Drones: Senators Paul and Hatch

By Rhett Wilkinson 
Sentiments of euphoria jumped from my libertarian heart when I learned on Thursday afternoon about U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, first being told by Utah Libertarian Party Chairman Jake Shannon, who visited Utah State University that day in a Young Americans for Liberty-sponsored event. 

That afternoon on the USU campus, Shannon said that while he doesn’t agree with Rand Paul on everything, his filibuster was refreshing to the libertarian cry against foreign, let alone domestic, intervention.

Is it ever. Last August, I attended a Young America’s Foundation event in Washington, D.C., in which Rand Paul spoke aplenty about economic freedom. But where, I thought at the time, was the voice against drone policy?

Hour one of Sen. Rand Paul’s 12-hour filibuster

Perhaps Paul deserves a bit of a break, since his did need to tailor his message in accordance with the conservative forum in which he entered. Ever since I learned that night that he leans libertarian on several issues, I have been hoping that he would take a lead in speaking against drone policy. My desire was magnified after learning in January about the Justice Department approving the legal authority for drone killings of senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, even if they are U.S. citizens. Then I became more worried after learning that President Obama had personally overseen the development of a top-secret “kill list” identifying potential targets, which could presumably include drone attacks on U.S. soil.

In producing the ninth-longest filibuster in American history Wednesday, he answered his own statement that “Americans are looking for someone to really stand up.”

“The Obama in 2007 may have been against this, when he was in the Senate,” the Kentucky senator said on Wednesday before munching on candy to stay awake. “I’m troubled by the fact he won’t tell us he won’t use these drones against American citizens.”

How about that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder still has not entirely ruled out a scenario under which a drone strike would be ordered against Americans on U.S. soil? Or that he only responded to Paul’s question about killing a presumably innocent person at a coffee shop by saying that he has the right under the Fifth Amendment to not be arrested, but didn’t directly answer Paul’s inquiry?

Of course, Brennan, who is largely responsible for the creation of the drone system, was still appointed. Paul knew that would happen. But he was disappointed just as fervently that more Republicans did not join him, aside from a few (like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio) that answered questions, and a handful that took some time to sit at the back of the Senate floor in demonstrative support.

Once the votes were cast, however, some surprises were still yielded. Is it doubtless Paul was upset that Rubio ended up voting to confirm Brennan, along with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the lone Democrat who publically supported the filibuster?

Hatching dilemmas

Paul also couldn’t have been more upset at the 12 GOP Senators who actually voted for Brennan’s nomination, including longtime Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Other than social issues, it’s worth asking if the 36-year senator can even consider himself any more than to the right of centrism.

“I’ve known John Brennan for many years during my time on the Intelligence Committee and I know him to be someone who’s focused on protecting Americans within the confines of the Constitution,” he said about his vote.

He apparently agrees with Holder, then, in supporting a man who endorses the practice of killing others by bypassing the Constitutional protections of due process and the Fifth Amendment. That hardly seems to be “within the confines of the Constitution.”

That’s scratching the surface.

He supported the Patriot Act and its extensions, which, among other provisions, significantly reduced restrictions in law enforcement agencies’ gathering of intelligence within the U.S. and expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism.

He was a champion of the Utah Data Center, which is alleged to capture “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.'” Even if this may not entirely articulate the center’s purpose, the absolute purpose of the construct has remained undisclosed. In a state as peaceful as Utah, why is the Data Center needed here? One hundred and fifty to 200 new permanent jobs by no means justify the construction of a structure that invites such extreme amounts of violation of privacy.

He sponsored a Balanced Budget Amendment that, because of the makeup of the Senate, would not pass just do say on the campaign trail that he was a proponent of the measure. (Not quite the integrity of an amendment he wrote in 1997 that came one vote shy of approval, which probably would have been signed by President Bill Clinton.)

Perhaps the worst: he was the author of the original DREAM Act (providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants), but then voted against it in 2010, fearing Tea Party backlash.

If there’s one lesson Hatch has learned in nearly four decades in his prominent position, it’s that he knows how to work the populous in his state, many of which have been ideologically trained to be trusting of leaders. What a shame that he abuses that.

“I’m going to work with my colleagues to make sure he and the agency are accountable to Congress and the American people,” Hatch also said about Brennan’s confirmation.

Perhaps Hatch needs that type of attention himself. Perhaps it’s the price he should pay for receiving every other type of attention over his federal career.

Rhett Wilkinson is a senior at Utah State University studying journalism/communications and political science. A co-founder of Aggie BluePrint—USU’s first student magazine—he has worked as an intern in Congressional and Gubernatorial offices and as a correspondent for the Deseret News and Standard-Examiner.


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