Tensions escalate between Senators McCain, Graham, and Paul

If you thought Senator John McCain’s bid to claw back some relevance in the wake of Rand Paul’s filibuster triumph was already uncomfortable, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  McCain said of Paul’s filibuster, “I don’t think what happened yesterday was helpful to the American people,” even though Paul finally won an answer to his question.

McCain’s sidekick Lindsey Graham threw a temper tantrum, snottily declared that Paul’s filibuster convinced him to vote in favor of confirming John Brennan as CIA director, and said of Rand Paul’s demand for clarity on warrantless domestic drone strikes, “I do not believe that question deserves an answer.”  Of course, it now appears that Graham’s dinner host, Barack Obama, disagrees.

One of the things that has conservative supporters of the Paul filibuster gnashing their teeth over McCain and Graham’s antics is that they don’t seem to understand the importance of certain issues as proxies for larger questions, or linchpins of philosophy.  There are issues beyond the specific question Rand Paul asked, but McCain and Graham seem incapable of perceiving them.

Among those issues is the one these “old bulls” are begging by forgetting just who started this little fracas: why couldn’t Attorney General Eric Holder give Paul a simple answer to his very straightforward question, until after the 13-hour filibuster that Paul came to describe as “root canal?”  Why did the Administration seem so intent on reserving options they kept insisting would never, ever be exercised?  If it wasn’t malevolent intention – and I don’t think Paul or most of his supporters were specifically concerned about Barack Obama sending a Predator to take out someone at a fast-food joint in Des Moines – then it’s hard to dismiss as anything but sheer arrogance…. the arrogance expressed by statements like, “I do not believe that question deserves an answer.”

Wherever they might come down on the drone issue, why do McCain and Graham seem so incapable of grasping that this aura of arrogance is doing real political damage to the White House they nominally oppose?  McCain has quoted a Wall Street Journal editorial accusing Rand Paul of pulling “political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.”  What observer with an ounce of perception could look at the response to Paul’s filibuster and conclude it was all coming from libertarian dorm rooms?  I wouldn’t want to over-state the depth of that support either, but it’s clearly not coming exclusively from beneath a pile of empty pizza cartons, beer bottles, and dog-eared copies of Atlas Shrugged.

Of course, depending on your opinion of these two, you might think they do appreciate the tide shifting against the White House, so they’re acting to protect Obama, and/or take some wind from the sails of Rand Paul and other young insurgent Republicans.  This interpretation might be buttressed by reviewing comments McCain made to the Huffington Post in a piece published yesterday – although reading through the entire piece leads me to suspect the interview was conducted a bit earlier:

While McCain has been a fierce critic of the Obama administration, he has also tangled with members of his own party, particularly the new crop of lawmakers including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), darlings of the conservative grassroots.

When I asked him if “these guys” — having just mentioned Amash, Cruz and Paul by name — are a “positive force” in the GOP, McCain paused for a full six seconds.

“They were elected, nobody believes that there was a corrupt election, anything else,” McCain said. “But I also think that when, you know, it’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.”

“I think it can be harmful if there is a belief among the American people that those people are reflective of the views of the majority of Republicans. They’re not,” he continued.

I asked McCain to clarify who, specifically, he was talking about.

“Rand Paul, Cruz, Amash, whoever,” McCain said.

What an utterly bizzarre response!  “Nobody believes there was a corrupt election” behind the arrival of Amash, Cruz, and Paul in the Senate?  Why the hell did he throw that little non sequitur in?  Does anyone recall him making these kind of drive-by insinuations about Barack Obama, when McCain ran against him?  Anyone remember him deploying “wacko bird” language when the fate of his country hung in the balance, back in 2008?  Funny how he can’t seem to name any of the wacko birds of the Left, isn’t it?

Keep hammering your own side and you might just get that adoring “Maverick” label back from the liberal media, Senator McCain! Oh, wait, you already did – the title of the Huffington Post article is “John McCain: Getting Back to Maverick, With An Eye On Retirement,” and it contains much rumination that maybe McCain is no longer the angry old white guy who had to be stopped at all costs by his pals in the media four years ago.  Longtime McCain confident Mark Salter is quoted in a celebration of Maverick’s fighting spirit, judging that “McCain may stab you, but he’ll always do it in the chest.”  Really?  Then why didn’t he face Rand Paul directly in the Senate during that long filibuster and debate him?

Rand Paul has been pushing back against McCain and Graham, as related by The Hill:

“They think the whole world is a battlefield, including America, and that the laws of war should apply,” Paul said in an interview on Fox News about McCain and Graham, who had described Paul’s comments about drones as “ridiculous.”

“The laws of war don’t involve due process, so when they ask you for an attorney you tell them to shut up. That’s not my understanding of the way America works,” Paul told Fox. “I don’t think the laws of war apply to America, I think the Bill of Rights do and I think it’s a disservice to our soldiers that our senators up there arguing that the Bill of Rights aren’t important.”

Paul said whether drones can be used against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil is a “very serious question” and was at the root of Wednesday’s filibuster, which delayed a final confirmation vote on John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA.

“This was a very serious question. It was a question that took a month and a half to get an answer to and so I would argue — and I think a lot of the public would agree with me, both on the right and the left — that what we ask was a very serious question and it’s a question that we finally got an answer to,” Paul said.

Agree with his points or not, Rand Paul sounds far more thoughtful on this issue than the old bulls snorting that he shouldn’t even be asking the question.  The War on Terror is long – in fact, it’s probably perpetual, even if the specific adversaries change considerably, because terrorist tactics are a very effective strategy for the murderous exploitation of freedom-loving Information Age civilization by barbarians.  Settling these issues swiftly and firmly will only improve our ability to combat the threat over the long term.  And our children are entitled to review lengthy, well-reasoned explanations of how we arrived at our answers, especially since they will probably find it necessary to ask them again.