The New York Times reports that the White House and the Democrats have agreed on a rewrite of the wiretapping rules. It’s not entirely clear why anyone cares to take the trouble. Everyone knows the administration has been ignoring the existing rules; why would a rewrite make a difference?
Perhaps the most important concession that Democratic leaders claimed in the proposal was a reaffirmation that the intelligence protocols are the “exclusive” means for the executive branch to conduct wiretapping operations in terrorism and espionage cases. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had insisted on that element, and Democratic staff members asserted that the language would prevent Mr. Bush, or any future president, from circumventing the law. The proposal asserts that “that the law is the exclusive authority and not the whim of the president of the United States,“ Ms. Pelosi said.
In general, rewriting the law to emphasize to those who knowingly violated it in the past that the law must be obeyed is an ineffective means of making the point.
The Democrats are letting the telecoms off the hook for activities the companies knew were illegal; the precedents were clear. In exchange for this immunity the Democratic, I hesitate to say leadership in this context, can depart grasping the idea that this reaffirmation will constrain a President when the first affirmation did not. It seems to be a textbook case of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Or alternatively, perhaps the Democrats have no problem with warrantless wiretapping and torture and illegal wars as long as it’s the Democrats in power at the time. All power corrupts, said John Emerich Edward Dahlberg, and he was right.
If you worked long hard hours and years to reach the upper atmosphere of Congressional leadership for your party, it’d be hard to think in terms of the American empire ending. It’d be hard to realize that there is an American empire to begin with; as Chomsky says, you can’t reach a position of power in the US government without believing that the country is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives.
That’s abroad, of course; domestically, it’s devil take the hindmost. In the current case, as so often in recent years, the hindmost is the American public. This is somehow more grating now that we have Democrats controlling Congress. In 2006 we took the reins from the Republicans, too corrupt, incompetent, and downright evil to live with any more, and handed them to the Democrats, who promised, as all parties do in such circumstances, to restore dignity and truth to the institution and to assert the rule of law.
Hah! In fact, they’ve repeatedly capitulated. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the only real accomplishment the Democrats had to show for taking control of Congress was refusing to cave on telecom immunity. Now they’re caving on that too.
I just bought a couple Cindy Sheehan for Congress buttons.