Rand Paul, civil liberties and political pressure
It should be said that Paul appears to have a fairly consistent — if nativist — constitutional philosophy: The Constitution grants certain inalienable rights to Americans but not to foreigners. That shouldn’t be mistaken for Constitutional fidelity, the Constitution distinguishes between “citizens” and “persons” for a reason, and foreigners charged with crimes in the U.S. have always been given the same due process rights as anyone else, precisely because freedom is as much about what government is allowed to do to you as much as it is about what you are allowed to do.
So is Paul better than “most Democratic Senators” or Obama? Outside the PATRIOT Act, he seems to be your average Republican. If he wins his Senate race and teams up with Russ Feingold to reform the PATRIOT Act, I wouldn’t be disappointed — but I’m not hoping for anything more from him.
It’s interesting that Paul criticized the Obama administration’s detainee policy last November, as his campaign was getting off the ground. I don’t know enough about Rand Paul to be sure, but it’s possible that Balko is correct, and Paul is well to the left of most Democratic senators on civil liberties. But Paul is also running an underdog campaign for the Senate that has relied on conservative activists and Tea Party-style libertarians for its momentum. Which means that as Paul positions himself as a viable general election candidate, there’s a strong chance that his views will change in response to grassroots and activist pressure.
Yes, in the absence of pressure, Paul might be better on civil liberties than most Democrats. But if he’s attacked from the right or the left on the issue, there’s a fair chance that his views will adjust accordingly. Which is something that Balko should keep in mind as he throws his support behind the candidate.