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, November 02, 2005

Parrots, robots & scripts

Shouldn't one of the benefits of being a United States Senator be that you get to say what you want, how you want, without someone pulling controlling puppet strings attached to your mouth and forcing you to read from a script? Apparently, it isn't.

I have been reading with amazement (and, honestly, a little bit of pity) the comments of Republican senators regarding the tactic invoked yesterday by Sen. Harry Reid which resulted in a surprise, closed-door session.

Apparently, Republican senators were told at some point within the last 24 hours that they had to call this event a "stunt" -- not a trick, or a scheme, or a gimmick or a ploy -- the dictate was to call it a "stunt". And, like dutiful, obedient little puppets, they paraded in front of the cameras and in front of reporters and mindlessly read from the script they were given, many doing so more than once.

Just listen to them chirp away in harmony:

Sen. Pat Roberts

"Now we have this ... stunt 24 hours after their staff was informed that we were moving to closure next week," a clearly angry Roberts told reporters. "If that's not politics, I'm not standing here."

Sen. Pat Roberts

Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said the closed session was "not needed, not necessary and, in my personal opinion, was a stunt."

Sen. Bill Frist

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who sounded angrier than at any moment since he arrived in the Senate ten years ago, derided Reid’s move as "a political stunt."

Sen. George Allen

"This procedural ambush to shut down legislative action in the U.S. Senate is a blatant political stunt. If the Democratic leaders were interested in discussing intelligence issues, they would have acted in a responsible manner. They chose deplorable political games rather than serious leadership."

Sen. John Cornyn

"It’s clear from this political stunt that Senate Democrats will go to extraordinary and unprecedented measures to obstruct the business of the American people.

Headline on - Candidate for Understatement of the Year

"GOP calls closed session 'a stunt'" story

Livid Republicans decried the Democrats' move as nothing more than "a stunt."

And that's just a small sampling. I must have heard that word from 20 different Republicans -- senators and the yapping pundits alike -- on television last night and this morning.

Apparently, the GOP Senators were given a little bit of semantic freedom, as they were allowed to add "political" before the word "stunt," if they were feeling really brave and creative. Congratulations to Senators Frist, Allen and Cornyn for their boldness in exercising that audacious option.

Marvel at this level of semantic submission - in less than 24 hours after the end of an event, they are all marching in lock-step, parroting the same script down to the words selected.

The concept of talking points is hardly unique to Republicans, and there is, I suppose, a degree of political value in "message discipline."

But aren't they embarrassed to so blatantly mouth words that were shoved into their mouth by some collective dictate? Wouldn't you except U.S. Senators to have at least a minimal amount of dignity and autonomy and insist on the right to express themselves using whatever words they choose? Apparently, anybody with that expectation would be quite wrong.

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