Twitter began by calling it ‘libertarian p**n’ – the longest and most sustained attack on leviathan from the Senate floor in modern history. But then it became more. And more. It went on for 13 hours. It was about halfway through when the junior senator leaned over to an aide and whispered, ‘Can I get a candy bar?’
He deserved it. Before the end of the night, the significance of what he was doing was being described as ‘epic’. What began as a surprise political move became a bipartisan cry against all the evils of our times, which somehow all come down to the egregious power of the executive state and its omnipotent power over our lives and property. It became political theatre unlike any we’ve seen in many years. The target: all terrible things.
In short, it was a beautiful day on Capitol Hill.
It all came courtesy of Sen. Rand Paul, the man who has brought truth, excitement, fun, and the appearance of real-life morality back to the Senate.
We aren’t used to this. What normal person pays attention to politics, much less to the Senate? Here was something that actually happened – for once. Something important. Something even…epic.
This is a story about one man who decided to say, ‘Enough’. It’s a so-called ‘talking filibuster’, a last-ditch effort that stops legislative action completely. Something undertaken only in an epic case, a time when there is a hinge of history. Is this that hinge?
Sen. Rand’s action began just before noon. He started by standing alone against the nomination of John Brennan for the head of the CIA. This Brennan guy is the top advocate of the drone program and the White House’s super-creepy claim of the right to kill American citizens on American soil using unmanned aircraft.
The White House that wants him appointed refuses to rule out killing you and me if dear leader thinks it is necessary. The policy as fact has been in place for a long time, but this administration wants it formalised.
Are civil liberties at stake? It’s a no-brainer. Well, why is there any controversy about this at all? How much despotism can the American people stand? How did we come to this point? How long will the politicians in Washington pretend like this isn’t happening?
There is an elephant in the living room. That elephant has been nominated to head an agency that has been up to no good since its inception after World War II. An agency that operates in secrecy and embodies everything that is wrong with the whole institution of government. And now some guy who favours the right to kill you and me on a whim has been tagged to head the agency.
Something’s gotta give.
Sen. Paul seemed to break the taboo. He finally said it: This winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is asserting the right to kill citizens right here, without any recourse to courts or law or anything related to the dead letter called the Constitution. His appointee is ready to do the deed.
In his first hours, Sen. Paul said:
‘When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, ‘No.’ The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that.’
Again, his one question: Why won’t the president say that he won’t kill non-combatants with drones on American soil? The White House pretended none of this was happening.
Just before noon, Rand Paul stood alone. Then others joined him. Still others. Rand talked and talked. He went on and on. The online crowd began to grow. And grow. The tweets grew and grew. Facebook went nuts. It went on all day.
The Senate chamber filled up by the evening. The fracas became frenzy and then became a mania. Hashtag #StandWithRand became the Internet meme of the night.
Here is how the global Twitter map looked a few hours before the filibuster ended, with #StandWithRand as the top hashtag used around the world (the larger the hashtag, reflects a larger number of tweets emanating from that area.)
Everyone else is talking about what this means for the Senator’s political career. I have high respect for him, but truly, this is not the point. It is not about who is up and who is down. It is about the power of the government over the individual.
It’s been growing egregiously for a century. It’s become absurd to the point that the ‘peace president’ claims the right to kill us. When do we say no?
Sen. Paul spoke for the multitudes. And he continued. And continued. It was brilliant. It stopped only once biological needs called.
It’s pathetic that it had to come to this to see some meaningful protest. Still. It’s thrilling that this protest has finally come. That The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times heaped disdain on the Senator confirms that he was on the right track.
I have my own theory about the meaning of all of this. I think it is about the digital revolution finally reaching the most impenetrable apparatus on the planet. Sen. Paul was the instrument, but the tune is made of technology.
I must invoke the memory of the prophet of our age Aaron Swartz. He is dead due to horrible hounding by the government. But before he died, he was working on a new software package that was extremely powerful.
It offers a way to apply digital media to the cause of politics. He showed the power of his model with the 2012 attack on SOPA. Pretty much working alone, he defeated this cursed legislation that would have disabled the Internet.
Like most people, I long ago lost faith in the political process. It is a waste of time. It is a game for suckers and fools. The government owns the system, and it will always be so, no matter who is ostensibly in charge.
Yet…I respect Swartz. He might have been on to something. He posited that there is power when the people can swarm the state apparatus with digital communications: emails, petitions, tweets, memes, digital protests.
This is different from regular politics. It is turning the machine upside-down and inside out, bypassing the lobbying, rallies, voting, and electing entirely in favour of direct confrontation between the ruled and the rulers.
Remember that government is the most paranoid institution on the planet. It is extremely jumpy for that reason. You know how the petty thief is always watching his back, worried that he is going to get caught? Government is like that.
It is always and everywhere engaged in criminal activity. It mainly worries about being found out. It fears discovery. Digital media permit every American to say, ‘You have been found out!’
Is that what’s going on? It has made a difference in this case. The drone issue, which has been a big one for Laissez Faire – our petition against Brennan and his drone policies gathered 10,000 signatures – has been one that has sent a powerful signal to the power elite.
Sen. Paul is a great political entrepreneur. He stepped out in front – alone at first, but with the whole body behind him eventually, and today a large whole of the people too.
Government should fear the people. Today, at least some sectors of the government are a bit more afraid than they used to be. My friends, that’s victory. It is not about who will gain power next. It is about dismantling power completely, one step at a time.
‘Can I get a candy bar?’
Someday, that candy will be freedom itself. It’s coming. It’s going to happen – with or without our political leaders.
for Markets and Money
Ed Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Laissez Faire Today
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