The so-called “Democrats” who control Congress showed what they’re made of yesterday when they voted away fundamental civil liberties that took hundreds of years to win. The House passed the “Abolish Free Communication Act,” allowing virtually unlimited wiretapping, on the grounds of “national security.”. And they guaranteed that Presidents and corporations who break the law on a really grand scale will get total immunity.
As the New York Times describes the bill:
The proposal — particularly the immunity provision — represents a major victory for the White House after months of dispute. “I think the White House got a better deal than they even they had hoped to get,” said Senator Christopher Bond, the Missouri Republican who led the negotiations.
The funniest thing about the new bill were the statements of its Democratic enablers of their grand victory for the rule of law. They wrote in the bill that the President must obey the law. Of course, that principle has been around since the Constitution. Yet this bill gives a President who has flagrantly broken the law for years complete immunity for having done so. So the effect is to tell future Presidents that, if they break the law, they should do so on a truly grand scale, literally millions of times. Then they will get immunity instead of impeachment and life in prison. And their illegal acts will in turn be legalized by their enablers.
Barak Obama also showed his priorities by announcing he’ll reluctantly vote for this shredding of the Constitution, though he is oh so disappointed about it. After all, it’s a “compromise” that just happens to give Bush everything he wanted, and more. But that’s bipartisanship for you.
Jack Balkin at Balkinization explains why Obama supports the bill:
Barrack Obama plans to be the next President of the United States. Once he becomes President, he will be in the same position as George W. Bush: he wants all the power he needs to protect the country. Moreover, he will be the beneficiary of a Democratic-controlled Congress, and he wants to get some important legislation passed in his first two years in office.
Given these facts, why in the world would Obama oppose the current FISA compromise bill? If it’s done on Bush’s watch, he doesn’t have to worry about wasting political capital on it in the next year. Perhaps it gives a bit too much power to the executive. But he plans to be the executive, and he can institute internal checks within the Executive Branch that can keep it from violating civil liberties as he understands them. And not to put too fine a point on it, once he becomes president, he will likely see civil liberties issues from a different perspective anyway.
So, in short, from Obama’s perspective, what’s not to like?…
So, let’s sum up: Congress gives the President new powers that Obama can use. Great. (This is change we can believe in). Obama doesn’t have to expend any political capital to get these new powers. Also great. Finally, Obama can score points with his base by criticizing the retroactive immunity provisions, which is less important to him going forward than the new powers. Just dandy.
It should now be clear why the Obama campaign has taken the position it has taken. And given what I have just said, Obama’s supporters should be pressing him less on the immunity provisions and more on the first part of the bill which completely rewrites FISA. Because, if he becomes president, he’ll be the one applying and enforcing its provisions.
There is a lesson here that preserving rights never depends upon politicians, be they boring Congressman or Knights in Shining Armour. They know only money an political expediency. And expediency means serving the powerful. Rights can only be protected by a public willing and able to fight for them, to wrest them from the powerful. Until we have such a mobilized and empowered public we will have few rights we can be assured of preserving.
For details on what Congress did, read Glenn Greenwald’s latest in Salon: George Bush’s latest powers, courtesy of the Democratic Congress:
That’s the “compromise” Steny Hoyer negotiated and which he is now — according to very credible reports — pressuring every member of the Democratic caucus to support. It’s full-scale, unconditional amnesty with no inquiry into whether anyone broke the law. In the U.S. now, thanks to the Democratic Congress, we’ll have a new law based on the premise that the President has the power to order private actors to break the law, and when he issues such an order, the private actors will be protected from liability of any kind on the ground that the Leader told them to do it — the very theory that the Nuremberg Trial rejected….
I’d like to underscore the fact that in 2006, when the Congress was controlled by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert, the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to accomplish that.
And isn’t it so odd how this “compromise” — just like the Military Commissions Act, the Protect America Act and all the other great “compromises” from the Bush era which precede this one — is producing extreme indignation only from those who believe in civil liberties and the rule of law, while GOP Bush followers seem perfectly content and happy with it? I wonder if that suggests that what the Democratic leadership is supporting isn’t really a “compromise” at all.
To call this bill a capitulation is to give it greater credit than it deserves. See the anti-Steny Hoyer ad Greenwald and colleagues have prepared.
June 21st, 2008