Philosophy Weekend: Stuck In An Elevator With Rand Paul and John McCain

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A few months ago, we discussed the disturbing suggestion that there could ever be a rulebook for drone warfare. Most of us are horrified by the fact that remote-control killer aircraft is now a "thing", and we should be.

But we should also be horrified by the thought of non-remote-controlled killer aircraft. A big news story broke in the United States of America last week when Rand Paul staged a filibuster in the Senate to ask whether or not a military drone could ever be used to kill an American citizen on American soil. This is a good question, but it makes no sense for Rand Paul to stop there, since there doesn't seem to be a big moral distinction between the use of a drone to kill an American citizen on American soil and the use of a drone to kill a non-American citizen on non-American soil. There also doesn't seem to be a big moral distinction between the use of a drone to kill any person on any soil and the use of a different weapon to do the same thing.

It's good that the scary new phenomenon of drone warfare is causing Americans to question the foundational principles of militarism, but this inquiry won't amount to much unless we are prepared to realize the obvious truth: militarism itself is the problem, and the entire institution of war should be the target of our protest. There are small glimmers of hope that the recent debate over drone warfare is leading a few smart thinkers to ask the bigger questions about militarism, even though many others who've heard about Paul's filibuster are missing the point.

This topic creates hard splits that cut across conventional party lines, and cuts deeply into well-set belief systems. Rand Paul is the son of Ron Paul, a controversial Republican libertarian who refuses to buy into typical Republican pro-militarism, and the larger implications of his protest were recognized and sharply criticized by John McCain, a politician who has constructed his entire career on an image of noble militarism (a humorous moment occurred shortly afterwards, when McCain and Paul were photographed awkwardly sharing an elevator).

Rand Paul's filibuster has continued to dominate political chatter, and the startling vision of a popular Republican criticizing the US military has catalyzed all kinds of strangeness, even coaxing the usually hidden name of Ayn Rand onto the lips of another Republican politician, Ted Cruz. Some conservatives are trying to ignore the anti-militarist slant of Paul's question and pretend that Paul's target is President Obama. This would be more believable if Obama's position on military technology differed from that of, say, John McCain, but unfortunately it doesn't.

"Two Sides of Rand Paul", an Andrew McCarthy article in the conservative magazine National Review, tries to limn the schism at a greater level of detail, and the results are bizarre. McCarthy twists various political positions into knots, hoping to find a single knot that holds. His main trick is to only agree with Rand Paul when he criticizes USA military spending on allies like Egypt that Republicans can fashionably criticize, and to pretend (again) that Paul's target is Obama. But no amount of twisting can reconcile Rand Paul's question about drones with the Republican party's traditional pro-military stance, and the resulting stretches are amazing to see.

To his great credit, Senator Paul tried to stop our government’s transfer of F-16 aircraft and Abrams tanks to Egypt. He certainly has that half of the equation right. At Heritage, he observed that while “the war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam — the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority.” I’d say “minority” is hopeful — at least in the Middle East, where, as Paul further noted, the enemy ideology grips “whole countries, such as Saudi Arabia.” Islamic-supremacism — what he called “radical Islam” — is, as he described, “no fleeting fad but a relentless force.” To empower Islamic supremacists is a grave mistake ...

Any successful conservative foreign policy is going to marry the clarity about the enemy that animated Rand Paul’s Heritage speech with the clear distinction John Yoo draws between fighting war and fighting crime. And we’d better get about it because the stakes are high.

Rand Paul's filibuster has left the right wing in a tizzy, but it's done the same thing to the left. Rand Paul's stances on Obamacare, taxation, abortion and states rights make it hard for a liberal like me to ever applaud him, and I do agree with most of my liberal friends that the idea of this rigid ideologue as a future President is truly creepy. However, I am not afraid to contradict myself when it's truthful to do so, and I will never insult your intelligence with the kind of logic-twisting that Andrew McCarthy engages in above. So I will state my conclusion straight out: I do not agree with Rand Paul on most issues, but I think his filibuster was absolutely great, and I would love to see more like it.

Let's not forget, for what it's worth, that Rand Paul might have gotten the filibuster idea from Bernie Sanders, a liberal Senator who has never been called a Presidential hopeful, but who created a similar splash on the Senate floor in 2010.

A year after Bernie Sanders's filibuster, I wrote on this blog that Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party should protest together. I trust the principles of the better proponents of both of these movements more than I trust most mainstream Democratic or Republican politicians currently in office. The fact that the vital philosophy of pacifism has some slight presence in both the Occupy and Tea Party movements is one reason why I feel this way. Pacifism is nowhere to be found in the platforms of either the Democratic or Republican parties, and that's a damn shame.

The schisms Rand Paul exposed with his filibuster are, I hope, the pressure points for better political movements currently emerging. It's moving slowly, though, and I'm sure I'm not the only frustrated activist who feels like he's stuck in a crowded elevator with Rand Paul and John McCain. This elevator is moving way too slow. I hope the door will open soon.

This article is part of the series Philosophy Weekend. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Two Videos. The previous post in the series is More Dayenu, Less Plagues: Why Passover Must Evolve.
8 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: Stuck In An Elevator With Rand Paul and John McCain"

by Alan on

You're right that militarism is the deeper problem, Levi. But I think it goes even deeper than that. It's rooted in America's delusions of "exceptionalism". That's a powerful combination: the world's largest defense budget, by a wide margin, and a sense of our own ability to NEVER be at fault. A lot of countries' citizens probably think that way but our country is the only one with the resources to waste on trying to act on it.

...rand is right. and that is a very loaded comment. slogans already.

anyway, good for rand standing up and refusing to compromise his principles. the reason the doctors seem loony to some is due to the radical nature of their service. they actually don't change their views very much and use the only act given to them by their electorate, their bills votes, to act as they talk. this is what passes as loony today. the elder doctor paul voted against wasteful spending. the elder doctor voted against military build up and proactive, non-essential military actions. if we had term limits, more would vote what they spoke, but it is at comical perportions now. prhaps that's whay everybody thinks ron and rand are off, but when you're right, you're right. right rand?...

by mtmynd1 on

Isn't the ultimate burning question regarding U.S. militarism "If America isn't the strongest and most powerful military in the world, who would be the next in line? China?"

Perhaps too simplistic but the easiest path to confusion is direct to the heart of the matter. Our country has evolved into this position of the most powerful military force step by step, whether planned or not. Each succeeding war since our liberation from British rule has been a winning proposition (Viet Nam being an major exception). The stronger we become the more defensive we become even to the point of seeing the enemy all around us, including our own citizens.

When we ask ourselves who are we defending it is the obvious, is it not - the wealth of the Nation? There is nothing new in that reasoning and the more economically powerful we become the more we pay to defend the wealth... at any cost if we listen the the (R)-side of the argument. Defense is more important than the well-being of the populace. When we see the disparity between the wealthy and 'the others' it is becoming more and more apparent the disparity is not what we want to have. We value the middle class as a buffer between the two extremes... a middle class that seems to be disintegrating before our eyes.

Where is the value of pacifism when the struggle for values is at war?

by Levi Asher on

Great comments ... I'd like to respond quickly to each one.

Alan -- I couldn't agree more. The notion of American exceptionalism is fine as a bedtime story to tell our children, but somehow (since 9/11) a large number of Americans have started to really believe that this country is in danger of losing its greatness if we stop convincing ourselves that we are "exceptional". It would be so much better to simply try to be the best country we could be, and let the "exceptionalism" speak for itself. The most exceptionalist President we had was George W. Bush, and the unfortunate result of his exceptionalism was to take the USA down a couple of notches in the world's estimation.

Hypcollector, I also agree that the fact that both Ron Paul and Rand Paul are doctors must inform their politics, and in a good way. I do believe that both of them are sincere in their beliefs. I've also discovered that Ron Paul's position (I don't know about Rand Paul's) on the legality of abortion is not as offensive as that of the various Rick Santorums, Rick Perrys, Paul Ryans and Mitt Romneys out there, in that Ron Paul does not argue for a federal law outlawing abortion. His anti-abortion stance is more nuanced, and has been phrased in terms that reflect his medical background -- that he is personally against abortion, that he advises doctors not to perform abortions, and that he is against Roe vs. Wade on grounds of states rights, rather than because he believes governments should pass laws infringing liberties (including the liberty to have an abortion). So, there is some nuance here. I like some of Ron Paul and Rand Paul's positions, but I do think they both have absorbed a little too much of the Confederate anti-Federal spirit too be able to speak the same political language as many other Americans.

Mtmynd, I believe war stops us from thinking. Period. I've said this before and I'll say it again: war makes philosophy impossible. Therefore, I think the value of pacifism is that we need to establish at least some level basis of world peace before we will be able to solve our many other economic, ethnic, environmental etc. problems.

by TKG on

It was directed at Obama and Eric Holder.

Those two would not even answer a simple question about the Constitution.

It's about adherence to the Constitution and rule of law.

by Levi Asher on

TKG, isn't it true that Obama's military leadership has maintained continuity with his predecessors? Can you point to an Obama/Holder policy that Rand could have been protesting that differs from traditionally accepted USA military command policy?

It seems to me that what he was protesting was the entire tradition.

Also, good news, Obama did eventually answer Rand's hypothetical question: no, the federal military cannot kill a citizen who is not engaged in enemy activities. Paul agreed that his question has been answered.

by josh moore on

I don't know Levi...I think Rand Paul was probably really just attacking Obama...same story about balancing the budget about starting two unfunded wars...I think the whole GOP is creepy. One of my so called "progressive" friends was endorsing the senior Paul in the election cycle. I think he a is a creepy nut case...

I love it when Labor Ready people (always the white trash ones) support the GOP. One of them was talking about killing Barrack and Joe and all I said is save the third for Boner.

I think was Marx was right the eventual progression will be violent. People thinking guns save lives...

275 million firearms in the United States...I think your vision is both noble and naive...

by josh moore on

but in any case defense spending must shrink...like 50% or more...with your tanks and your bombs and your guns...

Crude as it maybe we all are zombies in this country....

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