Stuntsmanship vs. Statesmanship

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When Kentucky Senator Rand Paul finished his almost 13-hour filibuster on whether the government has the legal authority to order drone strikes against Americans living in the U.S., I rolled my eyes believing there are more than a few other priorities ahead of this issue.

Last Wednesday (Mar. 6), during his talk-fest, Paul took to Twitter to say that “The president is advocating a drone strike program in America”; a false and misleading statement.

So, where did Paul get this idea of drone strikes in America?

In Attorney General Eric Holder’s original letter (Mar. 4) to Senator Paul regarding Paul’s concern about the issue, Holder writes, “As a policy matter, moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.”

Holder adds, however, that he could “imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.”

While Holder does not specifically rule out the possibility, there is a great difference between raising a hypothetical – such as another 9/11 attack – and “advocating a drone strike program in America,” as Paul said.

Further, the attorney general’s original letter adds, “Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.”

It’s interesting to note that on the morning of 9/11, Vice-President Dick Cheney had given an order to shoot-down rogue, civilian aircraft for the sake of the country’s security. Given the grave national emergency, I wonder what Senator Paul would have done.

Clearly, in such a crisis, the President is tasked with assimilating the most credible information available in order to make the best decision possible with an incredibly short response time. No simple task for anyone, in such a situation.

However, the day following the filibuster, the attorney general sent another letter to Paul which settled the question.

“Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?,” Holder writes. “The answer to that question is no.”

What concerned me most in watching yet another political stunt to distract from the more immediate and critical issues in Washington, was the very real conviction by Senator Paul and Tea Party advocates that the U.S. government is out to get them by either taking away their Second Amendment rights or ordering a drone missile strike while sipping a Latte at Starbucks.

Fortunately, reason entered stage right, when Senator John McCain told his colleague to “Calm down… The U.S. government cannot randomly target U.S. citizens.”

“We’ve done, I think, a disservice to a lot of Americans,” McCain said, “by making them think that somehow they’re in danger from their government. They’re not. But we are in danger from a dedicated, longstanding, easily replaceable-leadership enemy that is hellbent on our destruction.”

McCain said that Paul’s dire warnings that the U.S. government could target “Jane Fonda” or “people in cafes” brings the debate into the “realm of the ridiculous.”

“If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously,” McCain added, “he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids. I don’t think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people.”

Another Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, reiterated McCain’s concerns, adding that he was “disappointed” in the 13 Republican Senators who supported Senator Paul’s filibuster.

While there certainly are legitimate interests in the legal and ethical concerns about the use of drones both abroad and within our own borders, we don’t need a U.S. Senator taking to the floor of the Senate for over 12 continuous hours stirring up the passions and prejudices of citizens by falsely claiming that “The president is advocating a drone strike program in America.”

Once again, we have another example where political stuntsmanship trumps statesmanship and the real business of people with the result that more people than ever distrust those entrusted with making decisions on behalf of us all.

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