Friday, January 25, 2008

On our own? You betcha!

Something that too easily slips away in the discussion about the FISA debate is a simple but vital point: First, consider that the House bill is, overall, better than the Senate bill. But don't stop there. Assume we could take the best parts of the House bill, the best parts of the Senate Judiciary Committee bill, and the best parts (if there are any) of the Senate Intelligence Committee bill and combine them into the best bill that could possibly come out of this. That bill would still provide more power for, and less oversight of, electronic surveillance by the White House than existed last August when this whole mess started with the "temporary" FISA "reform."

Keep that in mind in whatever follows with this debate: Add a Democratic majority in the House lead by the "liberal" Nancy Pelosi to a Democratic majority in the Senate lead by the "moderate" Harry Reid and the best we can do is be somewhat worse off than we were before. The only question is how much worse.

That seems to be the pattern, at least on matters of privacy, Constitutional rights, and foreign policy, as the Dimcrats go limp like a cheap candle under a sunlamp the instant anyone in the White House mutters the words "national security" or "terrorism." what's even more frustrating, better yet infuriating, is that the Dums barely even pretend to be doing anything about it, satisfying themselves with trying to boast of toughness by refusing to give Bush every little detail he wants - that is, before they do it anyway.

Which means that when in the previous post I mentioned failures of organization, power, leadership, and nerve, I left out the most important failure, left it out because it's one that need not be demonstrated by the debate over the current FISA bill because it already has been: a failure - or rather an utter lack - of principle. Note that I said the White House so desperately wants telcom immunity in order to hide its own criminality and that the lawsuits the provision would block are "now the only practical means available" to prevent that. They are that because the real means to bring out that criminality, the real means of holding the thugs responsible for their actions, the real means of restoring Constitutional limits on the Executive Branch, that is, the I-word, has been ruled out of bounds, beyond consideration, "off the table," as recently as a few days ago:
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s drawing heat from fellow Democratic lawmakers as well as people across the nation for refusing to move to impeach President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. ...

But the California Democrat said she is sticking to her position that trying to remove Bush or Cheney would be divisive, and she added, most likely unsuccessful. ...

“It was my belief that an impeachment of the Vice President or the President … would be very divisive in our country, and that is what I believed then,” Pelosi said. “It should have come to no surprise when I became Speaker I said it again, and I continue to hold that view.”
Well, guess what, Nance, I don't think anyone was surprised. They just think you're driving the getaway car for the Bushites' theft of the Constitution. Or, less flippantly, by refusing to even try to hold the Shrub gang accountable for their lies, their crimes (including obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence), their declaration of virtually unlimited power to spy, to imprison, to torture, their insistence that they can (through "signing statements") exempt themselves from any law at will, their dismissal of the rightful powers of Congress (via refused testimony, ignored subpoenas, etc.), indeed their utter contempt for anything other than their own sense of entitlement to power and domination, by not even trying to hold them accountable, you are setting not just a bad but a thoroughly dangerous precedent for all future presidents who can and assuredly will justify their own power-grabs in much the same way the GOPpers initially did (until you proved by your inaction that even this excuse was unnecessary): They will take "Clinton did it" and simply substitute, with considerably greater accuracy, "Bush."

I admit I have not been terribly vocal about impeachment; it's not a subject I have returned to on a lot of occasions. Moreoever, early on I was not particularly interested in it. I saw it as a diversion, something that would soak up a lot of energy without advancing our real causes. That is, not wrong but a tactical mistake. At the same time, I was glad that there were others pushing for it because, as I said somewhere or another, I wanted the idea to be constantly bubbling in the background in case something provoked an outcry that would bring it to the fore, already primed, in the way the "Saturday night massacre" did. What changed it for me was the Downing Street memos, which were publicly-available, documented evidence of Bush, et. al., having lied in the runup to the Iraq invasion, indeed well before it in planning to make it happen. In which case, I said in May of '05,
why in the flaming hell is there no resolution of impeachment? I don't give two shits - or even one, for that matter - about "it wouldn't do any good." I don't give a damn if it has no chance! Some things you just do because they are right. Because the point is not even "can we win" but "how can we not try?" Any member of Congress - and I mean any member of Congress - who at this point is not willing to stand up and be counted is a disgrace to their office, a disgrace to their Constitutional duties, and a disgrace to this country.
But no, it was not to be, not even the attempt. It was "off the table" because, no matter the merits, no matter the facts, Bush had to be given a free pass because not being (or, more honestly, not being seen as) "divisive" was more important than maintaining the rule of law and the Constitution and because, oh the piteous whine that has become the hallmark, the interval signal, of the democrats, "we don't have the votes."

"We don't have the votes." How many times have we heard that same sad song, that same lame excuse not only for failure but for the failure to even make an attempt? We can't impeach, we don't have the votes. We can't overcome filibusters, we don't have the votes. We can't get legislation passed, we don't have the votes. And most frequently and most piteous-whiningly, we can't stop the war because we don't have the votes.

Over and over again we've heard it. Constituents of Ron Wyden (D-OR) heard it just this month. Hillary Clinton said it to the Guardian in October. That same month, Arianna Huffington quoted Henry Waxman as having shrugged it to Politico. In fact, we've heard it from almost the very start: Way back in March, less than two months after the sparkling-new Democratic Congress has opened on a pledge to end the war,
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) berated a woman who approached him in a Congressional corridor, claiming that “idiot liberals” don’t understand the war supplemental spending bill process. ...

Asked about passing a resolution to end the war, Obey screamed that they did not have the votes.

“We don’t have the votes to pass [a resolution],” he yelled. “We couldn’t even get the votes to pass a non-binding resolution one week ago. How the hell do you think we’re going to get the votes to cut off the war?”
(Brackets in original.)

It's been the excuse for failure all along. At the first sign of resistance, the slogan changed from "holding the president to account" to "don't have the votes," the attitude went from "look out, here we come" to "pity poor us," the cheer shifted from "rah, rah" to "wah, wah." "We don't have the votes" was and remains an excuse for timidity, for cowardly refusal on the part of the misleadership to, you'll pardon the expression, bite the bullet and flatly cut off funding for the war by refusing to bring to the floor bills containing funds for it. In fact, they didn't even have to be that brave: As several people, including me, argued, Congress could pass a funding bill with enforceable restrictions and in the wake of a veto, pass the same bill again: "Hey, Mr. Prez, if you want the money, you agree to these terms. No agreement, no moolah." But even that was beyond them.

(Sidebar: The supplemental bill Obey said the "idiot liberals" didn't understand provided $100 billion for the war and set a deadline of August 31, 2008 for having most troops out. It didn't survive what I call a "gentlemen's filibuster" in the Senate, one of those Harry Reid/Mitch McConnell deals where the GOPpers declare an intent to filibuster but never actually have to do it because a cloture vote is scheduled immediately and upon first failure the measure is withdrawn. Showing its iron will in seeking an end to the carnage, the House responded by passing the cash minus the restrictions, leaving floating the question of just who really are the "idiots.")

Oh, they still like to talk tough, they still like to proclaim how much they hate the war, how much they want to end it, but the truth is they have given up even the pretense of doing anything about it. Because they "don't have the votes."

Bullshit. Of course they have the votes. If Nancy Pelosi was as stubborn about ending the war as she is about quashing impeachment, if she showed as much willingness to use muscle against the Blue Dog Democrats as she was last spring in pressuring supporters of the Lee Amendment to drop the idea, I have no doubt - zero - that she could engineer a majority to stiffly oppose funding the war. In the Senate, filibusters work both ways and it would take only 41 Senators to block any funding bill. So yes, they have the votes.

But they keep puling, keep hiding behind what Huffington quotes David Sirota as aptly calling the "Innocent Bystander Fable." Still, even fables can have their believers, and the Democratic Party caucus of the antiwar movement has bought into this one. Politico reported last week that
[a]fter a series of legislative defeats in 2007 that saw the year end with more U.S. troops in Iraq than when it began, a coalition of anti-war groups is backing away from its multimillion-dollar drive to cut funding for the war and force Congress to pass timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.

In recognition of hard political reality, the groups instead will lower their sights and push for legislation to prevent President Bush from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could keep significant numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come.

[John] Isaacs[, executive director of Council for a Livable World,] said he thought the meeting would be a difficult one, with an adamant faction pressing for continued focus on timelines and funding. It wasn’t to be.

“We got our heads together and decided to go a different way,” Isaacs said. “The consensus was not to keep beating our heads against the wall trying to block every funding bill - not because we don’t agree with it, but because we don’t have the votes.” [emphasis added]
(Thanks to James at The Mahatma X Files for the link.)

Among other groups present were, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, and Win Without War, and yes, this is the Democratic Party caucus of the antiwar movement: It was openly asserted by people at the meeting that the shift in focus will serve to "draw clear distinctions between anti-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans" and will help Democrats in the upcoming elections.

Which brings me to the end by bringing me back to the beginning: What has been revealed over these last months is a lack of principle. Or, I guess to be completely accurate, I should say there is a principle, but it is not a moral one or an ethical one and it does not focus on ending the war or undoing the assaults on the Constitution, on the rule of law, and on human decency. It is, rather, a political one and the principle is elect Democrats. That's what all the posturing is about. That's why the Dimcrats were willing to pass "antiwar" legislation they knew would be vetoed only to refuse to stand by it when it was: They wanted to look like they were trying to end the war without having to take any political risk to do it.

I said it in March (more than once), I said it in August, I said it in October, I will say it again now: The Democrats are not serious about ending the war, they are not serious about opposing Bush. What they are serious about is positioning for the 2008 elections and who gives a damn about the lives, American (and allied) and even more Iraqi, ruined in the meantime.

It goes beyond the war. Surely, a big reason for the failures, backtracking, and wimping out by the Dumcrats on wiretapping and similar issues is a crawling fear that ooh, some GOPper might call them bad names in the fall, so better to let Shrub run riot than risk being labeled "soft on national security." And David Swanson of (and several other outfits), writing in the November/December issue of The Humanist, after noting that polls show clear majorities of Americans favor impeachment of both Bush and Cheney (and this is, of course, before hearings that would focus attention on their offenses), writes
the Democratic leadership in Congress believes it to be of the utmost importance to keep Bush and Cheney around, the theory being that this will help Democrats in the November 2008 elections.
I'm not so sure about that, since I can't imagine that having the GOPpers being viewed as a party of crooked, reactionary, lying, slimebuckets (in short, fairly) would not be helpful to Pelosi-Reid, Inc. On the other hand, I would not be the first to have a suspicion that among the reasons that the Dummycrats have not challenged Bush with true rigor is that they actually would not mind having those same powers in the hands of one of their own and would willingly embrace the precedent when the opportunity arises - and therefore want to be very cautious about impugning it. Certainly the lack of both moral principles and ethical backbone they have shown thus far on some of the central issues of our time generates no degree of doubt on that score. And if you would still deny even the possibility, remember that this is the party that has declared impeachment is "off the table" but additional power for the Executive and additional blood money for occupation and death is very much on it and ask yourself again.

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