Lindsey Graham vs. Rand Paul

I don’t have much to add to all the talk about Rand Paul’s filibuster a couple of days ago; nor do I have a lot to say about the responses of Lindsey Graham and John McCain to said filibuster. But I do want to take a second and put in my two-cents’ worth about this comment by Sen. Graham:

“I think it’s paranoia between libertarians and the hard left that is unjustified…I trust this president and other presidents to exercise commander-in-chief authority in a time of war.”

I usually try to be a little more generous than this, but the only way I can describe that comment is that it’s just plain stupid. Or maybe ignorant. Naive, at best. And I don’t think my reaction is unwarranted. I’ll explain.

As I understand it, the Constitution’s Framers wanted, above pretty much everything else, to avoid “arbitrary government.” That is, they wanted to avoid giving government the power to do anything it wanted to anyone it wanted anyhow it wanted. Hence, a written constitution of carefully-delegated powers; hence, separation of powers and checks and balances; hence, federalism; hence, limited government and the rule of law. As they saw it, giving one person/group power absent any parameters restricting the exercise of that power was the very thing they did not want to do. At least that’s about how I explain it to my students.

Why did they go to all that trouble? Because, as Lord Acton would say, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In other words, the Framers understood something about human nature: We may have our moments of kindness, nobility, and generosity, but we’ve also got our moments of wickedness, baseness, and selfishness; to paraphrase John Adams, we’re capable of great good, but we’re also capable of great evil. And any one of us, given absolute power, could become a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Pol Pot–or, sticking to 18th-century figures, a King George III. That’s why we don’t just “trust” our government to do the right thing or play by the rules.

Here’s my question for people who think like Sen. Graham: Why don’t we just scrap the whole constitutional government business and give one person absolute power to do what he or she thinks is best for the country? Giving the president the power to kill US citizens not engaged in some imminent act of war/terrorism against the US without following due process would be to do exactly that.

Sen. Graham has forgotten how that story always ends, apparently.