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Not Learning Their Lines and Bumping Into the Furniture

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Democrats have never had much trouble from Republicans. Their Achilles heel has always been other Democrats.

Nancy Pelosi looks at recent Republican success and thinks that party discipline is the answer and so she has become the scold of the House leadership. Harry Reid mistakes it as a numbers game and minority Republicans in the Senate regularly eat his lunch, because he has no talent for inspired leadership and thus no followership.
(Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post Staff Writer) A growing clamor among rank-and-file Democrats to halt President Bush's most controversial tactics in the fight against terrorism has exposed deep divisions within the party, with many Democrats angry that they cannot defeat even a weakened president on issues that they believe should be front and center.

The Democrats' failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party's leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies -- on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.

That’s another Washington conceit, seeing everything through the prism of Capitol Hill, bloggers and interest groups. There is an interest group out there that those within the beltway continue to ignore—the 300 million ‘fellow Americans’ to whom the president and other legislators give lip-service and ignorance.

You and I and the guy across the street have long since ceased to be ‘fellow Americans’ in the purview of Washington. If we were, we would not be treated as we have been;
  • our rights constrained,
  • our shoes removed,
  • our reputation trashed,
  • our fears made politically advantageous
  • our children, fathers and mothers killed in the service of a false war
If we were truly fellow Americans in the sense of sharing space on the deck of our Ship of State, we would be privy to Dick Cheney’s meetings with the energy sector, we wouldsee New Orleans restored when Katrina struck and our families would be sent to fight those who threaten us instead of to settle an administration’s old scores. There would be no need to lie to us, because we would be trusted as fellows—American fellows.
Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), who leads a newly created House select intelligence oversight panel, lamented, "Democrats have been slow to recognize they are in the majority now and can go back to really examine the fundamentals of what we should be doing to protect democracy."
That’s an absolutely stunning admission. Go back to really examine the fundamentals. Mr. Holt, that is the job of the minority in all cases, not something that can be gone back to when you finally find your majority and your courage. Examining the fundamentals might have kept us from this war.

Has no one taught you even the fundamental precepts of representative government? And you—with no more idea of governing than that—have been elected to chair the Intelligence Oversight Panel? Incredible in other times, par for the course in this Democrat Congress.
Reid and Pelosi promised last week that they would at least confront the president next month over his wiretapping program, with Pelosi taking an uncompromising stand in a private conference call with House Democrats. When lawmakers return in September, Democrats will also push legislation to restore habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects and may resume an effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At least confront. Well, I would say that is the very least. How brave and inspiring.
But conservative Democrats and some party leaders continue to worry that taking on those issues would expose them to Republican charges that they are weak on terrorism. And advocates of a strong push on the terrorism issues are increasingly skeptical that they can prevail.
Spencer Tracy famously answered a question about his remarkable acting abilities by advising, “learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.” The present Democratic leadership (if it dare be called that) in the House and Senate would do well to take Tracy’s advice.

Unfortunately, Pelosi and Reid Democrats have taken their cue from the lines of fear-mongering and those lines have always been most effectively spoken by Bush Republicans at center-stage. So the faint Democratic complaint comes haltingly from the wings, in muttered tones.

As for the furniture, it would be hard to crash more devastatingly into each terrorist sofa and nuclear table if one were in a strange, plunged into complete darkness.

This has become a strange and darkened house for Democrats. They may not be up to the task of turning on lights and straightening the moral furniture. Because that is the task at hand—to turn light on what has been contrived, fed to us and accepted in darkness. The administration's position that lighting up the very workings of freedom and democracy is somehow a threat to the national security of America is without precedent.

We are, our president tells us, in a decades-long war, a continual war against the dark threat of terrorist attack.
--James Madison, April 20, 1795-- "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

“War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people.

“The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both.
“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

These are the issues that should be paraded before us at Center Stage, the footlights up, the cast in angry chorus. But Democrats are tongue-tied. They are afraid—fearful, actually scared shitless and silenced. Not by the huge responsibility set upon their shoulders to uphold and repair the freedoms of this great country, but by the accusation they are not doing all they might to protect us from a bogey-man.

Like children, the Democratic Congress has been huddled under the bed, fearing the scary stories and things that go (or might go) bump in the night.

James Madison, and men like him, raised themselves in rebellion against the greatest power the world knew in their day, Imperial England. They did so as wealthy men with everything personally at risk, doomed to be drawn and quartered in London if they lost, their wealth confiscated.

The odds were heavily against them to lose.

Today, our nation and our representatives in government (that same government Madison gambled his life to give us) tremble before the threat of an insurgency that might do us harm.
But political fear still hovers over any legislation that touches on the fight against terrorism, which, for Democrats, may be the new third rail of politics.

"We can do this, but you have to keep in mind Republicans care more about catching Democrats than catching terrorists," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
I am ashamed that Rahm Emanuel would mention Democrats being caught and see that as a reason to be kept in mind. Emanuel should proudly stand and dare the world to watch him fulfill his responsibilities to the nation. I am equally ashamed that we as a nation have so concerned ourselves with being saved from terror that we have entirely lost touch with what makes us a society worth saving.

Were he alive, Spencer Tracy might agree.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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