I was seriously thinking of writing this column about a crisis of conscience: somebody – anybody – tell me why I should bother being a Democrat anymore. The past several weeks have been almost literally hair-tearing. Our hesitancy about the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General was recently validated when he stonewalled efforts to investigate the deliberate destruction of CIA torture tapes, and balked at the idea of bringing in a special prosecutor. It appears the employees we hired (or rehired) to do our bidding in Congress a little over a year ago – mainly to stop George W. Bush and his war – have done nothing of the kind. As of this writing, another blank check for his international aggression projects seems to be on its way to his desk. And then there’s the FISA matter, itself.
But then, there came one guy. One guy with one backbone. And that was all it took.
So this column, then, is dedicated – with much gratitude and appreciation – to Connecticut Senator and presidential hopeful Christopher Dodd. He alone decided to stand on principal, and remember what the Democrats were given majorities in both Houses of Congress to do: work for us, not for Bushco.
Let it be said that, while candidates Clinton, Obama, and others indicated they supported his view on the FISA update – that would give phone companies retroactive immunity for illegally spying on you, and me – it was Dodd alone who abandoned the campaign trail to return to Washington to attend to his day job. I guess it was just that important to him. Odd, isn’t it, to witness the actions of a powerful veteran Senator who seems to feel the same sense of urgency that millions of the rest of us do?
I must admit, with some shame, that I was just about to give up. I’m 54. I’ve voted staunchly Democratic ever since I became old enough to go into the neighborhood polling place and punch the card for the “D” du jour. For several decades, everything I’d read, studied, heard, or observed about public policy and policy-makers drove me to support progressives, liberals, and Democrats of every stripe. I never voted blindly. It was always after having studied the issues – and, just as informatively for me, the people behind those issues, who was allied with them, and where they were getting their money. The other side, what I’ve come to regard by now as The Dark Side, never spoke to me. Certainly it’s never spoken for me. I cannot see why corporations must trump people, Goliath must trump David, or why, as Bush himself has said, “money trumps peace.”
Ever since early 2001, I’ve been the kid trying to holler from the back of the room, trying desperately not to be ignored or out-shouted. I’ve been the one who’s counseled others not to get frustrated or dispirited, not to give up hope, not to give in to discouragement, to keep working. Over the years, it’s grown more difficult to keep the faith. Finally, hearing that Harry Reid was about to cave to Bush again, I had had enough. But then came Dodd.
Somebody, somewhere, simply has to stand up. Somebody, somewhere, has to say “No!”
I am deeply grateful to Christopher Dodd for restoring my faith, a little, but it’s not nearly enough. We need many more Chris Dodds to stand up and say “No!” Because there HAS to be accountability for wrongdoing, illegality, and flagrant abuse of power. And it better start now, because the trend slanting in the other direction has grown too strong and too pervasive.
We now live afflicted by a culture of more that just corruption. It’s in crisis, and it goes beyond government. It’s a dreadfully poor operating template we now have. The precedents now set nearly in concrete will have distressing consequences for years to come. The message of Watergate and the Nixon resignation was clear: no one is above the law. That’s since been turned on its ear by the Bush administration and its many collaborators and co-conspirators, and the cowardly cave-men and cave-women who went along with it. The overriding theory being applied now is that if you’re powerful enough, and you have the chutzpah, you can get away with anything.
At this point, those we should be admiring and emulating are getting away with illegal war, torture, selective and punitive prosecutions, renditions, lies, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, illegal wiretapping, and multiple other violations of privacy. And violations of the Constitution. And there’s precious little accountability. If the compliant Harry Reid had allowed the FISA bill to go through according to Dubya’s dictates, citizens would have no recourse against their phone companies’ unwarranted intrusions.
As it is, Chief Cave-Woman Nancy Pelosi still insists that Impeachment remain off the table, so there is not even the threat of accountability to keep Junior from overstepping. She’s thoughtfully made sure we have no recourse there. And then she had her earplugs surgically implanted so she wouldn’t have to hear any entreaties to the contrary. She remains willfully tone-deaf even at this late date, even in the face of increasing mountains of evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Message: go ahead and violate the law, plus the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. Nobody will do squat to stop you. It’s not simply that it won’t be a priority. It won’t even make the list.
Curiously, the move away from accountability seems to have legs beyond Washington DC. On the heels of the Mitchell report to Major League Baseball about rampant illegal drug use among many players and trainers, chief investigator George Mitchell recommends no consequences for the perpetrators. They should not be held accountable either, even if allegations are proven that they cheated to win via steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, gamed the system, and thus thoroughly perverted the game itself. Message: go ahead and do the wrong thing. You can get away with it. And you don’t even have to be in politics in this case. Anything goes.
One lone voice finally stood up and said “No!” – and meant it, and made it stick. We as yet have no ultimate outcome from the illegal steroid crisis in baseball. But at least Senate leader Harry Reid removed his earplugs for a moment (probably for cleaning). He seems to have heard Christopher Dodd. It shows you what even a single solitary backbone can do. Just that one effort, led by one Senator, was enough. It didn’t stop the FISA bill cold, but at least it slowed things down. It actually gave me hope again, pulled me out of my pit of discouragement, and made me want to keep fighting, instead of abandoning the Democratic Party to which I’ve been loyal all my life. It’s a start. But it’s far from a finish.
And that will take many more than one.
And then go DO something about it.