Christopher Dodd’s Make or Break Moment
President Bush is no chump. He has figured out how to emasculate the Democrats (those that aren’t already eunuchs). Instead of making a decent estimate of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and asking for it up front for the 2008 fiscal year, he is asking for it piecemeal, giving Democrats opportunity after opportunity to turn him down and end it all, knowing all the while that they’ll cave and give him his war money.
Each time he does this, and each time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s minions deliver, the Democrats sink in public esteem, to the point that they’re now approaching single-digit approval ratings.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), a veteran legislator and son of a senator, and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, has shown, however, how to fight back. Not on the war funding, although he claims to want the war ended immediately, but on the issue of the Constitution, and specifically the warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency.
Dodd, last week, announced that he was placing a "hold" on new permanent legislation developed by the Democrats, in coordination with some Senate Republicans, saying he would not let it pass unless a provision granting immunity to telecom companies that had been aiding the NSA in their spying activities was removed. He vowed to filibuster the bill if his colleagues tried to move it to a vote.
In so doing, he gave the lie to the fraud that has been perpetrated by Pelosi and Reid that they and the Democrats are "powerless" to stop the war unless they have "60 votes" in the Senate. (That canard has been spouted so many times, and repeated so often uncritically in the media, that many Americans now actually think it takes 60 votes, not a simple majority of 51, to pass legislation in the US Senate!)
What Pelosi and Reid are alluding to actually is the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture on a filibuster. They are claiming that efforts to end the war cannot succeed because any bill calling for withdrawal would be filibustered by Republicans and that the Democrats, with a 51-majority caucus in the Senate, could not stop a filibuster. Dodd, however, is showing that they can prevent bad legislation by being the ones doing the filibustering, and that they then only need 41 votes–something they clearly could muster if the party’s leadership were behind it.
So Dodd is testing out this theory on the stinking betrayal of a bill the Democrats have come up with for the NSA. If he succeeds in blocking that bill, he will finally have to put his money where his mouth is, and anti-war bonifides by placing a similar hold on Bush’s new request for $46 billion more for the Iraq War.
That in turn would put the Democrats to the test. If, after running a campaign last fall promising they would end Bush’s war, and after failing miserably to do so for the past 10 months in power in Congress, they did not support a filibuster against further funding, they would stand exposed as the worst kind of charlatans and fraudsters.
Dodd, meanwhile, just two and a half months ahead of the start of the primary season, has a golden chance to vault himself to the head of the Democratic pack by making a genuine, concrete effort to end the war.
It wouldn’t matter if he failed. If Sen. Dodd were to put a hold on funding for the war, and were then to stand in the well of the Senate and filibuster any effort to pass such a bill, forcing his Democratic colleagues to expose themselves finally as being either for ending the war or continuing it, he would be an instant star of the anti-war movement. The 80-90 percent of Democrats who are opposed to the war would stampede to his support. Obama and Clinton, who are in the Senate with Dodd, would be forced to decide whether they wanted to continue to play to the party’s right wing and its corporate funders, or whether they would cast their lot with the peace wing.
So Sen. Dodd, this is it. Blocking the NSA from spying on us without probable cause is a good thing, and we thank you for that. But there is an even more urgent matter: Americans and innocent Iraqis are dying every day in a criminal and pointless war. If you can use Senate privilege to block the NSA bill, you can use it to block further funding for the Iraq War. And if you really want to end that war, as you keep saying you do, you have proven that you have the power to do it.
Are you just another big talker, or are you going to do it?
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org