Doctor (Frist) Assisted Suicide in the Senate
"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence
"Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. "
An Englishman does everything on principle: he fights you on patriotic principles; he robs you on business principles; he enslaves you on imperial principles.
George Bernard Shaw
Jeeves: That jacket does not become you, sir.
Wooster: But it was made by the best tailor in London!
Jeeves: I’m not saying a word against his morals, sir.
PG Wodehouse (paraphrased)
That last quote came to mind as I saw that four Democrats had decided to vote for Alito because they thought him to be an ‘honorable man’.
A similar impulse (so they say) led 19 Democrats who did not think a filibuster, on principle, was the way to stop Samuel Alito from being an arbiter of our lives for the next several decades, to vote for cloture on the Alito filibuster. Most of them would vote against him, again on principle, the following day,
It reminded me of the guy who invited his friend to breakfast one morning. When the friend showed up, he found his host sitting at the table, dressed in formal jacket and tie, awaiting him. "Wow", said the friend. "I didn’t realize this was a formal affair…Is someone else coming?" "No, no", replied the host. "But I like to be prepared, because you never know when someone important might stop by…" The friend found this logic a little intricate for that early hour, but he sat down to breakfast. Meal over, the host got up, and the friend was shocked to see him wearing just a pair of shorts under his jacket. "How come you’re wearing shorts with that jacket and tie?" he asked. The host replied, "Well, you see, sometimes no one important stops by…"
The Democrats are astonishing. This president stands before the country and says, "… the FISA law was written in 1978. We’re having this discussion in 2006. It’s a different world." If Bush feels laws from 1978 are antiquated (and therefore don’t need to be obeyed), how do you think he views the Constitution, written in the 1780’s? Dealing with such a cabal, which speaks openly of its contempt for the laws, the Democrats are overcome with notions of decorum. Trotsky summarized the attitudes of the contenders in the Russian Constituent Assembly in 1918, "Thus democracy entered upon the struggle with dictatorship heavily armed with sandwiches and candles." Trotsky’s own side had come prepared with guns.
When Bush says, we’re in a post-9-11 world, he is right in a way, but not in the way one might think. What he means is the politics, not the national situation. In terms of national emergencies, 9-11 is hardly a greater tragedy than the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the Depression, Pearl Harbor and WWII, the Oklahoma bombing,.. After all, the country got along fine without a Patriot Act for forty years during the Cold War, when there was a superpower with missiles aimed at every major city in the US, whose spies were everywhere, all backed by a militarily impregnable state! What does Bush mean when he says 9-11 changed everything? It changed everything for Bush. He could use it as his Reichstag Fire (I use the analogy only for what was done with the incident, not its cause) to create an endless fear psychosis, a political ATM to be milked at will for expanding his powers.
The Democrats have played right along. What deference they have for decorum and politeness, what passion for examining each issue on its merits! As for the seven members of the group of 14 — Peace in our Time! Robert Byrd has set all his magnificent speeches at nought by his Alito vote — an honorable man is the judge, he says. Would Byrd’s idol, George Washington, have disbanded his forces because the British deployed an honorable man as general?
Bush is correct. We are at war — with a rampant executive and a rogue president determined to squander our wealth and steal our rights. This is nothing less than a struggle for the country’s freedom, even if the Democrats still don’t get it. Like old Mr. Micawber, they think a majority will ‘turn up’ in November. It will not matter. After all, it was when they had a majority that the Iraq resolution was passed!
And so my fellow Americans, ask not, "When will they learn?" They never will. They now regret voting for the Iraq resolution. Two years later, when Alito casts a couple of bombshell votes, I’m sure they’ll regret voting for the cloture resolution. They remind me of a joke about a bumpkin who was trying to push his old car into the sea. Try as he might, was unable to. He ran off to a wise man of the village for advice. "Get some of your buddies to help you", said the wise man. "If all of you push together, it should be no problem". So the bumpkin took three others with him. An hour later, all of them returned, complaining that the car was still not moving. They had pushed and pushed, but the car wouldn’t budge, they said. Upon closer inquiry, it turned out that each had been pushing from a different direction — one from the front, one from the back, etc.
That is the story of the Senate Democrats — twenty nine of them voted for the Iraq resolution. Many of them voted to confirm Alberto Gonzales and Condoleezza Rice. Yesterday, 19 of them voted to confirm Alito (effectively). The bumpkins did it unknowingly. The Senators did it knowingly. "This chamber reeks of blood", George McGovern said while moving the McGovern-Hatfield amendment in 1970 calling for an end to American engagement and withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. Yesterday’s act smeared the 19 with the blood of their country’s freedom.
As to the Republicans, where is the Hatfield for our times? Instead, there are only money changers, despicable nodders and handmaidens to an incipient fascism, all for no greater cause than to bolster an administration which happens to be rated ‘R’.
You who were sent to defend the country’s laws surrendered before a law-breaking president.
Shame on you all.
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.