Kass: A Senate battle between a libertarian whippersnapper, crotchety establishment

Sen. Rand PaulJohn Kass

March 8, 2013

Republican Sen. John McCain is pushing 80 now, but he still has those jaws and the Teddy Roosevelt teeth that look as if they could chomp through a baseball bat.

Yet no matter how vital his bite, the Arizona Republican is getting up in years. So he can’t help but add to the litany of stupid things he’s said.

We all say stupid things, but what came out of McCain’s mouth the other day about fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s heroic filibuster on the Senate floor wasn’t merely foolish.

It was Homeric in its stupidity.

Paul, a young libertarian whippersnapper from Kentucky, took to the floor for some 13 hours, arguing that the Constitution was sacred, and that President Barack Obama can’t use drones to execute Americans without trial.

Paul’s courage became a sensation. Tea party folks on the right and even some on the left were thrilled that someone would stand for civil liberties.

But McCain, crotchety establishmentarian that he is, wasn’t impressed.

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

Impressionable libertarian kids?

Finally, the old establishment Republican bulls express their true feelings about young Americans who dare think the Constitution is worth keeping.

It sounds like the first shots in a war that the crotchety establishment types are destined to lose. And if they don’t lose soon, the Republican Party is finished. It might as well just crawl up onto grandpa’s bookshelf, plop down next to the Whigs and begin collecting dust.

“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” Paul said at the outset of his filibuster. “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

Radical stuff? Perhaps to modern America, the nation primed by the department called “Homeland Security” that pumps fear into the national heart as a means to increase its power.

It’s happened so quickly — under both Republicans and Democrats — that we’ve grown numb to freedom lost. We’ve accepted cameras watching us on our streets and the airport guards eager to pat our private areas. And now there are flying robots in the skies that watch and kill.

But Paul said no. That must have sent an uneasy tingle up the president’s leg. Because he changed course.

For weeks now, Obama’s government had insisted he had the right to use drones and kill Americans without trial. Obama’s drone-protecting grand vizier, Attorney General Eric Holder, made a fool of himself defending the idea.

Sen. Ted Cruz,  a Texas Republican, fixed Holder like a bug on a board. He asked Holder in committee if the Constitution allowed for killing Americans suspected of terrorism, even if they were merely sitting quietly in a cafe.

Holder kept weaseling, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate. But Cruz didn’t care whether it was appropriate. Cruz demanded to know if it was constitutional. Holder broke.

“Translate my ‘appropriate’ to ‘no,'” Holder sighed. “I thought I was saying ‘no.’ All right? ‘No.'”

On Thursday, the president had Holder write Paul a letter of surrender.

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