3. There is (maybe) a market for civil libertarians.
The transition from the Bush to the Obama administration established most elected Democrats as pure opportunists on civil liberties, as they went largely radio silent as Their Man amplified Bush-era war powers, expanded the scope and the intensity of covert “kinetic action,” and failed to shut down Gitmo. Let’s yield that there is a kind of cockeyed principle involved in the selective silence — that Democrats aren’t purebred hypocrites but actually do trust Obama more than they trusted Bush not to abuse his authority. Something like the mirror of that might be happening with Republicans. That is, they might be realizing — in part opportunistically, but in part sincerely — that even though the president is commander-in-chief, the prosecution of the War on Terror ought to be governed by the rule of law and not that of man. This is certainly the vibe you got from civil-libertarian and anti-war pundits on Twitter last night, who spoke hopefully of Paul’s filibuster as “changing the physics” of Washington or “expanding the scope of the possible” when it comes to foreign policy.4. Paul has allies in the class of 2010 — and beyond.
Of course, even if it’s true that Republicans are interested in occupying a space dove-ward of the president and serving these traditionally underserved elements on the right, it will be a halting, messy process, translating the vibe of the Paul filibuster into either a policy program or a coalition that can win elections. But the roster of early supporters Paul drew to the Senate floor is telling. Not just Mike Lee and Ted Cruz — the Senate Republicans’ Federalist Society brain trust — but lunch-pail tea-partiers such as Pat Toomey and Ron Johnson and Mr. 2016 himself, Marco Rubio. The New Guys, and the antithesis of Senator McCain’s get-off-my-lawn hawkishness. The star power of these early adopters combined with the organic energy Paul brought to his filibuster (probably the longest such speech to stay on topic and not resort to phone-book-reading and the like) to goad others to the floor, including the Senate Republicans’ Nos. 1 and 2, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn. Again, it’s not yet clear that they were one and all standing with Rand, but they were standing in his general vicinity.
5. Washington is still capable of (real) drama.
In an era of “manufactured crises” in which battles over governance and over spin take place in two distinct and causally isolated universes (see the remoteness of perception from reality on the sequester, for just the latest example), Rand Paul’s filibuster presented the greatest of rarities in Washington — the salutary political spectacle. It was a show, to be sure. But it was spontaneous (when Paul arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday, he didn’t even know the Brennan vote was on the docket) and self-sustaining. It drew even the marginally politically minded to watch C-SPAN in prime time. And it was effective.
When Rand Paul relieved himself to, well, relieve himself, we lived in a world in which the president refused to acknowledge a key limit on his war power. When Rand Paul arrived at the Capitol today, he did so with a letter from the attorney general that answered his question in terms as unequivocal as you’re likely to get from a government lawyer. Indeed, whether Rand’s stand changes the tenor of the foreign-policy debate or reverberates through the Republican party, it is perhaps most interesting because it worked.
— Daniel Foster is NRO’s news editor.