Though college basketball, the NBA and baseball spring training games were all on television on Wednesday night, the best viewing was on C-SPAN 2. There, Americans could watch Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., single-handedly spark life back into the Republican Party. It was something to behold.
At 11:47 a.m., Paul rose and began a genuine, old-fashioned, 12-hour filibuster. It was no juvenile publicity stunt. It was no politically calculated display of mock outrage, ala the senior senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell. It was a moment of clarity offered with conviction and savvy. And it might have been a turning point in what the Obama administration refuses to call the War on Terror while still waging it with gusto.
Paul took the Senate floor to block President Obama's nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director. Brennan, a career CIA man who is unquestionably qualified for the job, was not the issue. At question was the administration's position on when, where and how American citizens can be snuffed out on the President's orders.
Paul wanted to know the answer to a simple question: Does the President believe he has the constitutional authority to use drones to kill American citizens on American soil without trial? He and other senators asked the administration this question numerous times. They got no straight answer, which is alarming.
Attorney General Eric Holder treated the question and questioners with contempt, choosing to play silly semantic games rather than give a straight answer. The White House refused to give Sen. Paul a direct answer. So he used the best tool at his disposal to bring the nation's attention to this serious question. It worked beautifully.
In war, the President absolutely has the authority to kill enemy combatants. Paul's question gets to these finer points: How is "enemy combatant" status determined, and what protections are American citizens afforded if their government claims the ongoing authority to secretly make that determination and act upon it anywhere at any time, forever?
Those are immensely important questions, and Rand Paul should be applauded for the way he led his party in pursuit of answers.