the orthodoxy of his base — Paul tends to follow in the path of his father.
Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) actually opposed government spending during the George W. Bush era — though it flowed generously to his district — and seemed to give Rick Santorum an aneurysm during the 2012 GOP primary debates every time he suggested we shouldn’t immediately go to war with Iran.
Rand, too, alternates between veering to the far right — end Medicare as we know it immediately — and back to the left — legalize hemp!
But unlike his father, he’s always careful to shroud his heresy behind the one organizing principle of the Republican Party at this moment in time: opposing President Obama. The junior senator from Kentucky dramatically roused Republicans and one Democrat in the Senate to join him in a filibuster opposing the nomination of G.W. Bush’s former director of the National Counterterrorism Center on the basis of questions about President Obama’s drone policy.
He also has been in favor of negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program rather than building a case for war but has mostly been silent on that issue since taking a drubbing as an appeaser for endorsing diplomacy on Fox News in November.
Wisely, Paul has decided to focus his most public efforts on the activities of the National Security Agency, an issue that gives him license to go after the president in a way that appeals to people who actually may have voted for the president. The Tea Party hero essentially launched his 2016 presidential campaign with a class-action lawsuit against the Obama administration on the issue of “whether or not constitutionally you can have a single warrant apply to millions of people.”
Who is eligible to join the lawsuit?
The senator says, “Everybody in America who has a cellphone!”
He’s already gathered more than 250,000 names and you can sign up now at Rand-2016.com, in case there were any doubts about the motivation for this effort.
But Paul’s effort does bring light to a very important issue: the overreach of American surveillance efforts post-9/11 that began illegally under President Bush. Mass capture of data was then enshrined into law with little oversight by Congress, then exposed by former NSA contractor Edwin Snowden, who lifted the veil on what seems to be systematic abuse by the government.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) — a longtime critic of what he calls the secret laws created by the PATRIOT Act — has said, “If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it.”
So Paul’s effort will bring attention to himself and an important cause.
And nothing makes the case for reform of these laws and practices better than the identity of the man who will be advising Paul on this lawsuit:
“He has constitutional expertise,” Paul told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “And we’re hoping that with his help we can get a hearing in court and ultimately get this class action lawsuit — I think the first of its kind on a constitutional question — taken all the way to the Supreme Court.”
The former attorney general of Virginia was the first to sue the federal government over Obamacare and made his opposition to the president’s health care law a central part of his failed campaign to become governor of the Old Dominion.
“Cooch,” who used to be mentioned as a possible candidate for president, may fancy himself a champion of smaller government and religious freedom for corporations that hate birth control. But he’s not exactly a champion of civil or reproductive rights.
In a 2009 op-ed he wrote, “[H]omosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural-law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that.”
Policies that reflect a bias against sex between consenting adults?
Cooch has, on several occasions, compared abortion to slavery. If that’s true, how far would he go to investigate those women who say they have miscarried in an effort to avoid increasingly oppressive laws against a woman’s right to make reproductive choices?
Civil libertarians describe the NSA’s surveillance as Orwellian, as it casts an overly wide and intrusive net in the name of preventing terrorism. The fear of abuses by an overreaching executive like Richard Nixon, who used the federal government to settle vendettas, animates many of the concerns of those repulsed by NSA actions that have been largely sanctioned by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court all appointed by one man — Chief Justice John Roberts — with no advocate for civil liberties arguing against the government and the court’s rulings never released to the public.
There are critics of the NSA who think the government has already gone too far and there are some who fear what the government could do with the kind of invasive unchecked power it now has.
Civil libertarians like Rand Paul rarely are champions of civil rights. And while the idea of a politician who might shut down part of a bridge to punish his enemies getting ahold of the power of the NSA is scary, the idea of a fundamentalist who believes the government has a role in our most intimate decisions having the power to watch our every move should terrify us into taking action to reform our surveillance laws now, while we have the chance.
We should thank Rand Paul for reminding us of this fact.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr