Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Agent of Change? Or More Of The Same?

Since 2001, it is my opinion that the Democratic party has been lead by moral cowards.

After the drubbing received in the loss to President Bush, the Democratic Party did almost nothing to stop the Bush Administration's choices for confirmation in either the Executive Branch (Ashcroft being the most notable) and the Judicial Branch (congratulations to the Senate Democrats for allowing 98% of President Bush's nominations reach the bench). Then there was 9/11.

And what did the Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives do? Well, most of them happily signed on to pass the PATRIOT Act. In the process, they helped to shred the constitutional rights of every American.

Let's be clear, those voting in favor of the PATRIOT Act included: Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Reid (D-NV). In fact, despite the fact that the Democratic Party claims to cherish civil liberties, only one man dared to vote no on the Act: Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI).

In 2007, the Democrats had a chance to do something about the PATRIOT Act. However, once again, they failed to take serious action. Once again, the PATRIOT Act was reauthorized with a vote of 95 to 1 (with 4 non-voting moral cowards). Voting yes for the PATRIOT Act's reauthorization was Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Massachusetts senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. Once again, the only person worthy of calling principled among the Democratic senators was Russ Feingold (D-WI).

But man, let me tell you, they talk a good talk on Constitutional rights, don't they? Nice way to provide principled leadership in the face of opposition. Or is it the motto of the Democratic legislators "When the going gets tough, hide behind a Republican"?

Now today, the Democrats in the government faced a tough decision in the form of the bill which would change FISA. For those who don't know, FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Originally, FISA was passed in 1978 in response to the revelations of the Senate's investigations into the activities of U.S. intelligence services, especially in regards to wire-tapping of suspects in the United States. Starting in 2002, the Bush Administration began authorizing wire-tapping and intercepts of other types of electronic transmissions (email, fax, etc.) without complying with FISA.

Now, the amendments to FISA sound rather benign, but when you consider what they entail for a bit, it looks as though our legislators have just given the government an additional opening to making Big Brother a reality. The amended FISA would allow wire tapping, based on certification. This, on its face, would seem different from the warrant requirement (or probable cause) enshrined in the 4th Amendment. Essentially, the government would be able to conduct surveillance of all incoming and outgoing electronic communications without any probable cause of wrongdoing.

Furthermore, a lot of what this amendment does is prevent the government from intentionally targeting a U.S. citizen for a FISA wire-tap. However, if it is discovered that they are in fact wire-tapping a U.S. citizen, the revised language does not mandate that the government seek approval from the FISA court to continue the wire-tap surveillance. So much for 4th Amendment protections. Furthermore, even when the FISA court does in fact deny the government's request for a wire-tap, the government can continue the electronic surveillance as long as the matter is being appealed.

Finally, according to the language of the amendments, it immunizes the telecommunications industry from all lawsuits relating to FISA-type wiretap cooperation. This includes all cases currently pending. The drafters apparently decided that the simple fact that a wire-tap request is put in writing, makes it right for a telecommunications company to comply with it. Therefore, there is no incentive for a telecommunications company to stand up to the government, since they cannot be sued.

Let's recap shall we. First, the Democrats in Congress vote gleefully for the PATRIOT Act, in the process trampling on our civil liberties. Second, the Democratic legislators then vote toe reauthorize the PATRIOT Act, further trampling on our civil liberties. Then, to show their commitment to protecting American institutions, like the Constitution, they help to vote for the amendments to FISA.

Now, prior to today, Senator Obama had been loudly proclaiming through his people that he would filibuster any amendments to FISA which included the provisions which were passed today. How did he vote? Well Senator Obama, like Senators .... oh wait the other usual suspects (and so-called leaders of the Democratic legislators) voted against the amendments. Color me shocked that some Democrats would have the moral fiber in an election year to be perceived as strong on civil rights and "soft" on terrorism.

And yet, Senator Obama did not. Instead of taking a stand and saying what was right, he chose the route of political expediency. The more I see him in action, the more I am concerned about what kind of leadership he would actually provide.

So far his great claim to fame is that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. Well that's fine, but at a certain point that runs out of steam. His record for getting bills through Congress is ... lackluster. He has apparently gotten six bills passed through the senate. On the other hand, he has made three tours overseas on fact finding missions. And this was not in a Senate controlled by the Republicans.

Where is the track record for change? Or is this just more of the same from the upper echelon of the Democratic Party: talking the talk but refusing the walk the walk.

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