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House Democratic Leadership: Not Just Complicit but Also Self-Destructive
The signs are unmistakably clear that what was always inevitable -- full compliance by the House Democratic leadership with Bush's demands on warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty -- is now imminent. House leaders spent the week floating their specific proposals for how they intend to comply in full, and yesterday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes went on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, refused to criticize the President or the Senate FISA bill, and repeatedly and meekly expressed his willingness "this week" to give what he called full "blanket immunity" to telecoms (C&L has the video of Reyes' astoundingly weak and incoherent answers in response to Blitzer's Bush-mimicking questions).
This is, of course, everything except surprising. No rational person who has watched Congressional Democrats since they took over Congress could possibly have expected them to do anything but what they always do: namely, whatever they're told to do by the White House. The last thing they were ever going to do was stand their ground over Americans' basic liberties and the rule of law, concepts about which they couldn't possibly care less.
The whole drama they started when they refused to pass the Senate bill by the deadline was never about anything substantive. They were just throwing a little petulant tantrum because they felt they were being treated unfairly again because they were given only a few days to comply with the President's orders, when they wanted a couple of weeks to comply.
And their irritation wasn't even directed at the President as much as it was at the Senate for being so unfair in waiting until the deadline to pass a FISA bill, thus giving the House only a small amount of time to capitulate in full (on CNN, Chairman Reyes refrained almost completely from criticizing the White House, instead reserving his criticism for the Senate over this procedural insult). The only "principle" the bulk of Congress believes in is the preservation of their own ceremonial customs. That's all this drama was ever about.
There's very little point anymore in writing about how the Congressional Democratic leadership is complicit in all of the worst Bush abuses, or about how craven they are. All of that is far too documented and established at this point to be worth spending any time discussing. They were never going to take a stand against warrantless eavesdropping or the destruction of the rule of law via telecom amnesty for one simple reason: many of them don't actually oppose those things, and many who claim to oppose them don't actually care about any of it. That's all a given.
But what is somewhat baffling in all of this is just how politically stupid and self-destructive their behavior is. If the plan all along was to give Bush everything he wanted, as it obviously was, why not just do it at the beginning? Instead, they picked a very dramatic fight that received substantial media attention. They exposed their freshmen and other swing-district members to attack ads. They caused their base and their allies to spend substantial energy and resources defending them from these attacks.
And now, after picking this fight and letting it rage for weeks, they are going to do what they always do -- just meekly give in to the President, yet again generating a tidal wave of headlines trumpeting how they bowed, surrendered, caved in, and lost to the President. They're going to cast the appearance that they engaged this battle and once again got crushed, that they ran away in fear because of the fear-mongering ads that were run and the attacks from the President. They further demoralize their own base and increase the contempt in which their base justifiably holds them (if that's possible). It's almost as though they purposely picked the path that imposed on themselves all of the political costs with no benefits.
Even with their ultimate, total compliance with the President's orders, they're still going to be attacked as having Made Us Less Safe -- by waiting weeks to capitulate, rather than doing so immediately, they opened up critical intelligence gaps, caused us to lose vital intelligence, made us less safe, etc. But now, they have no way to defend themselves against those accusations because, at the end of the day, they are admitting that the President was right all along, that telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping are good and important things that the President should have had all along. So why didn't they just give it to him before the law expired? It was a loss for them on every level.
I doubt there are very many Americans who expect at this point that the Democratic leadership will take a stand against the President due to any actual beliefs. But shouldn't politicians be at least a little bit shrewd about their own political self-interest? As craven and ugly as their capitulation will be, the political "strategy" they chose is actually just more self-destructive than it is anything else. Obviously, they have no real political principles, but don't they have any strategic instinct at all?
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.
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