Rand Paul and the New Political Map: Brief Observations

Rand Paul, the firebrand Tea Party senator from Kentucky and the son of the legendary Texas libertarian Ron Paul, handily won the “straw poll” at the Conservative Political Action Conference. A week earlier, Senator Paul electrified the left with a landmark filibuster on the use of domestic drones. The wunderkind has now straddled the spectrum. Or, instead, the range of political opinion in this country is now narrow enough that one junior senator can encompass both ends of it in the space of a week.

On a certain set of issues — surveillance, targeted killings, civil liberties — there is in fact a natural alliance in the making between left and right. Rand Paul, being a consummate politician, knows how to navigate these new waters. While the entire Republican Party seems to be riven by internal divisions over, most crucially, foreign policy, the wing of the party Senator Paul represents is sick and tired of the United States playing the role of global constabulary. What is more, bridging the gaps in the political culture, his crew is in common cause with more progressive types who likewise fear an imperial presidency that acts as judge, jury, and executioner.

What this all amounts to in any Ultimate Endgame is quite unclear, though promising for a number of reasons, chiefly two: (1) for too long American politics has been a polarized game with the “red” and “blue” squares in their columns, and this may be changing; and (2) the fusion of left and right when it comes to the enroaching power of Washington to decide who lives and dies in the name of keeping us all safe, or where next in the world we decide to use our military forces, has the potential to change the nature of the discussion of what “We the People” want from the leaders who wield power in our name and with our tax dollars.

Or, very anticlimatically, this could all fizzle out upon the next contrived crisis or scandal emanating from the nation’s capital.

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