Watch out for this fellow, John McCain. He manages to be both the anti-Bush within the Republican Party, and also Bush's enabler. This schizophrenic role, which his bipartisan fans somehow miss, happens to position McCain perfectly for 2008 as the guy untarnished by all the bad stuff Bush brought us, but who continues the same regime.
Consider the two disgraceful pieces of extra-constitutional legislation that the Bush loyalists are ramming through Congress, first over McCain's objection, then with his help:
One is a law prompted by a Supreme Court ruling in June holding that the government could not set up kangaroo courts at Guantanamo and elsewhere, depriving defendants of all normal rights. (Lest you be reassured, the vote was 6-3, and since then moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been replaced by Samuel Alito.)
The ruling required legislation establishing due process for detainees. The administration responded with an over-the-top proposal that did not allow accused prisoners to see or challenge the evidence against them, suspended habeas corpus, and authorized what by any normal definition is torture disallowed by the Geneva Conventions.
At this last provision, McCain balked. He and his two Republican allies on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lindsey Graham and John Warner, rose to defend the Geneva Conventions as protecting US prisoners and the American soul.
But then deep negotiations with the administration ensued. When the parties emerged, the compromise looked uncannily like the original administration bill. Nominally, we reaffirm the Geneva protections. But the bill explicitly authorizes the president to define what that means. A detainee's right to challenge his detention to an independent judge (habeas corpus) is still eliminated, as is the right of the accused to see evidence. And the CIA retains the ability to spirit people to third countries that don't even pretend to ban torture.
The bill passed the Senate Thursday on a mostly party-line vote. Supporting it were Senators Graham, Warner, and John McCain.
A judge friend of mine advised, ``This will never stand up in court." Excuse me, judge, but have you checked the Supreme Court lately? One more change, and this court would uphold Torquemada.
Meanwhile, in the other ring of the extra-constitutional circus, the House passed legislation Thursday to legalize the secret NSA spying on Americans that violates the very Patriot Act written by the Bush administration. The Senate has not yet acted. McCain criticized the spying when it leaked out last December, but is not fighting the bill.
Bush wasted no time in blasting Democrats who opposed either bill, as allies of terrorists. ``Five years after 9/11," he told a Florida Republican audience, ``the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and second guessing." Such rhetoric was sufficient to intimidate 12 of the Senate's 44 Democrats to vote with the administration on the detainee bill, undercutting the very kind of principled obstruction that this republic needs as our sacred rights are dismantled.
But back to McCain, and fast forward to 2008. Bush is in his last year. His popularity ratings are below 30 percent. The economy has tanked because the trade deficit and budget deficit continued to explode. Iraq is a cauldron. The voters can't wait for this eight-year ordeal to be over, and the Democrats are clamoring to throw the rascals out.
But wait. There's John McCain! Isn't he the Republican who challenged Bush on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? Didn't he fearlessly investigate the corrupt Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff? Didn't he resist the right's immigrant-bashing? Didn't he cross the aisle to work with Democrats John Kerry on Vietnam POWs and MIAs, and Russ Feingold on the (worse than useless) McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act?
What a guy! You can just imagine the truly revolting columns by gullible Washington pundits on McCain as just the kind of bipartisan that the republic needs.
In fact, McCain votes 90 percent of the time as an ordinary far-right conservative, and when push comes to shove, he gives the administration what it wants. The morning line used to be that the fundamentalist GOP base would never go for McCain, but that was last year. This year, McCain has made highly publicized appearances genuflecting to religious-right icons.
Despite an abiding mutual distaste, he and Karl Rove have kissed and made up, because they need each other -- McCain to get elected president, Rove to continue the regime. If we are taken in by this act, we will face a permanent right-wing takeover of our democracy.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior fellow at Demos. His column appears regularly in the Globe.
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