Increasingly, it seems more Americans are becoming less influenced by their political parties when casting their votes, as Republican Rand Paul is finding out.
Writer and "liberal Democrat" H.A. Goodman explains in a recent column for Huffington Post: "I've never voted for a Republican in my life, but in 2016, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will be my choice for president (on) issues that affect the long-term survival of this country" ("I'm a Liberal Democrat. I'm Voting for Rand Paul in 2016. Here Is Why," Goodman, Huffington Post, Nov. 17).
Among the present dangers he lists is the Barack Obama-led Democratic Party's "domestic spying (on Americans) that could eventually lead to a police state."
Constitutionalist Rand Paul is a champion of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of our communications being free from government surveillance.
Explains Goodman: "Rand Paul has shown that he bucks both the Republican and Democratic penchant for succumbing to public opinion, an overreaction to the terror threat, and a gross indifference to an egregious assault on our rights as citizens."
But Paul's insistence on fundamental constitutional principles led to hostility from certain civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, when he was directly responsible for the recent failure of the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act.
As Ronald Bailey reports on Reason.com, this bill would have limited "the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone data under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act."
The bill, having never made it to the Senate floor, received 58 votes, two short of those needed for debate.
The bill also would have strengthened the Constitution in other ways, yet one of the votes against it was Paul's.
How come? The senator emailed various news outlets the next day: "I think NSA reforms are necessary," but "I stood on principle by opposing a bill that (also) included a provision reauthorizing elements of the PATRIOT Act that violate the Bill of Rights."
Reason's Bailey further explains: "Paul specifically objected that the act would extend three provisions of the PATRIOT Act beyond their June 1, 2015, sunset dates to 2017.
"These include bulk collection of records under Section 215 (even without the limitations on the collection of records that the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations wanted), secret 'lone wolf' surveillance of non-U.S. persons not affiliated with any terrorist organization, and roving wiretaps that allow one authorization to cover multiple devices — say, an unnamed suspect's cell phone, computer and tablet."
That could have been any one of us.
Paul defended his stance: "I have always been steadfast against the PATRIOT Act and will continue to do all I can to prevent an extension."
Angry civil libertarian opponents complained that once the USA Freedom Act was passed, it would have been possible to add amendments that protected the Bill of Rights from the PATRIOT Act.
But Rand Paul, as he always had before, wanted the extinction of the PATRIOT Act as a whole.
That was also my position after the House passed the 342-page PATRIOT Act in October 2001 by 356 votes to 66, the Senate 98 to 1. Few had a chance to read it. As I reported at the time, many House members "did not want to be attacked as 'unpatriotic' by their opponents" in the next election (my column, "War on the Bill of Rights," In These Times, Sept. 5, 2003).
How many public school students are taught that, after the dreadful shock of 9/11, "only one senator, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, voted against the PATRIOT Act" before George W. Bush signed it into law?
If Rand Paul had been in the Senate then, I am confident that he would have joined Russ Feingold.
I include this startling part of American history — unknown or forgotten by many of us — to show why this year Rand Paul refused to support any extension of the PATRIOT Act, however partially rehabilitated by the USA Freedom Act.
I keep insisting that American history be taught in factual depth in our schools because it's vital for every generation to know how much of our vaunted identity as a self-governing republic can largely slip away — as it also has under President Obama.
For instance, you probably didn't know that at a March 2003 speech at John Carroll University, near Cleveland, Justice Antonin Scalia talked about how "government has room to scale back individual rights during wartime without violating the Constitution" ("Justice bars media from free-speech event," Paul Singer, Associated Press, March 20, 2003).
Scalia told the audience: "Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires."
Justice Scalia is still on the Supreme Court.
As for Rand Paul's role in preventing the USA Freedom Act from being voted on by the Senate, ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani tells Ronald Bailey of Reason:
"I respect that Sen. Paul has been trying to reform the NSA for a long time, but it is disappointing that he voted against moving forward on the bill. It is a huge step back, a huge lost opportunity."
Is it really? Or is it the determination of a presidential candidate to bring the Constitution back to increasingly full life among more and more of us?
If he is our next president, bear in mind that Rand Paul will be nominating Supreme Court replacements when they occur.
Much, of course, will depend on the Congress he has to deal with, but at least he'll stand firmly on his constitutional reasons for being an American.