Simon Williamson

Libertarian: From champ to chump

2014-11-21 09:21

Simon Williamson

He is a notable name because he is the predominant libertarian in US politics, who has finally managed to bridge the gap between ineffectuals and zealots who have carried the movement into near redundancy in the US, and the more conventional conservative base of the Republican Party.

While Americans talk ad nauseum about "small government", there remain few who actually mean it, and only one libertarian in the Senate, and a sprinkling in the House of Representatives.
And so it was surprising this week to see Rand Paul flush his own high-profile brand, and let down the millions of Americans who look to him to protect civil liberties, which really is a lot of the point of libertarianism.
Paul voted against bringing a bill to the Senate floor that would halt the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programme.

This bill would have got the US a lot closer to the point where the government is not allowed to spy on its people willy-nilly – libertarian red meat!
The US Senate basically has to take a vote to bring legislation to the floor, then they deal with all the debates and amendments, and only then do they vote on whether to pass the bill or not. That initial vote is what you may have heard termed "the filibuster".

Without any sort of debate, 60 votes in the modern-day Senate are required just to introduce a bill. And it was at this point that Paul voted against reforming the NSA.
Paul’s reasoning was that the bill in its current form reauthorised the Patriot Act for two more years - he is correct - but he could have pushed for an amendment to that aspect, and then voted against the final bill if he still felt like it didn’t fulfil proper aims.
Instead, the champion of civil liberties managed to avoid the debate with all of his Republican colleagues. Democrats voted for the bill almost unanimously (one "no" vote out of 55), which meant six Republicans were required to kick proceedings off. They only got four.
Admittedly, it is difficult to take on your own party. But Paul has seemingly not struggled to do so before. He spoke for eight hours last year to hold up the confirmation of the head of the CIA over the Obama administration’s drone strike law interpretations – weapons his party is a big fan of. He has delved into criminal justice reform with Democratic Senator Cory Booker.

But now we're closer to the next presidential election, and the complicated war Paul fights with his own party is getting even trickier.
With the loss of Colorado’s Mark Udall in last fortnight’s midterm elections, and the seeming capitulation of Rand Paul’s backbone in the run-up to what looks to be a 2016 presidential run, we’re down to one high-ranking official in government who cares about civil liberties and a right to privacy. That is Ron Wyden of Oregon. May he not have his views tempered by presidential ambition!

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

- Simon previously worked on Michelle Nunn's Democratic campaign for Georgia's US Senate seat in 2014.

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