Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why they did it

Matt Stoller gave this summary on Open Left, about one possible reason the Blue Dogs - including my own 'representative' - sold us out:

There's a wonderful discussion in the comments of the last post on why the FISA bill passed, on what motivated 57 Democrats to vote to expand Bush's executive authority. In Glenn Greenwald's interview with Chris Dodd, Dodd himself expresses astonishment at the vote. There are really two parts to this question. One is why Blue Dogs caved, and two is why there was no basically no organizing or lobbying done to stop this bill from moving.

Let's talk politicians first. Did these members betray their principles? Were they scared of Bush? It's easy to make the argument that they are afraid of Bush, that they are frightened. And in a sense, it's not an either/or. Still, we must also consider the possibility that these 57 Democrats believe in a more expansive security state and do not support civil liberties. They are not liberals, and they just don't agree with us.

I confess, I am still mystified.

Only Friday I called the office of my own Blue Dog representative, and the aide I spoke with admitted that many, many local people were calling in and demanding a tough stand against this new FISA 'legitimization' of the warrantless NSA wiretapping program.

Yes, she admitted that locals were burning up the phone lines. She also insisted that the congressman 'was checking in all the time to see how his constituents were feeling.' She seemed quite sincere. I really don't believe that she was lying. So I have to wonder... who is this Blue Dog really, and what are his motivations? Do his own aides even really know the answer to this question?

We didn't need this bill to make us 'safe.'
The only people who needed these rules for their own safety were the very people breaking laws by spying on the American people.

Everyone agrees we need to watch for terrorists: this is a no-brainer. There is also ample evidence that Al Qaeda doesn't use email, phones or other traceable forms of communication. They certainly don't take out library books.

As we have witnessed ourselves the many partisan abuses and illegalities of this administration, how are we ever to trust Alberto Gonzales with our privacy and safety? He is absolutely and completely partisan; the partisan promotion of his party is behind his every action.

How could Congress have left our Fourth Amendment constitutional protection in this man's hands, after filing impeachment legislation against him and calling for a special prosecutor to investigate him? Are our constitutional rights worth to very little to our representatives? They sold us out to a president with a 24 percent approval rating, and based on absolutely no proof that these wildly excessive domestic spying powers were even needed!

If a man is willing to lie under oath, is there anything he will not do? Yet Congress left town with this perjurer in charge of our citizen privacy. Thank you so very much. And yes, we feel so much safer now.

No, this FISA upgrade was all about spying on the American people, and about getting the White House out of hot water for their prior FISA violations. Why is our Blue Dog protecting the White House instead of us -- his constituents?

This weekend we - Democrats (and likely Libertarians and other mainstream conservatives) were outraged by this latest in a series of betrayals. The outrage continues unabated. But along with the outrage... confusion. What is wrong with these Democrats? What on earth... possessed them to do something this epically disastrous for their party's interests?

I mean - never mind ethics, justice, the Constitution or the best interests of their constituents. What about their own political survival? Because we know that at the very least, they care about getting re-elected.

I confess, I am mystified. Should I even bother to call and ask... why? Perhaps I will. Maybe I can get that same aide on the phone and ask her, beg her for some reason that sounds... plausible. Truthful, even.

Glen Greenwald sums up the outrage from the weekend very well:

I just finished a discussion panel with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero which was originally planned to examine his new (superb) book about the work his organization has done for years in battling the endless expansion of executive power and presidential lawbreaking. But the only issue anyone in the room really wanted to discuss -- including us -- was the outrage unfolding on Capitol Hill. And the anger was almost universally directed where it belongs: at Congressional Democrats, who increasingly bear more and more responsibility for the assaults on our constitutional liberties and unparalleled abuses of government power -- many (probably most) of which, it should always be emphasized, remain concealed rather than disclosed.

Examine virtually every Bush scandal and it increasingly bears the mark not merely of Democratic capitulation, but Democratic participation. In August of 2006, the Supreme Court finally asserted the first real limit on Bush's radical executive power theories in Hamdan, only for Congress, months later, to completely eviscerate those minimal limits -- and then go far beyond -- by enacting the grotesque Military Commissions Act with the support of substantial numbers of Democrats. What began as a covert and illegal Bush interrogation and detention program became the officially sanctioned, bipartisan policy of the United States.

Greenwald also interviewed presidential candidate, Senator Chris Dodd. Dodd had a front row seat for the circus that was the White House whipping of the Democrat 'majority.' This interview is quite telling, in that it shows a Democratic party that is still - in spite of their 'majority' - in total disarray:

This afternoon I interviewed Sen. Chris Dodd, who more than any other presidential candidate is attempting to make issues of executive power and constitutional encroachments the centerpiece of his campaign. I'll post the entire transcript and some commentary in a few days, but for now here is part of the discussion we had concerning last night's FISA vote in the Senate (Dodd, along with Obama and Clinton, voted against the FISA bill):

GG: Can you describe what you think it is that motivated 16 of your colleagues in the Democratic caucus to vote in favor of this bill?

CD: No, I really can't . . . We had caucuses during the day, so everyone knew what was there. You had a vote at 10:00 at night, people say I didn't know what was there, then normally I can understand, but we had a caucus during the day. There was a lot of conversation about it.

GG: So this wasn't a Patriot Act case where people can claim ignorance because there was a rushed vote? There was a careful assessment of what the terms in this statute were?

CD: Absolutely. In fact, even during the vote, Carl Levin was sitting there, and Carl said: "look, I want everyone to read this" . . . . Most people know about the Gonzales references and the 180 days -- there is also a section, as Carl pointed out, that basically says that if they can prove reasonably that you're out of the country -- not that you're not a citizen, just out of the country [then they can eavesdrop on you] . . . .

But I wish I had a better explanation. Normally after that, we would be in session Monday or Tuesday, around today, people would be talking about it. So I'm a little stunned, and grasping for some answer here. So I really don't know. . . .

GG: There is this gap in FISA, which everyone, even Russ Feingold, says needs to be filled, which is that if there is a foreign-to-foreign conversation which happens to be routed through the U.S., it requires a warrant -- so why not just say "OK, we fixed this gap and here's our bill and if you veto it, and there's a terrorist attack, then it's your responsibility"?

CD: Hello? Sounds pretty reasonable to me. But part of what this comes down to is that too many people in public life are not secure enough in their own beliefs -- feel vulnerable to attacks by people who will attack you -- and feel unwilling or unable to respond to them with clarity and conviction. And if you lack that clarity and conviction, and if you haven't been through this in the past, then you're likely to be a little weaker in the legs.

I also asked Dodd why Democrats repeatedly engage in the same self-destructive behavior -- refusing to take a hard-core principled stance against the administration, and instead capitulating just enough to look like losers, but -- despite the capitulation -- still allowing the vote to be used against them. As always (see e.g., Iraq War Authorization, warrantless eavesdropping, Military Commissions Act), they capitulate in order to prevent the vote from being used against them, even though it ends up being used against them anyway because so many of them vote (with futility) against it, but do so without ever fighting for, explaining or defending their position.

I also asked him why, when they were in the minority, the Democrats were so afraid to filibuster anything, even something as drastic as the Military Commissions Act or the Alito nomination, whereas the Republicans run around filibustering everything they can find and don't care at all about being called "obstructionist." Why are the Republicans so aggressive with using their minority tools to block all Democratic initiatives whereas Democrats failed to filibuster for years?

Dodd, by his own candid admission, has no good explanation for the Democrats' behavior, which repeats itself endlessly. He has no good explanation as to why so many of his Democratic colleagues are so deeply afraid of being attacked by one of the weakest presidents in modern American history.

Although Dodd's convictions about the constitutional issues are impressively authentic and come from a place of real passion, and although he agreed with most of the criticisms voiced regarding the timidity of Congressional Democrats, I found the interview rather dispiriting, to put it mildly. That was not due to Dodd per se, but because it is clear that Beltway Democrats have no real strategy for doing anything differently or even any real awareness that something different is necessary.

I guess the time has come for that phone call to my congressman's office. I can't wait to hear the excuses.

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