Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

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The Oregon Promise

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.” –Winston Churchill

What do you mean civil liberties are partisan noise?

Freshman U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took the political world by storm with his Mad Men-era throwback to the talking filibuster against CIA Director nominee John Brennan. His stand against the most questionable aspects of Obama administration’s drone program was as simple and straightforward as it was—or should have been—avowedly nonpartisan. Paul wanted to highlight and clarify official U.S. drone policy—which Brennan helped author—on such seemingly important questions as whether executive discretion allows for extrajudicial killing of American citizens on American soil. After thirteen hours or so, he finally got his answer.

Rand Paul is certainly a rising star, especially among more libertarian-minded Republicans and Independents, for his perspicacious commitment to individual rights. However, this latest showdown on the real limits of limited government reveals far more about contemporary politics in America than the evolving possibilities for Ron Paul’s heir. As once strident progressives shrink away from their principles before Barack Obama’s remote agenda of unfettered homicidal prerogative—with a certain junior Senator from Connecticut going so far as to describe the defense of our civil liberties as “background noise”—only one Democrat (three, if we’re being exceedingly charitable) exercised the moral integrity of speaking truth to the power of his own party. So raise your glasses to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (and, perhaps, to fellow Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Dick Durbin).

If you’re not affiliated with the Great State of Oregon and yet find that the name Ron Wyden seems inexplicably familiar, it is probably because you have indeed encountered it before—fairly recently, in fact. In the last election cycle, Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan championed a sensible proposal for making Medicare solvent through the foreseeable future, rather than only until my nine-year-old cousin can legally drink. The once bipartisan plan was developed, in part, by none other than Ron Wyden. That did make for some awkwardness last year.

Before that, this Left Coast Democrat promoted a bipartisan approach to tax reform with Judd Gregg, and later with Tea Party favorite Dan Coats, that was praised—with reservations—across the political spectrum. The pro-growth Wyden-Coats plan aimed to “hold down rates” on individuals and corporations while closing various loopholes. (Sound familiar, Mr. President?) Rather than relying on gimmicks like the Buffet Rule or pretending there is no federal spending problem, Ron Wyden has shown that effective tax reform can be fiscally and economically responsible without raising tax rates on anyone.

Earlier still, the Oregonian teamed up with Utah Republican Bob Bennett to push a promising third way on healthcare reform (which, incidentally, helps give the lie to liberal notions of conservative intransigence) to the ire of (some) leftists and unions. To make a rare point of agreement with Ezra Klein, Ron Wyden is far from perfect, and he has voted along with much of Barack Obama’s lackluster agenda. But this particular “ardent liberal” manages to remind a bipartisan audience how statesmen should govern—a perspective generally lacking in the White House and among some on Capitol Hill. Without boasting much in the arena of “conservative bona fides”, Oregon’s senior Senator has championed many a libertarian cause. I expect some savvy conservative actors could make better use of that than President Obama has of the notorious eloquence of Chuck Hagel.

Oregon was once a Republican State—from Dewey through Reagan—and George W. Bush came within 7,000 votes of turning it red in 2000. Nowadays, the Beaver State is home to a rambunctious mix of staunchly liberal and solidly conservative voters, not unlike Iowa or Colorado, and the Democrats run the show. But the parties are not yet monolithic, and nothing lasts forever. Whatever becomes of Wyden, Paul, or anyone else on the political stage, successful leaders from here onward will have to expand the realm of possibilities and the states in play for innovation.

The old ways won’t work anymore. It’s time for a new take on change.