NEW YORK – There once was a time (before the 1980s) when liberals were a powerful force against executive overreach. Democrats like Sen. George McGovern opposed wars of choice. Democrats like Sen. Frank Church exposed the CIA, which led to an executive order (by President Ronald Reagan!) that banned political assassinations.
A Democratic Congress held impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon, in part because he violated the privacy rights of a few hundred Americans by tapping their phones. Millions of lefties marched against the Vietnam War — it didn’t matter that the president was a Democrat.
Things have changed. A “liberal” president and his Democratic congressional and media allies aren’t fighting the good fight. They’re committing the worst crimes.
So, following what Chris Hedges called “the death of the liberal class,” where the Hellfire missiles fly and in streets that ought to be full of protesters, naught but crickets, here’s what’s left:
The most liberal politician in America is a right-winger.
Rand Paul, who in May led a 13-hour filibuster in the Senate over Obama’s drone war, is the mainstream’s point man against dystopian killer air robots.
This is the kind of thing that, in Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s day, also would have had Democrats and the liberal media up in arms.
Even though an out-of-control White House is leaving open the option of using drones to blow up Americans on American soil (not that it’s OK in Pakistan), Democrats are nowhere to be found. At least 4,000 people — by law, all innocent since none were charged by a court — have been assassinated under Obama’s orders.
Meanwhile, liberal politicians sit on their hands. Progressive media outlets scarcely mention these horrors, and when they do it’s in tepid tones that rarely call out Obama as the blood-soaked mass murderer he is.
Is Rand Paul so far right that, like Pat Buchanan back when, he comes all the way around the back to the left? Are Paul’s maverick stances just a marketing program to draw attention to himself, in preparation for 2016? Or is his brand of libertarianism genuine? Whatever the motivation, Paul has become the most, perhaps the only, establishment political figure expressing a progressive vision on a host of incredibly important issues — issues that have been abandoned by the state-sanctioned Left.
Paul, a right-wing Republican who believes Israel can do no wrong, is nevertheless the establishment’s most passionate defender of privacy rights.
The libertarian scion has sponsored a bill that would prohibit the NSA from intercepting and storing Americans’ phone records. (Because the NSA charter limits its activities to foreign intelligence gathering, the phone tapping and other Orwellian programs revealed by Edward Snowden are illegal. The bill would ban the phone intercepts explicitly.)
Only four senators are backing this progressive legislation. Paul is the only Republican; most Democrats continue to defend Obama and his NSA, whose totalitarian approach to stealing our information — they take it all — makes East Germany’s “Lives of Others” Stasi look like nosy neighbors. Paul, a free-market purist, wants to overturn the vile Patriot Act, get rid of the useless TSA (“The American people shouldn’t be subjected to harassment, groping, and other public humiliation simply to board an airplane”), and states openly that proposals for Congressional oversight of the NSA — typical, lame sops to public disgust, and Congress was supposed to be doing that all along, weren’t they? — won’t be enough.
“The Constitution doesn’t allow for a single warrant to get a billion phone records,” says the senator from Kentucky. “They basically, I believe, are looking at all of the cell phone calls in America every day.”
The most liberal Democrats in the Senate? They’re collaborators with Obama’s Gestapo. Dick Durbin sporadically issues some pretty, progressive-esque, pro-privacy noises about reining in the NSA, yet voted to renew the Patriot Act, which captures Americans but not terrorists. Al Franken is pro-fascist security state.
“I can assure you that this isn’t about spying on the American people,” Franken said. Actually that’s exactly what it’s about.
When George W. Bush was in power, “liberal” California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein railed against NSA spying on Americans, calling it an impeachable offense. Now that the president is a member of their party, Boxer is silent and Feinstein is the NSA’s PR flack.
On a lot of issues, Rand Paul’s stances are contemptible. Exhibit A: He opposed the Civil Rights Act as a violation of “state’s rights,” the clarion call of the segregationist Old South. Yet on many of the existential questions of our time, radical policies that have transformed the United States from a democratic republic to a terrifying authoritarian state that uses brute force to subjugate a vast global empire, Rand is on the side of the angels — far more so than the self-defined progressives who claim to value civil liberties while running interference for the insular, violent and repressive Obama administration.
Rand stood tall against Obama’s fascist National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the federal government to kidnap U.S. citizens and throw them into prison forever without charging them with any crime. “His signature [on the NDAA] means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended,” said Anthony Romero of the ACLU of Obama.
Naturally, the Republican establishment is pissed off at Paul.
GOP columnist Charles Krauthammer slammed Paul as “politically radical” and “socially liberal.” (No comment on whether spying on every American, or assassinating innocent civilians, is “radical.”) Chris Christie, a top 2016 presidential contender, calls Paul’s suspicion of endless wars against Middle Eastern countries “dangerous.” (Unlike the wars?) John McCain calls him a “wacko bird” (takes one to know one) for opposing drones.
If you want evidence of the crisis of the two-party system, look no further than the strange new bedfellows of the age of Obama. Even before the Snowden leaks, 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans believed the NSA was violating their privacy. Both Democrats and Republicans who felt this way thought the NSA wasn’t justified: 51 percent and 52 percent, respectively.
Even in Congress, a “loose alliance of lawmakers” is allied against the leadership of their own parties” on issues like the NSA and Obama’s desire to attack Syria.
Though nascent, the libertarian-left attack against the liberal-conservative establishment is a big deal. This tendency, as Marxists call it, can develop in one of two directions. There might be a dramatic political realignment such as 1932, when FDR’s New Deal began to move African-Americans and white Southerners into the Democratic camp. Or — I think this is more likely — newly exposed fissures will open, showing that the real split is between oppressed and oppressor, not “liberal” Democrat and “conservative” Republican.
Ted Rall is a political cartoonist and writer. (www.rall.com) © 2013 Ted Rall