I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Everything you ever wanted to know about how our government and media work

This Feingold Censure Resolution is unmasking the hideous underbelly of almost every Washington institution as vividly as anything that can be recalled. Each of the rotted Beltway branches is playing so true to form that the distinct forms of corruption and dishonesty which characterize each of them are standing nakedly revealed. As ugly of a sight as it is, it is highly instructive to watch it all unfold.

Let us being with these profiles in courage from your leading Democratic Senators, showing the nation how strong and tough they are:

"I haven't read it," demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).

"I just don't have enough information," protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). "I really can't right now," John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters -- an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.). . . .

So nonplused were Democrats that even Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), known for his near-daily news conferences, made history by declaring, "I'm not going to comment." Would he have a comment later? "I dunno," the suddenly shy senator said.

Republicans were grateful for the gift. The office of Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) put a new "daily feature" on its Web site monitoring the censure resolution: "Democrat co-sponsors of Feingold Resolution: 0." . . .

Many of Feingold's Democratic colleagues agree that Bush abused his authority with the NSA spying program. And they know liberal Democratic activists are eager to see Bush censured, or worse. But they also know Feingold's maneuver could cost them seats in GOP states. . . .

"Most of us feel at best it's premature," announced Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.). "I don't think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened is illegal."

The column goes on and on like that, also naming Debbie Stabenow, Mary Landrieu, and Jeff Bingaman as Senators who virtually tripped over their own feet running away from the Feingold Resolution. There were a few -- very few -- honorable exceptions:

Dodd must not have checked with Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa). "The president broke the law and he needs to be held accountable," he said. "Talk about high crimes and misdemeanors!" Harkin said he'll vote for the Feingold resolution -- if it comes up.

And Reid did say: "Senator Feingold is a man of principle . . . I think that people should cool their jets and let the process takes its course." But when asked about his view on the Resolution, he would only say this: "It's a question that's been asked 33 times in the last few hours And so, for the 34th time, I'm going to say the same thing: I'm going to wait . . . ."

As a result of all of this, we have seen headlines over the last two days like this:

* Feingold Draws Little Support for Censure

* Some Democrats Wary of Resolution On Wiretapping

* Democrats Beat Quick Retreat on Call to Censure President

That's the way to show the country how Democrats will take a stand. It's always a great political move when the verb "retreat" is used in a headline -- accurately -- to describe the conduct of Democrats. And abandoning one's own ally and fellow party member, while wallowing in so much fear as to not even be able to articulate a position, is really a great way to demonstrate the courage and principle that lays at the heart of the Democratic Party. It's almost as though they are purposely re-inforcing all of the weakness and indecision imagery which has been imposed on them so successfully for the last couple of decades.

Making matters much more inexplicable, and infuriating, is this list, compiled by Liberal Oasis, of the 24 Senators (19 Democrats, 4 Republicans and Jeffords) who are still in the Senate and who co-sponsored Dianne Feinstein's resolution to censure Bill Clinton (not just for lying but expressly for having an "inappropriate relationship" with an adult woman). Included on the list are many Senators who are afraid thus far to support Feingold's resolution -- including Schumer, Reid, Landrieu, Feinstein and Kennedy. Most political positions are subject to reasonable debate. Favoring a censure of Bill Clinton while opposing a censure of George Bush isn't one of them.

And, relating to A.L.'s post below on the abject willingness of the media to simply pass along even factually false claims, much of the fear exhibited by Democrats is based on this factually false premise repeated in today's Washington Post:

Many Democrats, while sympathetic to Feingold's maneuver, appeared to be distancing themselves from his resolution yesterday, wary of polls showing that a majority of Americans side with the president on wiretapping tactics.

That is just so very false. Reading polls is not that hard. Even reporters -- and Democratic consultants -- ought to be able to manage that. And one poll after the next for weeks now has shown that a majority believes (.pdf) that the President broke the law, and that a majority opposes eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. There is just no excuse for this falsehood to be repeated.

Finally we come to a characteristically vile little e-mail sent around by Ken Mehlman, exhibiting the only tactic Bush followers really can rely on these days -- accusing anyone who criticizes George Bush of supporting The Terrorists:

This week, liberal Democrat Russ Feingold called on the Senate to censure the President for a program that is successfully stopping terrorists. After months of searching, Democrat leaders are finally beginning to find their agenda: take away the tools America needs tofight terror. . . .

Weakening our national security is their agenda. Is it yours? Sign the petition to tell the Democrat leaders to stop undermining the War onTerror with cheap political stunts. We are a nation at war. Our President has no more basic responsibility than to protect the American people and fight terrorists who want to kill us.

It's one thing if a lone Senator wants our government to look the other way when an Al Qaeda terrorist contacts a sleeper cell inside the United States. It's entirely another when Democrat minority leader Harry Reid commends Feingold's censure move for "bringing [theterrorist surveillance program] to the attention of the American people."

So, to summarize what our survey reveals: We have Democrats running and hiding, afraid to stand up to the President even when he gets caught breaking the law. We have the media mindlessly reporting GOP talking points even when they are factually false and when the falsehood could be easily verified with about 60 seconds of research. And we have Republicans accusing those few Democrats who are willing to criticize the Leader of being on the side of Terrorists, while the media passes along those false accusations without comment and Democrats run away and hide some more, never showing any offense or anger at all from watching Republicans accuse them of treason.

That's our system of government, in a nutshell. These events over the last 24 hour news cycle, by themselves, would be sufficient to teach a Civics class how our national political institutions work right now. That is the system which Sen. Feingold decided to disrupt, and few things need disruption more than this morass of dishonesty and principle-free corruption that permeates every single component of our national political life.


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