Posted by Brad @ 1:28 pm on March 25th 2013

Standing with Rand, Revisited

One can say what you like about the final denouement of Rand Paul’s filibuster – I think it goes without saying that the administration’s “no” on having the ability to kill an American citizen on American soil who was not “actively engaged” with hostilities or whatever could always be gotten out of or defined away. But, all things considered, even getting them to say the word “no” in relation to a potential expansion of power is, I think, a victory.

But really the most important victory was simply the bully pulpit of it. For a week, all talk in Washington, and about Washington, stopped, and instead refocused on the question of the president’s authority to unilaterally execute American citizens (and yes, that IS the question). For years, that was a conversation that had mostly been kept out of “polite” or “serious” mainstream political conversation, but for Rand’s week, for the first time, it could not be avoided. A fair question then is – does that even matter?

I submit to you that it does.

We talk a lot about the handcuffs we perceive politicians have on them. Why they can’t be for or against this or that and why we ought to just give them a pass because surely they actually believe it but we understand they have to lie about it to get the rest of their agenda done. Or why we have to be willing to accept cowardice or incrementalism or even just flat out buckling because of the perceived limitations of the electorate or any given politicians current relationship to it. We treat public opinion, at times, not like a fluid reflection of thought, but as a a solid mass like a wall standing in our way or an ocean we’re adrift on. You can go around or scale the wall, or you can float on the ocean, but it provides a basic physical reality that you’re stuck with, that you have to negotiate against. And sometimes – often times – that’s true.

But that line of thinking always leaves out one important element – political leadership. And the great examples of political leadership – Ronald Reagan on size of government, say, or Bill Clinton on welfare reform, or George W. Bush on AIDs in Africa, or Howard Dean on the Iraq War – are examples of where those analogies don’t hold up – where a person walks up to a wall we all see, and then just wills it away and walks through. (Basically, the opposite of what, say, Obama did on gay marriage.) Where, instead of operating within the restraints of public opinion – which is all we usually ask of them (and thus all we usually get) – they instead actually change public opinion and rid themselves of those restraints that, prior, seemed like just a fact of life that everyone had to live with and oh well.

It is as simple as the difference between following and leading.

There are some things that we just have to accept as a consequence of living in a pluralistic society.

But there are many, many other cases – more than we would think I bet – where just because the needle hasn’t moved doesn’t mean it’s unmovable. It just means that nobody has done so yet or, frustratingly, as in this case, nobody appears to have even ever tried.

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