On Wednesday the chattering classes across the country were bewitched by a piece of old-timey Washington political theater that is so rarely seen nowadays that one has to dig into archival material to find a time it was last important. This spectacle, which evokes images of straw boater hats and velocipede bicycles, was the “talking” […]
On Wednesday the chattering classes across the country were bewitched by a piece of old-timey Washington political theater that is so rarely seen nowadays that one has to dig into archival material to find a time it was last important. This spectacle, which evokes images of straw boater hats and velocipede bicycles, was the “talking” filibuster carried out by Kentucky Senator and Tea Party darling, Rand Paul.
In today’s world of mailed-in filibusters that have crippled the U.S. Senate since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, the Kentucky Republican’s Quixotic, 13-hour stand against the nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seems like a refreshing breath of fresh air for a process grown fetid and stale in the swampy morass that is Congress’ upper chamber. It was, at any rate, certainly newsworthy.
It was also, unfortunately, quite tawdry and hypocritical. To paraphrase the bard, Rand’s sound and fury signified nothing more than grandstanding positioning aimed at a run at the White House in 2016. In the end, Brennan was confirmed and Rand, sticking up for the principle that presidents shouldn’t be allowed to drone-assassinate Americans within, you know, America, got a confirmation letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that, yes, Senator Paul is right.
Glad we could all agree on that.
States can kill you because that’s their job
That principle, however, is basically a lie. Presidents certainly can kill you – a point made since the Whiskey Rebellion but reinforced by the Civil War when the Army of the Potomac, the mid-19th century’s equivalent of a fleet of Predator drones, fought its way through five years of butchery and death to crush the South’s bid for independence. If that wasn’t enough, the Feds drove home the point at Wounded Knee, when it massacred Native Americans for appearing to resist Washington’s rule.
In the 20th century, the point was further made when the government rounded up suspected Reds in the 1920s and executed at least two, the famous Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, largely due to their political beliefs. Later, an entire U.S. ethnic group – Japanese-Americans – was exiled to concentration camps at the outset of World War II. In 1969 the government struck again – this time targeting Black-power leaders in a Chicago raid that “allegedly” went wrong. Then, in the 1990s religious cultists in Waco, Texas and anti-government survivalists at Ruby Ridge died in flame, fire, and a hail of gunfire in the aftermath of federal raids.
That the state can, in fact, kill you — legally or otherwise – has long been an established fact of human civilization since its inception. That is what the state does, indeed what it is for.
It is, put simply, a violence-wielding enforcer of law and order and provider of protection from external attack. It may do other things, like provide social insurance, but a state that cannot or will not use violence, even against its own citizens, is like a car without an engine – it has no point. Because human nature is what it is, we need this killer for the alternative – anarchy – is even worse.
That does not mean, however, that the state has to be a Hobbesian sociopath that ruthlessly kills anyone opposing, even mildly, the status quo it enforces. Indeed, the outstanding difference between “The West” and “The Rest” is that the West, including the United States, has developed a political philosophy and institutions of government that have done their best to tame this killer in order make it better serve a broader coalition of interests than merely a single ruler, his or her family and the vested interests that back them.
The West’s entire history can be seen as a long, evolutionary process that, step by step, changed the nature of the state from being that of a privately-owned Mafia controlled by mobsters called kings, lords and aristocrats into a publicly owned and operated security outfit that we call liberal democracy today.
Queen Elizabeth II is no Idi Amin today precisely because we decided that it was best to turn over responsibility for protection to the public at large, with the authority of its officials – like police or soldiers – being made legitimate by the grant of authority that came with their acceptance of this public responsibility. They are, in essence, us – that is what their badges signify, and when they hand out traffic tickets or rain death from the skies — they do so because of the rules or orders we, the public, have authorized and handed over to them to enforce or carry out.
This is important, because a major consequence of rule by the people is the need to determine who, exactly, constitutes “the people” doing the ruling. This is fairly easy to do in homogenous societies where there are no ethnic, racial, religious or other major distinctions.
In the United States – riven with division since its birth – answering this question has required, among other things, a civil war, a civil rights movement a hundred years later, and monumental cultural change that has ever so slowly broadened the definition of what it means to be an American. The American culture war, in other words, is precisely about defining what it means to be American and thus who ultimately counts as one.
When we examine the above list of internal enemies that Washington has targeted for elimination or simple harassment over the years, a curious pattern emerges that links each instance with the others. Each group at the time of the federal crackdown in question was not considered part of “us” at all due to ethnic or racial prejudice, ideological difference of opinion, or open, widespread disavowal of the rule of law as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. Rightly or wrongly, these groups were targeted because they were not considered part of the public protected by the state. They were not Americans, but something else, The Other – Them – against which we directed our state to protect us against.
Rand Paul, states kill Americans because of people like you and your party
Back to which leads to the supreme irony of Senator Paul’s grandstanding on Wednesday – an irony that turns Paul’s allegedly principled stand against government tyranny into a farce and a comedy of epic proportions. It is HIS political party and political movement which is overwhelmingly responsible for dividing Americans into “us” and “them,” for turning certain groups – gays, Muslims, African-Americans, city dwellers or anybody who isn’t a “Real American” as reflected in Ram pickup truck ads aimed at rural customers, into enemies worthy of being targeted by the state.
Rand Paul himself has participated in this abominable process. In 2010, for instance, while running for the Senate he voiced opposition to the Ground Zero mosque and in 2012, his political action committee ran Muslim-baiting ads against Democratic opponents. Rand’s love of liberty also seems to stop wherever Muslims are involved. He has, for instance, reversed his stance towards closing down the extralegal, global anti-terror prison at Guantanamo Bay and has supported the use of ethnic and racial profiling by TSA screeners.
Furthermore, in a radio interview this lover of liberty and freedom said he wants round-the-clock surveillance of Muslim foreign-exchange students residing in the United States.
Senator Paul has also stated that attending radical, “anti-government” speeches should be grounds for incarceration and deportation. This is grimly amusing considering the extreme rhetoric many within his party have used to voice opposition to administration proposals ranging from health care reform to gun control. Radicals, it would seem, are only those with whom Senator Paul happens to disagree.
This sentiment saturates Paul’s entire party. Recently-elected Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, for instance, who assisted Paul with his filibuster on Wednesday, has accused Harvard law professors of being communists who desire the overthrow of the American government.
Cruz, like Paul, has also jumped on board the anti-Muslim bandwagon by suggesting that American law is in danger of being replaced by Islamic law – an absurd statement but a rabble-rousing slur that goes over well with the bigots who call themselves Texas conservatives. Then there are the likes of House Republicans such as Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Louie Gohmert of Texas who have surreally accused the State Department of infiltration by the Muslim Brotherhood simply because Muslims work there.
All this is galling, of course, but the worst is the unrelenting slur that conservatives have winked and nodded at ever since the President was elected – the issue of President Obama’s heritage, his birth certificate and the evil insinuation that the president is not a bona fide American citizen. Most Republicans are simply content to let the gutter slime of the conservative moment hurl these racist accusations, they don’t voice them themselves. The dog whistle way in which they evade outright refuting these cretins, however, shows exactly what they are up to – using race and religion to divide America into us and them.
Senator Paul stood up on Wednesday to voice opposition to the American government killing its own citizens. I suppose this is something. But, if Senator Paul and the organized hypocrisy that is the conservative movement truly wish to prevent the American government from killing its own citizens, then they would do well to refrain from articulating views that frame their fellow Americans as enemies of the state deemed terrifying enough to kill.