Rand’s drone diatribe also true for guns
BY NEIL STEINBERG firstname.lastname@example.org March 10, 2013 5:16PM
FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2013 file photo, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. testifies at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort, Ky. Senate Democrats push for quick confirmation vote on John Brennan's nomination to head CIA, but Republican senator mounts lengthy debate. (AP Photo/James Crisp, File)
Updated: April 12, 2013 6:26AM
Let’s see if I have this straight.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the Tea Party darling, caught our nation’s attention last week by filibustering against the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director.
An old-fashioned, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” seize-the-floor-and-don’t-let-go filibuster, Paul spoke for 13 hours against drones, which the government has used to kill terrorist suspects in Pakistan and Yemen.
That isn’t the problem for Paul. The problem is that President Obama has not ruled out such drone attacks on American soil.
“He was elected by a majority,” Paul said. “But the majority doesn’t get to decide who we execute.”
This is the same Paul who is a fierce opponent of all gun-control laws, who wanted to push a bill to nullify the executive actions Obama took after Newtown, who has revealed that he and his staff go about armed, and who urges everyone else to do so, too.
Let’s see if we can connect these two political beliefs in the Randian universe.
On the one hand: The government cannot be trusted to identify a person as being so much of a threat he should be killed.
On the other: Any random citizen can.
The government should never be allowed to sidestep the system of laws we have in place to ensure that an American suspected of wrongdoing receives justice. That’s bad.
But individuals — Paul would like to see every teacher carry a gun — can and should. That’s good. Indeed, we should pass “stand your ground” laws to ease this process.
Is it just me who sees a disconnect here?
Understand, I agree with him about drones. Obama’s legacy will be significantly tarnished by his willingness to suspend law while fighting terrorism. Not so much as the idea of lethal force being necessary — we empower every police office to make such decisions every day. We don’t want our leaders flipping through the Code of Federal Regulations while terrorists skip past them.
The issue is Obama’s reluctance to allow a transparent legal process to follow such a decision. A police officer shoots someone in an alley, his superiors investigate the shooting and rule it justified or unjustified. Why should it be any less for the president? The American people are his superiors.
And yes, when dealing with Paul et al., we are talking about people who despise the government and don’t want it to do anything — collect taxes, treat the sick, give aid to foreign allies, you name it. So the fact they also don’t want the government using unmanned drones to rain hellfire missiles down on our fellow citizens at its whim is not a dramatic shift. And as I said, I don’t want that either.
But not because of the drones per se. Drones are the perfect red meat to agitate the Tea Party element — the same crowd who can conjure black helicopters circling their heads out of a clear blue sky. The fact that drones really exist, and are actually out there, somewhere, shows a sort of progress for them. At least they’re getting upset over something with a basis in reality this time.
Though to me, the problem isn’t the drone part — that’s more fear of the new, and when drones become a common part of our lives, reporting on traffic and such, we’ll smile at how afraid of them we were, the way we once scared ourselves about how computers would someday “take over” (of course, they sort of have, but that’s another column).
To me, the problem is executing people without trial. It doesn’t matter how it’s done — drone, poison dart, anvil dropped from a window. If you’re killed you’re killed. What matters is whether we are drifting away from being a nation of laws — in theory, the practice was always squishy — and creating an official gray kill zone.
“When a democracy gets it wrong,” Paul said during his filibuster last week, “you want the law to be in place.”
Exactly. You want the law to be in place. You don’t want the government blowing up the cars of people it doesn’t like on the Edens Expressway. You don’t want to live in a community of armed vigilantes dispensing justice as they see fit at every bar, school and gas station. The gun debate comes down to fear — I am not so afraid for my life that I need a gun to lull me into thinking I’m safe, even though the gun makes me more imperiled than I’d be without it. Nor am I so afraid of terror that I want to see 225 years of American legal process scrapped, so the president can kill whoever he thinks is a danger. Or if that is allowed, I want a public legal framework that examines his decision. Because presidents make mistakes. As do citizens. We have enough police officers, trained and responsible, who shoot the wrong people.
“No American should be killed on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court,” Paul said on the floor of the Senate last week. How could that be true for armed drones but not for armed civilians?