It is good that President George W. Bush is not much of a reader: If he were late in returning a library book, Congress might try to change the date on the calendar! An absurdity of similar proportions is taking place, only it is not just absurd but criminal too, as it covers up a criminal act. One wonders what the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have thought of it all. Moynihan, who coined the phrase, defining deviancy down, seeing his old chamber, the United States Senate as it stands on the verge of doing something way beyond defining deviancy down. Would he have said, legalizing lawbreaking lamely?
Unfortunately, instead of making it a political debate, the Senate and Congress, petty traders all, have turned it into a business negotiation on whether telecom companies should or should not be liable for their role in assisting the government to break the law. The great argument now raging hinges on whether these business should be granted retroactive immunity or not. The late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale once defined the difference between a dog and a lion. When beaten with a stick, he said, the dog attacks the stick; the lion goes after the hand holding the stick. Not for the first time, the Democrats (save for a few) are busy once more staging a feint by fulminating against the stick instead of tackling its wielder. After all, these are the very same folks who fought the 2004 election on the claim that they would wage a smarter war in Iraq (see Rummy’s Reprieve)!
The facts could not be simpler. The Administration broke the law. Instead of punishing the lawberakers, we are debating whether to change the law to bring them into compliance.
In 2005, it was reported that the Bush Administration had been wilfully disregarding the 1978 FISA law and had for some years instituted wiretapping without warrants (according to one report, well before the 9-11 events — see Us Warrantless Wiretapping Predates 9/11). This fact alone should have outraged every American and incensed each member of Congress (the Lawmakers) regardless of age, sex or party. However, the ‘Abracadabra’ of our time, ‘Terrorism’, guaranteed to invoke cloture on all debate everywhere, made sure that all noise was hushed. The administration also let it be known that this practice was already known to a few high-ranking Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller, who had been briefed about it. A decent party would have immediately asked them both to step down if this was true. By not doing so, the Democrats have become party to the lawbreaking. Everyone talks about the threats to the country. It was Justice Kennedy who recently reminded everyone that the Constitution is designed to be in force no matter what the circumstances.
Why then is every Senator, Congressman, Governor and other official not on each available radio and television station speaking out on this lawbreaking and building public opinon? They did not speak out when Habeas Corpus was wiped out with the Military Commissions Act. They are busy debating nuances now.
And where is the Angel of Change at this crucial hour? Busy playing for the Hispanic vote. Barack Obama has already shot his bolt, saying he will vote for the current FISA bill, and hinting darkly that unless the vote goes through, there will be loopholes in the law leaving the country open to unnamed threats. A laughable notion, wouldn’ you say? Didn’t this whole business start because the Government cared nothing for the law? As Bob Ostertag wrote in the Huffington Post,
“Imagine how inspired you would have been if, instead of turning and running, Obama was interrupting his campaign schedule to fly to Washington and lead the filibuster against the FISA legislation. Take the money donate it instead to Russ Feingold, the senator who is leading the struggle. Then tell everyone you know to do the same.”
But don’t be too surprised at our Barack (see The Banality of Hype), who like Yossarian, is happy to win the election, no matter if it means losing the country in the process.
“And how many divisions has the Pope?”, asked Stalin, famously. I’m sure no one appreciates Stalin’s taunt more than George W. Bush. What (the $%#^&*%^) are you going to do about it? has been his jibe at the Democrats again and again, as he flings his lies and lawbreaking in their face. The Republicans are camp followers. The Democrats are a scared lot. When they were in a minority, they claimed they could not do anything. When the got a majority they cried off saying they did not have a filibuster-proof majority (if the Republicans could filibuster while being a minority, why could not the Democrats when they were in the opposition? Don’t ask. They won’t tell). Complaining about either party is as good as complaining about the weather. The point is, what are we going to do about it? Or more pertinently, what are we willing to do?
Here’s what we can do immediately. We tell every Senator that if he or she votes for this bill, we will work to defeat that Senator in the upcoming election, regardless of party. The Constitution is above parties. And yes, that goes for Senator Change also. And for Senator 100-Years-in-Iraq as well. There is a website, The Strange Bedfellows, which is engaged in exactly such an effort. Start by contributing to it, and then act on your threat to defeat those who will not stand up to defend the Constitution.
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.