It's bad enough that the Democratic Congress went along with the Bush administration's demands to limit court reviews of foreign wiretaps. As more details emerge of the rushed revisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which were approved before Congress left town for its August break, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported in the Aug. 19 New York Times that the new surveillance powers allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include -- without court approval, and in apparent violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution -- certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans' business records.
Bush administration securocrats told the Times there would be "strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance," but it should be noted that the Bush administration ignored the strict rules that were in place before the FISA revisions. The securocrats also said the president still claims "constitutional authority to do whatever it takes to protect the country, regardless of any action Congress takes ... Senior Justice Department officials refused to commit the administration to adhering to the limits laid out in the new legislation and left open the possibility that the president could once again use what they have said in other instances is his constitutional authority to act outside the regulations set by Congress."
Meanwhile, Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales has repeatedly been contradicted in testimony to congressional committees and the White House has refused to allow current and former aides to testify before Congress or produce relevant documents, thumbing its nose at Constitutional oversight.
At least Congress put a six-month expiration on the FISA revisions. Contact your Congress member and senators to insist that they let FISA return to its Constitutional status. If the 1978 rules were good enough to keep track of the Soviets, who actually had a navy, an air force and spies dispersed around the world, the old rules ought be be good enough to keep track of al Qaeda operating in the frontiers of Pakistan. Some technical adjustments might be needed to account for changes in technology in the Internet Age. But certainly Democrats should expect more from the Bush administration than, "Trust us."
Sometimes critics berate us for putting up with Democrats instead of supporting independents and/or alternative partisans. Lame acts like the FISA?revisions don't make it easier for us. (And we don't cut House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid too much slack. While large majorities of the Democrats in the House and Senate opposed the cave-in, the bill still would have not have passed without the leadership clearing the way.) But there are several Democratic parties -- progressive Dems on the left, Blue Dogs and Democratic Leadership Council types on the right and any number of combinations in between. Compare those mixers-and-matchers with the Republican Party, which enforces orthodoxy that Pelosi and Reid can only dream about.
Pelosi and Reid are not the enemy -- fear is the enemy and the GOP have worked that theme artfully ever since 9/11. Too many congressional Democrats fear Washington lobbyists and Fox News more than they fear their constituents. But taking out congressional Democrats at the ballot box doesn't make sense unless you are replacing them with someone who is more progressive. And most of the House districts that, in an idealistic world, might elect Greens or progressive independents already are electing pretty good Dems.
In other states or House districts, until Congress or legislatures are persuaded to enact instant runoff elections or proportional representation, we don't see the merit in splitting the progressive vote between Democrats and alternative partisans, allowing Republicans to win. Damn me for a patronizer if you must, but if Greens or progressives can't win a Democratic primary they aren't going to win a general election either.
Next year, as Dems try to expand their 29-seat House majority, they will need to protect some tough House seats. One of them is the 9th District in Indiana, where Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com noted Aug. 20 that in the last three cycles, Baron Hill (D) and Mike Sodrel (D) have squared off, with the seat flipping each time (Hill, Sodrel, Hill). Hill ranks with fellow Indiana freshmen Dem Reps. Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth near the bottom in "party unity" scores, mainly because of their conservative social policy views, Moulitsas noted, but their votes keep the House in Democratic control. He noted, "50% of a House member is better than 0%, as obnoxious as it may seem at times."
One of the National Republican Congressional Committee's top targets will be the 8th District in Georgia, where Rep. Jim Marshall (D) won by less than 2,000 votes in a district the GOP redrew mid-decade in a partisan power grab. While the conservative Marshall sided with Bush on Iraq war and torture authorization votes, Moulitsas noted that he still votes with the Democratic Party 80.5% of the time, "a number that would drop to zero to 5% if Republicans grab the seat. So yeah, I'm still rooting for him to pull this off."
A Gallup Poll released Aug. 21 found that congressional approval ratings have dropped to a record low 18%. Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com noted that the the overall ratings for Congress are so low because only 21% of Democrats approve of the Democratic Congress. That's not much better than Republican approval (18%). (Independents give Congress 17% approval.)
Gallup noted that Americans gave Dems the majority in Congress in November 2006 in large part due to frustration with the Iraq war and an ineffective and scandal-plagued Republican-led Congress. But approval ratings have dropped from 35% in January as Republicans have blocked Dems' attempts to force a change in Iraq war policy and bottled up much of the Democrats' domestic agenda in the Senate.
Greenwald attributes the unpopularity of Congress, particularly among Democrats, to "their ongoing capitulations to the Bush administration, their failure to place any limits on his Iraq policy, and their general inability/refusal to serve as a meaningful check on the administration. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly dislike the President. Thus, the weaker Congress is in defying the President, the more unpopular Congress becomes."
Democrats disappoint progressive populists at times but Republicans have shown consistently that they will go out of their way to screw progressive initiatives and working people. The Bush administration has distinguished itself with the neglect of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The recess appointment of Richard Stickler, a mining executive, last fall to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration, over the objections of the United Mine Workers, the AFL-CIO and Senate Democrats, set the administration's standard for worker safety. Bush even opposes expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program, telling working parents that they should take their kids to hospital emergency rooms when they get sick if they can't afford private insurance.
The 2006 election victories of Democrats should have given the party more confidence in dealing with the con men, but 16 Democratic senators and 41 House Dems fell for the Bush bamboozle on FISA. Shame on them, but at least Rep. John Conyers at Judiciary and Rep. Henry Waxman at the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Sen. Pat Leahy at the Judiciary Committee are documenting the corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration, building a potential case for impeachment in case the Democratic leaders find their backbones.
If your Congress member won't shape up, find somebody else to run. Preferably in the Democratic primary. -- JMC
Subscribe to The Progressive Populist