Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.
- Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment”
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
- Will Rogers
These are the characteristic quotes about the two major political parties. Last week I posted about how conservatives have betrayed the country by either remaining silent or trying to justify the Bush Administration’s power grabs, and I believe when the history of this period is written the right will be considered more to blame than the left. I believe that until the 2006 elections Democrats (and the left in general) didn’t have enough leverage to challenge unconstitutional claims and behavior by the executive. The trauma of 9/11 made Americans willing to bargain away a certain amount of their civil liberties for a sense of security against a barely known enemy. The drumbeat for war against Iraq (along with masterful political choreography) maneuvered the left into a corner where their choices before the public were either support the war or be considered unpatriotic. Once the war started it was “rally round the president” time and through the 2004 election their choices were understandable.
The next two years caused a seismic shift in public opinion and the liberals betrayal timeline starts with the 2006 elections. The earliest, primary and most baffling part has been the Congressional Democrats’ response. On the face of it a party that wins by substantially larger-than-expected margins and regains control of both houses ought to feel pretty empowered. It would seem to be a call to action to repudiate the other party’s policies and actions. Instead they’ve acted like they suffer from a political Stockholm syndrome. In Glenn Greenwald’s words:
Since Democrats took over Congress in January, there have been three major attributes characterizing their conduct: (1) a failure to stop or restrict the war in Iraq; (2) a general failure/unwillingness to stop Bush on much of anything else of significance (FISA, a failure to reverse any of the excesses of the GOP Congress, such as the Military Commissions Act, lack of limits on his ability to attack Iran, etc.); and (3) numerous investigations, sometimes flashly but thus far inconsequential.Just this week there has been open ridicule by Dana Milbank of the Senate leadership and Bruce Fein openly calling for Pelosi’s ouster. Regular observers have largely concluded they are unworthy of their positions, and the longer it goes on the less they are even worthy of their seats. Now, part of it goes back to Will Rogers - it seems to be in the Democratic party’s DNA to tend towards fractiousness, and the election takeover happened in part because of a strategic decision to recruit more-conservative challengers in conservative areas. Fair enough. That doesn’t mean the 110th Congress is destined to be Republican by proxy. Once the magnitude of dissatisfaction was clear they should have adjusted. Americans want them to confront the Bush administration. They should begin doing so and force any laggards into line; heaven knows they’ve had a close up look at how that’s done these last few years. If they don’t start doing what they were elected to do they deserve to be handed their opera glasses and sent back to the balcony.
Left wing activists are as much to blame by now because their activism has had no effect. There was an initial burst of anger and in typically liberal fashion it receded as other issues took center stage. Consider the recently defeated immigration bill as a contrast from conservatives. As Arthur Silber put it the right wing talk show hosts
told their listeners to call and email people in Congress, and to call and email various Republican organizations, including the Republican National Committee, and to take all these actions repeatedly. They provided phone numbers and email addresses, and they indicated the general message that should be conveyed. They didn’t do this only once in one show: they did it throughout their shows, on every show….It was repeated over and over and over. You couldn’t listen to one of the major conservative talk shows without hearing it within five minutes of tuning in. It went on all the time…they condemned those Republicans, including Bush, who supported the bill without mercy. They told people to inform the RNC and all the appropriate Congressmen and Senators that they would receive no further support of any kind, including financial support, unless the bill was defeated. In their view, support of the bill was a betrayal of core conservative principles. They therefore maintained that any such alleged “conservatives” did not deserve to be in office. As one, they said that these betrayers of the conservative faith should not hold power any longer — and that the principles they believed were imperiled were more important than the continuation in power by the Republican party. As a result of all these shows hammering the identical theme without interruption, in every hour of every show on multiple shows for days at a time, Congress was inundated with calls and messages from deeply angry Republicans. And here is the point to take home: it worked.Democrats appear to understand this difference. They seem to know that if they withstand the initial blast from the base it will abate and there will be no consequences. It is a comprehensive failure of leadership by progressive activists. Ask why they can’t sustain pressure and unity of purpose and you’ll likely hear a combination of denial, spin and condescension that goes something like “that’s because we can simultaneously consider more than one thought.” Unfortunately that’s a reflex and not a response. Progressives’ suceptibility to being disorganized and flitting about from one issue to the next to the next means that even the most pressing and fundamental problems have to compete for attention with the flavor of the day. The fact that no actual change happens despite all their efforts is a scathing indictment and irrefutable proof of their impotence. The fact that they won’t recognize their weaknesses and strive against them even in the midst of a Constitutional crisis is nothing less than a betrayal.
- We’re spending millions on street cameras courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security.
- Since street cameras won’t give you the big picture we also need “broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery”, i.e. satellites spying on us. Remember when doing that to our enemies nearly started a war?
- A post-mortem on how the FISA law happened, if you’re interested in that level of detail.
- When Bush unilaterally launches a war against Iran we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned. Understatement of the year: “Bush and Vice President Cheney take a broad view of executive power.”
- Here’s what can happen these days to a “US citizen arrested on US soil.”
One follow up on last week’s post - Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House had this to say about the satellite spying program:
I have recognized in the past that programs like the Terrorist Surveillance Program – if it is properly administered – is a distasteful but necessary price to pay to fight al-Qaeda and its offshoots in this country….I challenge any conservative to defend this anti-democratic, anti-privacy program in terms of classic conservative dogma. It cannot be done.
It’s good to know there’s one conservative upset about one program somewhere, and in general I think Rick is one of the few intellectually honest right wing commentators out there. Having said that, his stated reason for generally supporting these power grabs seems almost naïve. Any executive that cooks up the Terrorist Surveillance Program (or anything like it) will not be interested in its proper administration. They are more interested in making extraordinary claims with a dismissive “it’s really not much of a change” tone and hoping to slip them by without protest. Absence of oversight is built in and abuses are anticipated. Please reserve your willful suspension of disbelief for the theater.
One of the worst developments on the national political scene in the last few years has been the all-but-official declaration by the right that they consider themselves Republican before American. It’s partly understandable in light of their history and current circumstances, but that doesn’t excuse it or exempt any of those who are party to the ongoing infidelity.
Historically Republicans are a top-down hierarchy, which has its advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is you’ll sometimes get a “lifetime achievement” nominee like Bob Dole that’s nearly predestined to lose in the general election. If he paid his dues, moved up the ladder and kept the faith he’ll get the nomination because it’s his turn. A much worse liability is that the very discipline and loyalty that can create a remarkably durable coalition can cause them to support leaders even when doing so is against America’s national interest (and sometimes their own). That’s the situation we’re in right now.
A person like George Bush came around at the worst possible time for an organization like the Republican Party. Eight years of Clinton left no anointed successor and the 1996 election left them in no mood to pay tribute to anyone. They wanted a win and when someone with a good name showed up they went into a fugue state; the next thing they knew they’d hitched their wagon to him. Questions about his proposals, experience, past and temperament that in other years might have knocked him out were batted away as partisan bias if they were addressed at all. Once he was elected he was at the top of the heap and everyone fell into line.
He’s now had six plus years of being The Man and has firmly consolidated his hold on the party. The leading figures on the right are loath to be critical of him out of respect for his position, but it’s lead them to neglect their duties to the Constitution. As the nation came to grips with the trauma of 9/11 and began to get its bearings again conservatives should have been leading the charge to undo some of the more outrageous civil liberties giveaways. Certainly by August 2007 it’s time to expect them to take a stand and the FISA legislation gives a perfect snapshot of how comprehensive their betrayal is:
House Republicans voted 186-2 in favor and Senate Republicans voted 43-0. Among leading conservative thinkers Andrew C. McCarthy called for the total elimination of FISA court so the president could “protect our nation from those trying to slaughter us”. (He also writes “Yes, the Patriot Act was the subject of great debate”. Quick timeline: “Introduced…on October 23, the Act swept through Congress remarkably quickly and with little dissent….The bill passed in the House the next day and in the Senate…on October 25. President Bush signed the bill into law on October 26.” Kind of casts a pall on his other points, no?)
The National Review editorialized that Congress
temporarily acknowledged the executive branch’s authority to monitor international communications for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence….This should not have been controversial. The single most important task of any president is to protect the United States from external threats….That task has never been more vital than it is today, when transnational terror networks, seeking access to weapons of enormous power, vow to attack us after killing nearly 3,000 Americans. Yet our defense is hindered by an improvident and outdated legislative scheme, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Ed Morrissey in The Weekly Standard wrote “It’s essential that the president have the requisite tools to conduct surveillance on terrorists plotting to harm Americans and American interests.” I found no commentary at all at The American Enterprise Institute.
Among right wing bloggers Dean Barnett lauded the “much-needed FISA reforms”, Sister Toldjah wrote “Well, while Democrats often won’t vote in favor of a bill in spite of the fact that it would help protect us from terrorism, they will vote for it for two reasons: 1) politics and 2) they wanna go on their summer recess” and Jules Crittenden chimed in with “Losers fail to stop winners in vote vs. enemy, that’s a loss therefore a win, right? Senate backs White House on eavesdropping vs. foreign terror suspects” (embarrassingly awkward syntax in original). Reaction across the board consisted of procedural accounts, political scorekeeping, notes of approval or complete silence.
No conservatives have the courage to say the changes wrapped a tiny loophole change (foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through American infrastructure) up with enormous and unconstitutional executive power grabs. Some argue FISA itself is the problem, conveniently ignoring the alternative enforcement mechanism - Congressional oversight - can be neglected by the legislature or contemptuously ignored by the executive. (If nothing else Bush has demonstrated the value of bureaucracy: It forces process and documentation.) The current crisis can be laid at the feet of both the left and the right - I’ll get to liberals next week - but conservatives bear a larger share of the blame. Their uniform blind obedience has been the primary enabler of tyranny’s lengthening shadow.
The Patriot Act now lets the Justice Department fiddle with the death penalty:
The Justice Department is putting the final touches on regulations that could give Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales important new sway over death penalty cases in California and other states, including the power to shorten the time that death row inmates have to appeal convictions to federal courts.
The rules implement a little-noticed provision in last year’s reauthorization of the Patriot Act that gives the attorney general the power to decide whether individual states are providing adequate counsel for defendants in death penalty cases. The authority has been held by federal judges.
Add to the catalog of horrors here. Because when toy stores brazenly sell fake Rubik’s Cubes you know Osama has triumphed. Pretty soon we’ll be able to liveblog the erosion of our freedoms.
Karl Rove has resigned with the intention of “spending more time with his family.” And there is a certain kind of politician who needs to quit their political life in the interests of family — specifically, the disgraced kind.
Like any paranoid liberal, I found myself wondering “uh oh, NOW what’s he up to?” But irrespective of Rove’s future political life, I think a pause in the interests of healthy reflection would be appropriate.
For all of Rove’s talk about a “permanent Republican majority,” he managed to accomplish exactly the opposite of what he had intended. The Rovian modus operendi, carried out by Bush, Cheney, Hastert, DeLay, Frist and others was to strive to acheive a 51% legislative majority by any means necessary, then execute the law like a battering ram on the strength of “political capital.” And when I am completely honest with myself, I think - in the wake of 9/11 and the Democratic swing of the 1990’s - they would have been highly successful with their policy aims if they had not been such bullies about it.
So as a progressive, maybe I should send them each a “thank-you” note…
So to future elected officials, please take home a clear lesson: Nobody wants to be goverened this way. This style of governance only empowers your adversaries. Comporomise is part of healthy government. This does not mean “compromise your principles,” but “keep your enemies close” — and above all, try to find common ground.
The last six years have politically been a nightmare. I feel like I’ve had a concussion. But I can’t help but be an optimist. I am excited for the future. But we must be vigilant.
I expect we’ll be seeing a bit more of Karl in the future - and maybe from the wrong end of a subpoena. But till then, let’s keep slogging. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’!