By Nat Hentoff
In response to my previous column supporting Rand Paul, whom I regard as the Constitution's candidate for the presidency, I heard from constitutional lawyer Harvey Silverglate. He's the co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, the most actively efficient teacher of the First Amendment in our history on college campuses -- and now beginning to include high schools.
He told me: "You have given both liberals and conservatives a real choice."
I would add that Paul is a choice for those Americans who care about the accelerating disintegration of our Constitutional individual liberties under George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama -- liberties that are meant to distinguish us from all other nations.
The results of this 2016 election can cut so deeply into political allegiances. It will bring us again to the brink of losing who we are. Like in 1798, when President John Adams and Congress pushed through the Alien and Sedition Acts, imprisoning critics of Congress and the presidency only seven years after the Bill of Rights was ratified. Saving us, Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams' lunge for a second term.
With Bush, Cheney and Obama having mutilated our Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, 10th and 14th Amendments that guarantee individual rights, We The Diminished People should acknowledge a survival warning I once heard from Justice William Brennan, whom I had gotten to know well:
"Look, pal, we've always known -- the Framers knew -- that liberty is a fragile thing. You can't give up."
Alas, many of us have yet to learn that.
Among those we can assume are running for president, Rand Paul has most insistently not given up. For example, his anger at what he calls "the shredding of the Constitution" is not oratorical, but comes from inside -- as when he spoke at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., in March:
"If you have a cellphone, you are under surveillance; I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business."
And in his book, "Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, And Imprisoned By The Feds" (Center Street, 2012), he referred to what is happening to us at airports, thanks to the Transportation Security Administration:
"The TSA is a grand testament to Islamic terrorists' success -- the scene in any airport pre-9/11 versus post-9/11 is now perceived as a major victory by our enemies. We have given up so many of our liberties, all in the name of preventing another tragedy like 9/11 -- and that's a tragedy in itself."
And dig this: At the CPAC event in Washington, Paul said, "The Fourth Amendment's equally as important as the Second Amendment, and conservatives cannot forget this."
The Constitution prizes personal privacy as much as it does your right to have a gun for self-defense!
Paul told those at CPAC to "imagine a time when the White House is once again occupied by a friend of liberty ... I'm talking about electing lovers of liberty."
Ben Jacobs at The Daily Beast wrote: "Paul's speech came as a sharp change from other speakers, who were more focused on the Republican Party and insuring the role of conservatives within the GOP. Rick Santorum thought the GOP needed to appeal to blue collar voters, Ted Cruz thought it needed to nominate more conservatives and Mike Huckabee thought it needed to appeal to people of faith. But the Kentucky senator wasn't concerned with what the Republican Party needed to do.
"He was concerned about the Constitution" ("Rand Paul Mixes Pink Floyd and the Constitution at CPAC," Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, March 7).
And at Paul's now-fabled 13-hour filibuster speech last year, he showed his freedom from dutifully loyal Republican dictates. The website bookwormroom.com listed such tweets celebrating Paul's stand as John Maniscalco's: "Thank you, SenRandPaul for literally standing up for liberty!" ("Rand Paul Defends Constitution -- Mounts Filibuster Against Drone Use," bookwormroom.com, March 7, 2013.)
Meanwhile, conservative blog The Mental Recession, citing a story on Business Insider's website, reported: "The entire conservative blogosphere was energized by Rand Paul's defense of the Constitution, Due Process and the American people ... and (John) McCain ridicules them as 'impressionable libertarian kids.'
"Lindsey Graham also chimed in, saying he was 'disappointed' with those (senators) who joined Paul's filibuster" ("Video: Here Is What Is Wrong With Your GOP Today -- McCain Tells Rand Paul to 'Calm Down,'" Rusty Weiss, menrec.com, March 7, 2013).
But do McCain and Graham represent the Republican Party that can win the presidency in 2016 and control Congress after November's elections?
More and more of the nation's electorate are changing past allegiances as they search to define themselves more clearly as individual Americans.
In a future column, we'll explore these changes and the reasons for them. Here's one intriguing illustration, in a May 11, 2014, letter to the New York Post from a reader in Metuchen, New Jersey:
"As an American black woman ... I voted for our president the first time. The second time, I did not. The Obamas have made the White House vulgar -- Michelle with the trips with her mother and friends, and the president golfing when the country is in distress.
"I do not see color when I vote. Just because he is black does not mean I'm color-blind. I have had people look at me strangely because I will not OK all of his mistakes. I also had a lot to say about George W. Bush, too" (Letters, New York Post, May 11).
I'm not predicting she'll vote for Rand Paul. But who will she vote for? More of us are looking into the nation's future -- and ours -- seriously as voters.
That's what self-government is supposed to be, isn't it?