McCain and Graham rush to defend drones from mean Rand Paul

Senate\'s hawkiest hawks so outraged that a fellow Republican was mean to drones that they now support Brennan

Published March 7, 2013 8:55PM (EST)

            (Jeff Malet,
(Jeff Malet,

In case you were feeling conflicted about Rand Paul's epic filibuster of CIA director nominee John Brennan -- and there is some stuff to feel conflicted about! -- Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham today did their best to make sure that all right-thinking people made up their minds to be on Team Rand on this one.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham actually had planned on holding up the Brennan nomination the usual way, with aggravating delay tactics based on the abuse of Senate rules, a once-rare tactic that is now standard minority practice for just about everything the Senate debates, but Paul's talky filibuster seems to have offended McCain personally (which, I know, not hard to do), because he brought up Jane Fonda and because it is much more gentlemanly to just block all Senate business and explain your reasons on the Sunday shows than it is to hold stuff up for a while with a really long floor speech. McCain even said that Paul's filibuster is going to "give ammunition to those who say the rules of the Senate are being abused,” which is just amazingly wrong. People (and the press) love talky filibusters, because of Jimmy Stewart. Lots of Americans who don't follow news and debates about the Senate closely -- which is to say probably most Americans -- think filibusters are great, because they think that is how they still work! Only senators like the kind of "filibuster" where you just tell Harry Reid you're filibustering and then you go get a drink or go home for the night. The thing where every bill and nomination now requires 60 votes -- which was not how the Senate was designed to function -- is why people think the rules are being "abused." Because John McCain and his friends are abusing them, routinely.

But John McCain being wrong and spiteful is very old news, at this point. His sidekick is the one really outdoing himself these days. Whenever you think Lindsey Graham could not be any more Lindsey Graham-ier, he manages to out-Graham himself anew.

For Graham, being a senator is less about crafting policy and passing legislation than it is an endless, operatic psychodrama, starring him. As I said, Graham and his best friend John McCain were going to delay the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director, as part of their ongoing performance of their Fluxus Happening casually referred to as "we demand more answers on Benghazi." Neither Graham nor McCain thinks Brennan is unfit to serve as the director of the CIA, of course, but Senate votes would be so boring if senators merely voted according to whether or not they support the thing being voted on.

Graham was originally also going to vote against John Brennan, to send a clear signal that he is Unsatisfied with the answers he has received on Benghazi. That was before Rand Paul staged a talking filibuster of Brennan's nomination that won widespread support from much of the left and the libertarian commentariat. Now, he's come around on Brennan:

"I was going to vote against him until the filibuster, so he picked up one vote," Graham said, laughing to reporters in the Capitol.

"I thought Brennan was arrogant, a bit shifty," he said, but added that he was going to vote for Brennan because the vote had become a "referendum on the drone program."

In other words, the calculation changed: By deciding to support Brennan after all, Graham has staked out the position most likely to annoy the correct people. Before, opposing Brennan showed that Graham considered Benghazi 100 times worse than Watergate. Now, supporting Brennan shows that Graham loves drones, primarily because so many people he dislikes do not. Trolling America's political left and the civil libertarian community is way more fun, to a raging asshole like Graham, than simply annoying conventional liberal Democrats.

Graham was not even done trolling:

“People are astonished that President Obama is doing many of the things that President Bush did. I’m not astonished. I congratulate him for having the good judgement to understand we’re at war,” he said. “And to my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war.”

This is masterful, because he's basically making the exact same point as someone like Glenn Greenwald, but in a way designed to annoy both Greenwald and liberals who disagree with Greenwald. Obama is just as awesome as Bush was, says Graham, at recognizing that we are in an endless worldwide war necessitating the removal of all limits on executive war-making power. (He's also implying that the Republicans not named Paul who joined his filibuster were being opportunistic and hypocritical, which is basically correct.)

If it were possible, somehow, to make the confirmation of Obama's judicial nominees also a referendum on the drone war, it seems likely that Graham would vote to end all current Republican filibusters. Maybe leftists and libertarians should get together and all pretend to really love the drug war, just to see what happens?

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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Drones John Brennan John Mccain Lindsey Graham Politics Rand Paul U.s. Senate