Rand Paul: Let's face it, some of my critics want a terror attack to happen so they can blame it on me

Via the Daily Caller, I’m surprised he’s gotten less flak for this (so far) than he did for what he said last week about GOP hawks having created ISIS. The latter was a statement of indirect cause — hawkish policies have created conditions in Syria that have strengthened jihadis. This quip is a direct accusation of being pro-terrorism for political ends. When I heard it, I figured McCain would rush him and start choking him in sheer blind outrage at the insinuation of disloyalty. Instead, Maverick seemed more ticked at Paul for violating parliamentary procedure. Huh. Maybe the subdued reaction has to do with what Paul says in the rest of the clip about how, if he’s culpable for post-Patriot Act attacks, presumably hawks are culpable for attacks like the Boston bombing that occurred while the Patriot Act was in effect. That’s a weak argument, countered by claims that national security certainly is no worse off with robust surveillance even if it’s not always better off, and in any case it’s an accusation of incompetence, not ill intent in wanting to open up holes in America’s defenses. But then, any time hawks are being forced to explain why the NSA didn’t stop an attack like the Boston bombings is a point in Paul’s favor. Maybe that’s why McCain et al. refused to engage.

Perhaps chastened by the backlash to his “hawks created ISIS” argument, Rand walked back the “my critics are rooting for terror” claim this morning on Fox News:

“I think, sometimes, in the heat of battle, hyperbole can get the better of anyone, and that may be the problem there. The point I was trying to make is that I think people do use fear to try to get us to give up our liberty,” the presidential candidate said Monday morning. “This was the whole thing that Benjamin Franklin debated, whether or not we should trade our liberty for security and sometimes get neither.”

Paul reiterated that going after and impugning the motives of others is sometimes “a mistake,” and that exaggeration can get the better of anyone in “the heat of battle.”

You know what the most amazing thing is about yesterday’s passion play on the Senate floor, with even Paul ally Mitch McConnell now accusing him of “demagoguery and disinformation” about the Patriot Act? It’s how low the stakes are at this point. The USA Freedom Act, a reform bill that would keep metadata in the hands of telecoms but otherwise extend key Patriot Act provisions like “roving wiretaps,” will pass the Senate this week, probably in a day or two. Meanwhile, not only will the NSA continue to collect bulk metadata for investigations that have already been opened, it’ll use a variety of workarounds to keep harvesting data for new investigations. Eli Lake calls the entire debate “phony” and it’s hard to disagree. In fact, given the recent Second Circuit ruling that Section 215 never authorized mass metadata collection in the first place because Congress never intended it to, this week’s natsec kabuki has a bizarre procedural posture nicely captured recently by Conor Friedersdorf:

There’s a program that Congress never approved. The House weirdly had to vote to get rid of it. They did so. But the Senate had to follow suit, voting to get rid of the program that they never passed. And they failed even though 57 Senators were in favor. So an illegal program will continue [until June 1], despite majorities in both houses of Congress casting votes to end what they never began. And the only reason their failure doesn’t matter is that legal provisions that don’t in fact authorize the program will soon expire. And then it will end. What a strange democracy we’ve got.

Even stranger when you consider that the Senate is currently deadlocked over a bill whose ultimate passage is all but assured and whose constraints on surveillance may or may not materially limit the amount of data that the NSA takes in. Ah well. It’s fun to see senators, especially from the same party, go to war with each other on principle, even if the principle won’t affect the disposition of the matter.