The nation’s capital is blissfully Congress-free this week as our senators and representatives join their colleagues in the Iraqi parliament on summer vacation. The Iraqis left Baghdad with an unblemished record of having done nothing. If only we could say the same of ours.
Our representatives in the Democratic-controlled Congress left town after one final, cowardly cave-in to Bush administration fear-mongering by passing a law that not merely extended but expanded warrantless wiretapping that further encroaches on the rights of every American and further erodes our constitutional protections.
What were they thinking? Do they really believe that the voters in 2006 elected a Democratic majority to take over the Republican role of rubber-stamping whatever The Decider decides is right?
The last-minute, late night and Saturday sessions by a Congress more accustomed to leisurely four-day workweeks also begs the question of why the sudden rush to jam through some of the most important legislation to come before it with minimal discussion.
Did any of our legislators even bother to read the details of this law, wherein the Devil surely resides? Were they aware that buried in those details was language that delegates to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell authority to order up eavesdropping on broad categories of American citizens?
Few in Congress on either side of the aisle have much confidence in our attorney general’s ability to do anything except cover the tracks of the White House and its denizens when they're bending, breaking and ignoring all manner of laws governing the politicization of our government and its agencies.
Yet they trust Gonzales with our phone calls, e-mails, letters and conversations on personal matters large and small? Sacre bleu!
Don’t tell me this is all about intercepting terrorist communications to break up plots to attack American targets. It isn't. The new law authorizes the interception of the personal communications of any American traveling overseas or in contact with anyone outside the country.
A significant purpose of such interceptions, it says, “is to obtain foreign intelligence information,” which is a loophole large enough to accommodate a fleet of 18-wheelers. All of this can be done legally without even a smidgen of court oversight — merely certification by an attorney general who's so forgetful of his own actions and conversations, even under oath, that he arouses suspicions of early-onset senility.
So whose personal communications are up for official grabs? American tourists abroad; American military serving overseas and American journalists working outside our country’s borders.
Are we supposed to trust an administration as blatantly political as this one not to overstep all bounds, cross all lines and use any and all information vacuumed up by the big ears of National Security Agency (NSA) to its own partisan benefit?
Why then would the ruling Democrats join the usual Republican suspects on Capitol Hill in approving such a breathtaking expansion of the government’s right to spy on its own citizens without court approval? The answer, in a word, is fear, which may be the last tool left in President Bush’s box.
Congressional leaders have been thoroughly briefed on supposed indications of a pending terrorist attack on American targets, a la 9/11 — increased “chatter” on terror networks.
Put simply, our courageous representatives on the Hill were afraid to leave town without passing the extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on the off chance that the administration’s drum-beating might actually be correct and not merely another example of fear-mongering for political purposes.
The Democrats in Congress have had seven months and more to do something, anything, to thwart President Bush's stubborn pursuit of an endless war in Iraq and his botched global war on terrorism, as they were elected to do. Time after time, it's they who've been thwarted; time after time, it's they who've caved to The Decider.
The new majority is as powerless as the old minority was, watching silently as the president, step-by-step, expands executive power at the expense of the other two branches, the legislative and judicial, and decides what laws to bend or break or ignore.
Shame on him, and shame on them, too. If the cool winds of autumn don’t stiffen their spines, then the voters will be left with only one choice: Throw all the bums out of office, Republicans and Democrats alike, and try to find some new representatives who might be able to find the courage to stand up to a lame-duck president.