Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Arlen Specter. Rather, Arlen F.ucking Specter. Noted and esteemed Senator from the often less than great state of Pennsylvania (yes, I know, Pennsylvanians will think that grossly unfair, but you've sent our Senate two putzes for far too long--do you keep electing Santorum to make Specter look good by comparison?).

Specter has been running to the cameras, wattles all aflutter, to denounce the Bush White House on domestic spying, promising action, and often hinting at retribution. Then, quietly, when the lights are turned off and the news flacks go home, he sits down with the rubber-stamp right wing on his Judiciary Committee and gives up. When Alberto Gonzales came to visit a Specter hearing, oh, no, no oath for him (all prearranged, judging by the way the Democrats' request to swear in the Texas Toady was ignored). Gonzales bobbed and weaved and basically told Specter's committee, "fuck you, we do what we want."

Barely two weeks ago, Specter threatened to cut off funding for Bush's domestic spying program, saying in an interview: "We have a Congress which candidly is more concerned about re-election and fundraising and who controls the House and the Senate than in asserting constitutional prerogatives. That's not the way it ought to be."

Brash, bold, forthright. Just the kind of talk the country needs in perilous times, right? Well, yeah, except that it's only talk. Today's issue of The Hill fronts this story. Not only does Specter's cave-in pave the way for Mike DeWine's bill to make the illegal legal, but Specter's "compromise" bill sets standards for standing (the proof necessary to show injury by the government's actions) which will facilitate government stonewalling in any case brought under the law. The Hill's story at a couple of points mischaracterizes the issue of standing, as both Glenn Greenwald and the Anonymous Liberal point out here and here.

A tangential effect of Specter's "deal" (in truth, it can hardly be called even that, since the agreement Specter made benefits only one party--George Bush) is that there likely will be no further Judiciary Committee hearings of substance on the real issue at hand--persistent and longstanding illegal acts by the White House.

In 1974, when the excesses of Richard Nixon were being hammered almost daily, it was Howard Baker, a loyal Republican, who sighed and said enough is enough, and asked the question that would eventually be the defining moment marking the beginning of Nixon's political end: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" Baker understood what was at stake. Baker asked that question of John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, who was under oath. Baker was willing to co-chair the Watergate special hearing in concert with the Democratic Chairman, Sam Ervin. He was willing to make that Senate Watergate hearing proceed, often agreeing to use the subpoena power of the committee, despite the sure knowledge that it had the potential to bring down his President.

Specter, as the chairman of the current Senate Judiciary Committee, deigned not to swear the President's Attorney General. He has issued no subpoenae and has resisted, consistently, any real investigation of White House contempt for the fundamental rights of all citizens of this country. Specter's committee has effectively ignored Bush policies of torture, kidnapping, wholesale domestic spying, the denial of habeas corpus and right to counsel of US citizens, illegal detentions, all violations of current US and/or international law.

Most galling of all, though, is Specter's belief that talking tough to the press is a satisfactory substitute for dedicated action. That's indicative not only of a failure of will and of a corrupted character, but of a duplicity which has its roots in pure partisanship.

Nixon's seizure of power was egregious, and even Republicans in Congress recognized it for what it was and the dangers it presented to the nation, and yet, Nixon's crimes were paltry compared to those of George Bush and his band of zealots.

One of the lessons learned from Nixon's warped view of Executive infallibility was that the immense power of the state could be turned on its citizens for political purposes. Out of that knowledge came the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Its passage was a direct consequence of the Nixon White House and the intelligence services crossing a Constitutional boundary which offended the sensibilities of a significant percentage of the population--and of Congress, as well. Now Sen. Specter proposes to simply bypass that essential law and genuflect before the tyrants in the White House and on his own committee, and to put loyalty to party above the Constitution.

Quisling is too dignified a word to describe this man. We edge toward the birth of an overt police state with every transgression of our civil rights. If we end up in that sad condition, I hope history correctly identifies Arlen Specter as its midwife.


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