Tuesday, March 14, 2006

They Got Fooled Again

Tim Grieve in the War Room has a good follow-up to yesterday’s censure resolution by Sen. Feingold and the way the Democrats — once again — gave the appearance of being bamboozled by the Republicans.

You might think that questions involving war and the rule of law are worthy of careful thought and serious debate in the U.S. Congress. That’s not how the Republican leadership sees things. When Rep. Jack Murtha introduced a resolution in November calling for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq “at the earliest date practicable,” House Republicans responded by jamming House Democrats with an immediate vote on a resolution demanding the instant withdrawal of troops. Rep. Jean Schmidt called Murtha a “coward,” Democrats were forced to vote down a measure they didn’t propose, Murtha’s resolution disappeared and conditions in Iraq have only grown worse.

Bill Frist apparently liked the way that one worked out, so much so that he tried the same trick Monday when Russ Feingold introduced a resolution censuring George W. Bush for engaging in warrantless spying on American citizens and misleading the country about it. After accusing Feingold of providing comfort to America’s enemies, Frist tried to schedule an immediate vote on the resolution in order to isolate the Wisconsin Democrat and/or embarrass his all-talk, no-action colleagues.

It worked. Democrats blocked the immediate vote Frist wanted. Some, like Joe Lieberman, simply want nothing to do with censuring Bush. Others, like Nancy Pelosi, are making the not-unreasonable argument that the House and Senate should conduct a real investigation into the president’s warrantless spying program — the kind of investigation the Republicans have blocked — before deciding what to do about it. But the press coverage — the thing that probably matters on a resolution that’s symbolic anyway — is all about how Democrats caved. “Democrats Beat Quick Retreat on Call to Censure President,” says the New York Times. Frist’s framing prevailed. He set up a phony test: Are you on board for censure right this very minute? When Democrats said “not yet,” they could be accused of “retreating” from a measure they’d never endorsed in the first place.

Two things really piss me off about this. The first is that the Democrats let the message of the need for a full investigation into the warrantless wiretapping get away from them and let the SCLM write about the appearance of them running away from Feingold and cowering in the fetal position anytime the Republicans raise the cudgel of “treason.” This does not help with the image of a party that says it can offer strong leadership.

Second, all of this “patriotic” jabbering from the likes of Cheney and Frist is so much bullshit. A true patriot wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about party affiliation when it’s thunderingly obvious that the administration broke the law. Hell, they’re bragging about it, and Sen. Arlen Specter even suggested last night on the floor of the Senate that FISA might be unconstitutional, so if the president technically did break the law, it’s okay because it’s a bad law. Somewhere Richard Nixon is having a big old laugh about that. But they know that they can push that button and get the Pavlovian response and the media will let it lie there like a great big turd in the middle of the sidewalk.

One of the reasons the Republicans are able to marshall so much seeming cohesion in their ranks is that they have instilled in their faithful a Soviet-style party-above-all loyalty clause:

  • Rule #1 — the Party is never wrong.
  • Rule #2 — any questions, see Rule #1.
  • They will do anything and say anything to ensure that they win, even to the point of sacrificing their own internal doubts. Check your independent scruples at the door.

    The Democrats have never been very good at that. But then, when you have a conscience, blind obedience is not something that comes easily. It may make them vulnerable, it may make them appear to be hesitant (imagine the very idea of wanting a thorough and thoughtful examination of an issue before voting on it!) The small comfort is that they can end the day knowing they stand for something more than just short-term political gain. Too bad that doesn’t sell newspapers.