As refreshing as Rand Paul’s filibuster was to an extraordinarily wide ideological range of people, the most striking thing it revealed was the political tone-deafness of a key figure of the Obama administration, attorney general Eric Holder. On Thursday, Holder finally sent a note to Senator Paul saying the president had no authority to use drones to kill Americans on American soil. It was terse, unapologetic, dismissive in tone: “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question,” when in fact everyone in the country with the slightest interest in politics was focused on Rand Paul and knew why he was filibustering. Perhaps Holder took a snow day?
Obama won the presidency with the votes of liberals, young people, minorities, and people who felt the Republicans, after the housing/financial collapse and Iraq, were not, these days, a suitable party of government. But a great and necessary part of the spirit that drove the campaign past the once inevitable Hillary came from young people—a college generation who felt that Obama was at least a common-sense figure when most politicians were not. Unlike Hillary, he claimed to know what a “stupid war” was.
While I can’t think of a single one of my daughter’s University of Chicago ’06 friends who was not an Obama supporter, among a slightly younger cohort the world is seen differently. Killer drones, Bradley Manning: its power assured and reaffirmed, the Obama administration is acting, well, kind of arrogant. Such are the emails which get forwarded to me from ’06’s younger sister, class of 2010. These are kids without real memories of George W. Bush. And I can’t imagine them backing Obama with the kind of enthusiasm their older siblings had five or six years ago.
These aren’t expecting Obama to be some sort of savior. Simply intelligent government would suffice; no one is blind to the severity of the political, economic, or environmental problems. But what does it mean when Rand Paul and, for crying out loud, Ted Cruz, sound more engaged in protecting American civil liberties than the Obama administration?
Paul, one would have to admit, has impressed since TAC writers slammed him for his original vote against Hagel cloture. He voted for Hagel eventually, confusing everyone, but giving at least a slight indication he wasn’t going to be a party-line neocon. Whether or not he signs onto the Graham-Menendez letter trying to grease the skids for war with Iran will be a major tell about what kind of senator Paul will be.
Obama would do well to remember that well-educated young people are not in his pocket by right, as a sort of entitlement to a Democratic president. For them the ethical questions are experienced with the intensity of the brand new. If he doubts it, he might have an aide research the trajectory of Lyndon Johnson’s campus reputation between 1964 and 1967.