Why Drone Paranoia Might Be a Winning Issue

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
March 7 2013 6:42 PM

Why Drone Paranoia Works

If you want to stop something, scream, “Tyranny!”

(Continued from Page 1)

So Paul gave them something to worry about. Unless the administration said otherwise, Paul argued that it was claiming indefinite authority to execute Americans. Any American. Maybe even you. “I don't think the president would purposely take innocent people and kill them,” said Paul in his filibuster. “I really don't think he would drop a Hellfire missile on a cafe or a restaurant like I'm talking about. But it bothers me that he won't say that he won't.” He invoked the shootings at Kent State in 1970, and asked whether the government could have used drones to kill Jane Fonda. A conservative who slapped a “Not Fonda’ Kerry” sticker on his Dodge Ram nine years ago didn’t hear a defense of anti-Vietnam War activists. He heard Paul, and thought about the government maybe targeting right-thinking Americans who rallied at Tea Parties.

Every wave of anti-state resistance has its science fiction novel, some dystopian vision of what might happen at the bottom of the slippery slope. The ur-text of the Tea Party’s anti-tax, anti-regulation campaigns was Atlas Shrugged. But the bumbling central government in that novel can’t even locate a gulch full of rebel geniuses. In his filibuster, Paul invoked a different novel—1984. When he read it originally, “we didn't have the ability to look at people and the government couldn't look at me in my house 24 hours a day.” But now, “we have drones [that weigh] less than an ounce, presumably with cameras … It is not impossible to conceive that you could have a drone fly outside your window and see what you're reading, to see what your reading material is. It's not impossible to say that they couldn't send drones up to your mailbox and read … what kind of mail you're getting and where it's from.”

If that’s fanciful, it’s no more so than the questions liberals asked about Bush-era programs like warrantless wiretapping. Americans, bless us, are quick to consider the ways our leaders put on epaulets and dark sunglasses and turn into tyrants. “The president’s got the kill list,” said Rush Limbaugh in his own Thursday interview with Paul. “He’s bragging about it, senator! They’re trying to build up his tough national security credentials.”

Advertisement

The Limbaugh-Paul dialogue lasted longer than the dialogue with Beck. It was even more important in establishing Paul’s argument in the broader conservative movement, outside of the libertarian wing. Limbaugh, without agreeing 100 percent with Paul, thanked him for representing “the majority in this country,” people who mistrusted government power. “Nobody in the Republican Party has taken this guy on.”

If that becomes the story, that’s how drone skeptics—whether they fear for their privacy or oppose targeted killings abroad—move the needle on a debate they were losing. Paul’s Thursday media tour went like a dream, but nothing he said helped him as much as the action in the Senate. Shortly before noon, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham walked onto the floor for a short colloquy. The subject: Rand Paul’s wrongness. McCain read from a Wall Street Journal editorial condemning “Rand Paul’s drone rant.” Graham displayed one of those low-information, maximum-impact charts that make C-Span great, contrasting the number of American territorial deaths caused by al-Qaida to those caused by drones—2,751 to zero. Had Rand Paul forgotten 9/11?

Paul couldn’t have asked for better enemies. Limbaugh dismissed these “Republican establishment” losers with a wave of his hand. “There are a lot of people today who can’t believe, literally can’t believe, that the highest law enforcement officials in the country cannot, with ease, assure the American people that they will not be randomly targeted by a drone!”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.