Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

July 11, 2013

The Rand Paul moment

You won’t find him on any Federal Election Commission disclosure forms, but Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is the biggest in-kind donor to the incipient Rand Paul for president campaign.

Whatever its merits, the National Security Agency metadata program couldn’t be better fashioned to play into fears of the government. Is it vast? Yes. Secret? Check. Raise profound questions about privacy? Uh-huh.

This is the kind of issue Rand Paul was born and (literally) raised to raise holy hell over. The NSA leak came on the heels of revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was singling out tea party groups for extra scrutiny, and on the heels of the Associated Press and James Rosen investigations.

Add in the gun-control fight earlier this year and Paul is nearly 4-for-4 in fights sticking up, in his view, for the first four amendments of the Bill of Rights. The only thing missing is the third, because no one has proposed quartering of troops in our homes — yet.

It is a Rand Paul moment in the GOP not just because the headlines reinforce his core critique of leviathan as too big, too unaccountable, and too threatening, but because he is smart and imaginative enough to capitalize on those headlines.

Paul has that quality that can’t be learned or bought: He’s interesting. How many potential Republican presidential candidates have helped shepherd a new verb into the English language. The hoopla around Paul’s filibuster gave us “to drone,” in the sense of “don’t drone me, bro.”

Paul taps into an American tradition of dissent not usually invoked by Republicans. At the Time magazine gala this year honoring the 100 most influential people in the world (he was one), he raised a glass to Henry David Thoreau. In his inaugural Senate address, he contrasted his Kentucky hero, the irascible abolitionist Cassius Clay, with the more conventional Kentucky political legend, the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay.

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