By Nat Hentoff, NEA Columnist
I was shocked to learn that Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a persistent critic of the Obama administration's far overreach of the Constitution's separation of powers, had turned around last fall and supported the CIA's drone plane killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011. Al-Awlaki was on a "kill list" signed by Obama, wholly outside of constitutional due process ("Senators defend killing of Anwar al-Awlaki as legal," Adam Serwer, msnbc.com, Nov. 26, 2013).
I had often praised Wyden.
Yes, al-Awlaki was an effective propagandist for terrorism, but he was not murdered in the course of battle. Last week, Rand Paul spoke about this drone assassination when he filibustered the nomination of David Barron to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. It was Barron, in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote two memos legally justifying the killing of al-Awlaki.
Said the libertarian Republican senator and presidential aspirant from Kentucky: "There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat ... any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court" ("The Senate Foolishly Rushes In," The New York Times, May 22).
Yet in supporting Paul for president -- if he is nominated -- I am aware of other positions he has taken that have troubled me and many others.
For instance, he has been accused of objecting to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it prohibited private owners of restaurants and other such places from refusing to serve black customers.
Actually, Paul has repeatedly claimed that he would not have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a whole. In 2010, he told The Louisville Courier-Journal: "I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should be absolutely no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that's most of what the Civil Rights Act was about, to my mind."
That same year, Paul told NPR's "All Things Considered": "What I've always said is that I'm opposed to institutional racism, and I would've, had I been alive at the time, I think, had the courage to march with Martin Luther King to overturn institutional racism, and I see no place in our society for institutional racism."
Another charge is that the senator, like his father, Ron Paul, is an isolationist, and were he president, he would not get us involved in any foreign nations' violations of human rights.
However, in Time magazine, Paul wrote:
"Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine is a gross violation of that nation's sovereignty and an affront to the international community ...
"Putin must be punished for violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.
"This does not and should not require military action ... Economic sanctions and visa bans should be imposed and enforced without delay. I would urge our European allies to leverage their considerable weight with Russia and take the lead on imposing these penalties ... I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic" ("Sen. Rand Paul: U.S. Must Take Strong Action Against Putin's Aggression," time.com, March 9).
That is not quite "isolation."
Furthermore, at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Paul beat other prospective Republican presidential candidates in CPAC's straw poll.
Al Seltzinger, one of the conference attendees, incisively summarized the case for a Rand Paul vote that day and on Election Day: "I think the way the nation is going today with the government and the president going against the Constitution that we need someone who holds strict to the Constitution and whose voting record is pretty solid when it comes to the Constitution" ("CPAC 2014: Straw poll signals Paul-Cruz showdown for conservative voters," Seth McLaughlin, The Washington Times, March 9).
As of now, from what I know of all the candidates for the presidency across the political spectrum, that advice for regenerating the Constitution defines Rand Paul.
I grew up during the "Great" Depression in a low-income household in Boston that prized a statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the wheel of the New Deal. We, like the great majority of that neighborhood, always voted on the Democratic line.
But when Wendell Willkie ran against FDR in 1940, I greatly angered members of my family and others in the neighborhood by saying if I were old enough, I'd vote for him. I was 15 and had done some of my own reading on the Constitution and the diverse history of its vulnerability from both political parties. And Roosevelt had too often been an imperial president.
Since then, I do not vote for any office by the party of the contestant.
Next week, I'll explore what Rand Paul's nomination might mean in light of the opening sentence to a recent Gallup report, "Voter Enthusiasm Down Sharply From 2010":
"A majority of U.S. registered voters, 53 percent, say they are less enthusiastic about voting than in previous elections, while 35 percent are more enthusiastic. This 18-percentage-point enthusiasm deficit is larger than what Gallup has measured in prior midterm election years, particularly in 2010, when there was record midterm enthusiasm" (Jeffrey M. Jones, gallup.com, May 12).
And look what we got then. But Rand Paul would run with the insistence of James Madison to clearly bring back the Constitution.