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Sunday, August 5, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Jack Balkin, writing at Balkinization is rather unimpressed with the Congress’ behavior on the new FISA bill:

The passage of the new FISA bill by the Senate and now the House demonstrates that the Democrats stand neither for defending civil liberties nor for checking executive power.

They stand for nothing at all.

Conversely, the new bill shows that the Republican Party can get the Democrats to surrender almost any civil liberty- indeed, to give the President just as much unchecked power as he might obtain under a Republican controlled Congress- simply by playing the fear card repeatedly and without shame.


Whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, Congress seems willing to bestow more and more unaccountable power to the President of the United States. The Democratic Party, which has long prided itself on its support for civil liberties, seems altogether to have lost its soul, and the Republican Party, which long contained a strong element of libertarianism and respect for individual freedom- particularly in economic matters- has given up any claims to providing a counterweight to a deluded and incompetent President.

Sadly, this assessment seems pretty much on target. It has long been clear that the Republicans in Congress have been utterly uninterested in curbing the expansion of executive power and have, in fact, contributed mightily to the notion that the only response to 9/11 is fear and fear mongering. Whatever element of the party that was actually fearful of expanded government powers of the lives of everyday citizens has clearly been subordinated to the faction that believes the notion that the only way we can be “safe” is to greatly empower the central government’s police and surveillance powers.

The Democrats, on the other hand, made it quite clear with this vote that they, too, have little real interest in curbing the expansion of executive power and are more concerned with whether or not they look weak on terrorism/national security than they are in adhering to their own supposed principles (at least the alleged principles that their rhetoric suggests they have). It would seem that they have spouted a great number of words about their concerns of an expanding executive branch which sees the needs to needlessly violate civil liberties, but really all they care about is how their actions will influence the next election. After all, they can fix it all when they get control of the White House and Congress, right? Hmm, where have I heard that one before?

It seems rather clear that the current mode of thinking in Washington is to forget about doing the hard work now and pretend like the next election will provide the mighty ability to finally really be able to do The Right Thing (this applies to both parties and their versions of The Right Thing). Instead, each election leads to yet another round of everyone’s favorite DC board game: Let’s Position Ourselves for the Next Election and everyone runs around pretending like they actually stand for something, when, in fact, they appear content only with trying to win the next election.

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Filed under: US Politics, War on Terror | |


  1. Republicans have been “disinterested” in the expansion of executive power? I beg to differ. They have been a completely interested party: the party and its members benefited enormously (in reelection, in earmarks, etc.) from that expansion of power-until, that is, The Chief’s approval numbers finally reached the proverbial toilet in the run-up to the 2006 election. Apparently Democrats are just as interested in flushing the Constitution down that same device as anyone else.

    Comment by MSS — Sunday, August 5, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  2. I have inserted the word “curbing” into the sentence in question so that it now reflects the author’s original intent when he first wrote the sentence.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, August 5, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

  3. You are both, unfortunately, correct about the whole situation and it is sickening. What is a body to do, or who is a body to vote for, as the case may be.

    Comment by Jan — Sunday, August 5, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  4. Hmm, I don’t want to try to be your editor, but the “curbing” still doesn’t do it for me. Maybe the problem is the “disinterested.” I mean, instead of “uninterested,” perhaps?

    I understood the original to mean “do not have a stake in,” look the other way because it doesn’t matter, etc. And my response was that they (GOP congress members) gained greatly from it for 6 years. They were quite interested (in the sense of having a stake).

    I guess my answer to Jan is: Kucinich or Gravel in the primary, and someone without a D or R by his or her name in the general. But we’ve been over that before: I vote sincerely, strategic voting never making any sense to me (unless it’s organizationally coordinated as part of a votes-for-policy-concessions deal, that is).

    Comment by MSS — Sunday, August 5, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  5. The “dis” is now an “un” (for whatever that may be worth).

    I take your point. Still, my fundamental point is that one would have expected at least some GOPers to be concerned about the issue, if not because of the alleged libertarian leanings of some in the party, but also to guard the prerogatives of the legislature. Alas, neither was the case.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, August 5, 2007 @ 9:23 pm

  6. Or it’s not just about politics. Maybe there’s a majority coalition in the center that thinks the ideas in the FISA law are a pretty good idea.

    The leadership of the Democratic party howled in pain when the program first came to light. However the Democratic Senators that voted for it — Feinstein (CA), Salazar (CO), Lincoln and Pryor (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (FL) (and 10 of their friends) just aren’t the career obsessed politicians you’re describing. This is the serious center-left that thinks the intelligence services should have the tools necessary to find out what’s happening in the world.

    A much better case would be that a good chunk of the Democratic party’s right wing reject the extremist demands of the nutroots. The leadership of both the house and senate demanded unilateral disposal of an intelligence asset. The DiFi and friends figuratively flipped them the bird.

    Comment by Buckland — Sunday, August 5, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  7. I posted in a similar vein Sunday morning. The part that baffles me is the notion on the part of activists that elected officials whose primary interest is demonstrably re-election will for some unknown reason suddenly cultivate an interest in something other than re-election.

    Comment by Dave Schuler — Monday, August 6, 2007 @ 5:39 am

  8. Point taken.

    However, leadership has far more tools at its disposal to block such legislation (especially in the House), yet they clearly chose not to do so. Indeed, if the Democratic leadership were serious about their rhetoric, then the bill wouldn’t have made it to the floor in the House and would never have escaped the Senate.

    I have little doubt that there was a willingness to allow the bill to pass and take away a campaign issue from the the GOP while hoping to use the six-month clock as a way to blunt attacks and criticisms from the left.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, August 6, 2007 @ 8:08 am

  9. Bravo!

    Comment by Captain D. — Monday, August 6, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

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