What was Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) thinking when he told Senate colleagues it was a "sad day" when that body started taking its marching orders from an outsider (the president and the director of national security), in passing a new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that gives the president a free hand to spy on communications of Americans without a judicial review?
Is he implying that this is the first time the Senate has done this?
Isn't that exactly what the Senate (and the House) did when they passed the so-called USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001? Isn't that what they did in overturning the Posse Comitatus Act and in altering the Insurrection Act last fall? Isn't it what they did in approving the Military Commissions Act last year, which retroactively okayed the use of torture on captives?
The truth is that the Senate and House have both become little more than rubber stamps for Administration power grabs ever since 9-11. Indeed, since that date, the members of Congress have been willing sell-outs of their own institution, which today bears no resemblance to what the Founders described in Article I of the Constitution--a document which the members have effectively destroyed.
For the past six-and-a-half years we have watched as a group of political midgets have destroyed what hundreds of thousands of our ancestors put their lives on the line to create and defend--a government system that was founded on the concept of individual rights and liberties, and that was structured to limit the power of the executive.
Much has been made of a conversation at the White House a few years ago, in which Bush is reported to have told a few Republican members of the House that the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper." In fact, that is what the members of Congress have also decided by their actions--and by their continued inaction.
Prior to 2006, it was primarily the Republicans in Congress who were trashing the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the concept of separation of powers, though with significant Democratic backing. Now, it is the Democrats who are the wrecking crew.
Make no mistake: the Democrats did not have to pass this latest piece of legislation, loosing the NSA spies on us all. They had the power to kill that bill in its tracks. Instead, they succumbed to the President's empty threat to label them all "soft on terror" if they didn't give him what he wanted: a blank check. They caved, just as they did when they had the power to end the war in Iraq last April by cutting off funding for it, and instead, voted to fund it in full.
The Democrats in this Congress are a bunch of spineless cowards and willing enablers, and they now bear the chief responsibility for establishing the elements of an American police state.
For that is clearly where this nation is headed.
There was no need to give the president new warrantless surveillance powers. Would be terrorists are already fully aware of the government's spying capabilities and certainly are being cautious in their use of phones and email to communicate. Moreover, the secret FISA court has demonstrated that it is most accommodating of spying requests, having only rejected one such request from the President and National Security Agency in the past two years. It is obvious then that what the president is seeking is expanded power to spy on Americans. And incredibly, despite his 27-percent support rating in the polls, and despite widespread public fears of this kind of government snooping, he is getting it.
Sen. Feingold has been one of the staunchest defenders of the Constitution, voting against the USA Patriot Act and against the invasion of Iraq, but he is wrong to imply that before Friday's betrayal of that document, the Senate was acting as an independent body. Both the Senate and the House ceased playing their constitutional role and became rubber stamps a long time ago.
Instead of empty rhetoric, Sen. Feingold needs to take action and mount a filibuster against this shameful and dangerous bill, so that when it comes back for a final vote after being reconciled with whatever comes out of the House, it is killed.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Phiiadelphia-based investigative journalist and political columnist. His latest book, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in a paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net <http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/>