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Democrats and Civil Liberties

There were several surprising moments in Rand Paul’s 13-hour talking filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. But there was one aspect of it that wasn’t surprising at all: Democrats ignored or dismissed it (with the exception of Ron Wyden). Reporters began asking Democrats where they were. You would think, the assumption went, that there would be plenty of Democrats–who were, after all, able to muster a lifetime’s worth of outrage at George Bush–who would feel right at home defending civil liberties from a wartime president.

Buzzfeed published a story getting some pretty weak excuses from Democrats in the Senate. It’s worth reading their explanations while keeping in mind the Democrats’ favorite manufactured storyline–that Republicans are so consumed by partisanship that they won’t even stand with Democrats who agree with them. But by far the best comment comes from this Huffington Post piece on how the liberal network MSNBC covered the filibuster. Aside from Rachel Maddow, who chose principle over partisanship, MSNBC’s viewers were treated to quite a spectacle:

Though the filibuster riveted social media, and was discussed on all of CNN’s prime time shows and every Fox News show except Bill O’Reilly’s, both Al Sharpton and Chris Matthews avoided it, spending none of their segments talking about Paul. Ed Schultz spent 58 seconds on the filibuster, using most of the time to read comments from Facebook followers who called Paul “obstructionist.” By comparison, he spent nearly seven minutes analyzing Bill O’Reilly’s body language.

I haven’t watched Ed Schultz’s show, but it sounds positively disturbing. The most revealing part of the Buzzfeed story is this:

“There was a sense the Paul filibuster was a distraction from the real issues of privacy and civil liberties, and was just not an issue worth spending an entire day on in the Senate,” said the Democratic staffer. “When Senators are getting ready to break ranks, you feel these tremors before it actually hits, and we didn’t hear any of that yesterday.”

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democratic from Alaska [sic], said he shared several of the concerns Paul expressed on the Senate floor, but felt that joining the filibuster would have been a distraction from Congress’s work on the federal budget.

The Democrats in the Senate haven’t passed a budget in years, so Begich’s excuse is laughable. Democrats are apparently working so hard at avoiding their basic constitutional responsibilities they don’t even have time to speak on the Senate floor for a couple of minutes. Perhaps this was Begich’s way of assuring the public they won’t see him on the Senate floor or taking any time off until they pass a budget.

But the comment from the Democratic staffer takes the cake. Democrats, apparently, were paying attention to who else was going to support the filibuster and which bandwagons would be available to them. No one joined the filibuster because no one else did either. But the Democratic staffer did inadvertently get one thing right when he said Democrats considered a filibuster about civil liberties to be a “distraction” from their work on civil liberties. Though the Democratic staffer doesn’t spell it out, this is because the Democratic Party’s work on civil liberties is concentrated on systematically removing and undermining them.

Instead of passing budgets or daring to criticize the leader of their party, congressional Democrats work to pass legislation like Obamacare, which forces everyone to purchase a product, requires taxpayers to fund procedures to which they may object, and insists that to comply with the law religious organizations must violate their beliefs because some Democratic voters want them to. Confiscatory taxes must go up so spending doesn’t have to come down, they demand. What the government thinks you need is their standard for whether you may retain your Second Amendment rights. And you should not be permitted to purchase food products that are legal but of which they disapprove.

The point here is not to state the obvious: that the Democrats are the party of big government. The point is that Democratic opposition to national security policy under Bush was not about civil liberties or federal overreach. Harry Reid didn’t try to undermine the soldiers’ mission by saying “this war is lost” before the very successful troop surge had a chance to prove him wrong because he cared about civil liberties, or knows what they are. Hillary Clinton didn’t grandstand from the Senate about the supposedly corrupt prosecution of a war she supported because she wants limited government.

And as the thousands of Democratic voters, activists, and politicians cheered on remote-controlled targeted assassination at the Democratic National Convention, led in that cheering by their Democratic president and Democratic vice president, they certainly weren’t thinking about civil liberties. They were thinking about winning an election, just as Reid and Clinton were, and just as Barack Obama himself was when he pretended to be concerned with civil liberties so he could win an election. There were no Democrats, besides Wyden, supporting the filibuster because they could not possibly care less about the topic, and because they are manifestly unwilling to jettison the one issue that finally enabled them to win the public’s trust on national security issues. That’s why Democrats sound confused when you ask them why they wouldn’t take a stand on behalf of civil liberties–they don’t understand why you’d even ask them the question.


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