Last Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul rose on the Senate floor to declare a filibuster and pledge he would not sit down until either he could speak no longer or got an answer to his question about Barack Obama's war powers.
Does the president, Paul demanded to know, in the absence of an imminent threat, have the right to order U.S. citizens killed by drone strike on U.S. soil?
By the time he sat down, 13 hours later, Paul had advanced to the front rank of candidates for 2016, and established himself as a foreign policy leader whose views must be consulted equally with those of John McCain.
How did he pull this off?
First, Attorney General Eric Holder arrogantly refused to rule out the possibility that President Obama could order execution by drone-strike of U.S. citizens, even here in the United States.
When Rand demanded to know what Holder was talking about, all across America people tuned in.
Here was a deadly serious issue: Had we, in our determination to prosecute the war on terror ferociously, begun to sacrifice our constitutionalist rights?
Libertarians, conservatives and liberals have all grown alarmed at the steady expansion of drone attacks from the Af-Pak to Yemen and Somalia and Lord knows where else, and from bin Laden jihadists in Afghanistan to Islamist propagandists like Anwar al Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, both U.S. citizens, in Yemen.
Whom do we have a right to kill? Americans are asking. What are the borders of the battlefield upon which we may designate an individual an enemy and kill him without warning?
Has America become part of that battlefield? Paul asked.
After hours of speaking, Paul had attracted a vast audience on C-SPAN and Twitter. Soon, colleagues who do not share all of his libertarian views -- Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas -- came down to the floor to speak for Rand and give him time to rest on his feet.
To see these new Republicans standing by Rand Paul presented the image of a band of brothers standing up for principle. Rarely has this Republican Party looked better than it did on Wednesday.
Then to the well of the Senate marched Rand's Kentucky colleague, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to bestow his benediction. It was "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Schmaltzy, perhaps, but in a cynical age, inspiriting.
What made Rand's presentation so appealing was that he began it alone, inviting the mockery of the media. Second, it was done with simplicity and dignity, without histrionics or demagoguery.