Unlike many of my fellow conservatives, I haven’t been sold on Rand Paul as the desireable future of the Republican party. He leans a little too Libertarian for my taste, and I don’t always like the way he approaches issues. Still, it’s hard to look at his thirteen-hour-long, bladder-busting filibuster on the Senate floor last Wednesday, and recognize it as anything other than a resounding success.
It wasn’t a success just because it put a spotlight on an issue Paul and other civil libertarians deeply cared about. It wasn’t a success just because it increased Paul’s political profile for a possible run at the White House in 2016. It was a success because it proved that even at a time when a frighteningly large portion of the country is indifferent to the nation’s decline, one man’s principled stand on an issue can still inspire people to stop what they’re doing and actually pay attention to what’s being said.
That’s a pretty big deal these days, and there are things that can be learned from it.
Conservative activist, James O’Keefe, identified one of those things on Wednesday night when he tweeted, “Simply by literally not sitting down, Senator Rand Paul created a mass movement. The people crave leadership. We are desperate for it.”
He was right. People saw something in Rand Paul on Wednesday that they just don’t see today in Washington: Leadership.
It wasn’t just his conservative/libertarian base that recognized that leadership. It was also recognized by many liberals (including some in the media) and even by non-political people who probably knew nothing of the topic Paul was speaking about prior to Wednesday.
They all saw leadership in the way Rand Paul put himself through a grueling display of endurance to create a public dialogue, not out of a sense of self-importance or as a method of brandishing power, but because of the love he has for his country. Whether or not you agree with him on the drone issue, or feel his stunt was warranted, no one came away from Wednesday believing that the exhibition wasn’t pure and from the heart. It was patriotic, and people recognized that.
What a contrast it was from what we’ve seen from President Obama.
Sure, people still like our president and they find him charming. Many people are even still clinging to the notion that he’s “looking out for them”, despite all of the contrary evidence. Yet, how many people honestly view President Obama as someone who loves this country more than he loves being the man in charge? I don’t think very many. Even to his loyal supporters, he’s become a consummate politician who their instincts tell them to follow and defend, while they consciously avoid examining the justifications for why.
As I watched portions of Rand Paul’s filibuster and witnessed the unscripted comradery he had with fellow senators (including a Democrat) who lent him their authentic support and relieved him of the burden of speaking continually, it served as yet another reminder of how much better off the tone in Washington could be right now. It made me think of what things would be like if we had a president who respected his political opponents, and gave them a reason to respect him.
It also made me reflect on how excruciatingly unsuccessful the Republican party has been at getting the attention of the American public, and making them focus on issues that are far more serious than the government’s discretion when it comes to using drones. Rand Paul proved that there are methods, even as a conservative, for speaking over the mainstream media and getting your message directly to the American people – one that resounds with them and makes them want to learn more.
Imagine if such a technique could be applied to the biggest challenges our country faces, like the national debt.
Now, I’m not calling for the rest of the Republican party leaders to begin committing themselves to David Blaine acts of wince-worthy endurance (although rumor has it that Blaine’s a Republican, so maybe he can help). However, they do need to start trying some unconventional things to get through to this electorate. Republicans need to do things that, even if people don’t agree with them, the public can still respect and understand why the message being conveyed is important.
Part of the formula has to be an earning of that respect. As we saw with Rand Paul, some personal sacrifice to bring attention to an issue can go a long way with the public. After all, if people find themselves questioning how dedicated their leaders are to an issue, how can they be convinced that the issue should be important to them?
I realize that this is all easier said than done. I don’t want to trivialize it. The reality is that it’s difficult for conservatives to earn people’s respect when the media is committed to routinely vilifying them and misrepresenting what they stand for. But if someone like Rand Paul can do it, there’s no reason why others can’t.
At the very least, they should try.