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June 23, 2008

The Feckless and Craven Democratic Majority at Work
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the Congress we see more examples of the Democratic majority caving and capitulating to GOP demands . . . oh wait a minute:

After weeks of gridlocked negotiations, President Bush threw his support behind the legislation yesterday despite the tens of billions of dollars in domestic spending above his original demands.

Despite his original preference for a slimmed-down version, Bush embraced the veterans plan drafted by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.). . . Under the program, often called the new GI Bill, veterans would receive enough money to pay even the most expensive state university tuition.

In addition to opposing the Webb bill, Bush originally contended that increased unemployment benefits were premature because an economic stimulus package enacted in February needed time to take effect, and he opposed an additional effort to rein in his power over Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor.

"He is reversing three distinct veto threats and signing them into law. If that ain't a victory, I don't know what is," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Unemployment insurance extensions and expanded veteran's benefits not your cup of tea - how about housing relief:

The Senate is also likely to vote on a major housing bill that includes a rescue plan aimed at helping thousands of homeowners at risk of foreclosure as well as a sweeping regulatory overhaul for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage financing giants.

Despite a strongly worded veto threat by the White House, bipartisan support for the bill seemed to gain momentum late last week and some Republican senators said they doubted that President Bush would refuse to sign the bill if it passes with wide support.

What about energy issues:

The angry war of words between Mr. Bush and Congressional Democrats over domestic oil drilling is likely to get louder and angrier this week, especially as the House moves to take up four bills intended to address high energy prices, including a measure tightening oversight of oil futures trading.

President Bush last week demanded that Congress end a federal ban on offshore drilling and open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration. . . Far from being cowed, Democrats on Capitol Hill seemed to relish a battle over energy policy with a president and vice president viewed as closely tied to oil companies.

Democratic lawmakers in recent days have shown uncommon discipline in responding to Mr. Bush’s demand, repeatedly insisting that energy companies should first be forced to make use of 68 million acres of federal lands already leased to them for oil and gas exploration before they are granted access to more territory, and that the country needs to turn more aggressively toward the development of alternative energy sources.

Yes for progressives everywhere, it is rather unfortunate that Democrats won a Congressional majority in November 2006.


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Wait as many minutes as you want, on the major issues (FISA and war funding) the Dems have capitulated, giving the unpopular Bush everything he asked for. Plus they (Ackerman and Bayh) have introduced AIPAC-drafted anti-Iran bills in both houses which could lead to more war.

This is a more thoughtful and reasonable post than your attempts to defend an indefensible FISA bill as some sort of ``compromise.'' It's worth emphasizing that in politics you have to accept the good instead of the perfect, or the lesser evil instead of the greater evil. The question is at which point the lesser evil because so similar to the greater evil that the lesser evil is unacceptable as well. To that end, it's worth weighing the significant good things (if any) that the Democratic Congress has done, to see how they compare to their validation of massive illegal and unconstitutional privacy violations.

However, you fail to understand why Greenwald and others (myself included) are so angry and disgusted at the Democratic Congress. For Greenwald, by far the most important issue facing the country now is the rule of law. Indefinite detention without trial, illegal wiretapping, torture, secret prisons, and the war in Iraq, are for him the most important issues of the day. Telecom amnesty is bad, but is obviously not the only issue facing our country; it is, however, representative of a cluster of related issues, which together make up the "rule of law" issue, and on which the Democratic Congress has repeatedly failed to take meaningful stands. For Greenwald, the rule of law issues are so important that the others pale in comparison. Personally, I agree that it's the most important issue, but don't weight it quite as heavily in my voting calculus as Greenwald does.

No progressive, as you sarcastically put it, thinks it's unfortunate that the Democrats won a majority. From a progressive viewpoint, there are clearly some issues on which, en masse, they're the lesser evil (although individual Democrats, such as the ones Greenwald want to target, may not even be the lesser evil). The question, as I said before, is whether they're nevertheless overall too evil to be acceptable. So if you want to convince Greenwald and his like, you need to put together a new post, like the one above, but describing the ways in which the Democratic Congress has made meaningful stands on the rule of law. A regulatory overhaul of federal mortgage financing (which frankly, doesn't even strike me as particularly progressive) is hardly going to do much to offset the disgust at a complete capitulation on a core rule of law issue, if your key voting issue is the rule of law. I'd be genuinely curious to see what you came up with for a post on meaningful ways in which the Democratic Congress has defended the rule of law, but I'm skeptical that you can come up with much of anything.

Autumn I wish I lived in a world where I could base all of my political positions on adherence to the rule of law. I do not and neither do the Democrats in Congress. For Greenwald and others to ignore all the good that the Democratic Congress has done while focusing exclusively on the narrow issue of retroactive immunity and ignoring the political realities of having George Bush as President . . . well I'd like to live in that Ivory Tower, but I do not. It's not my job to explain these things to Mr. Greenwald; he should be able to figure them out on his own. But I suppose its more fun to paint his opponents as moral midgets and declare himself to be the font of all that is right and good.

The first line of that previous comment is misstated. What I meant to say what that I wish I could base all my political positions narrowly without taking into account other political issues. I of course think the rule of law is hugely important and like many people I believe that the Bush Administration has done great harm to the nation in its failure to adhere to it. As I've written it troubles me deeply that the telecom companies and the policymakers who ordered them to break the law are not being held fully accountable. But there are other issues that must be balanced here - political considerations, national security, etc. I've discussed these ad nausuem. Poiticians have to balance all these issues; Mr Greenwald does not. His huffing and puffing notwithstanding I dont believe for a second that Democrats are intent on dismantling the Constitution.

I'm not sure to whom this sarcastic post is addressed, Michael. If you can point out any substantial number of people on the left who are arguing "Democrats have never done one good thing," then we might be able to see how this post is not wildly off point.

In my view, the threat of a Bush veto is merely a smokescreen for politicians who have other reasons for not being aggressive on this issue. In several of the victories you cite, Bush also threatened a veto. And yet the Democrats had no trouble standing up to the deeply, deeply unpopular Bush and getting their way. I suspect, contrary to your political science lessons about of the vast reservoirs of power still held by even the lamest of lame duck presidents, that Democrats could easily win in this case too - both legislatively, and in the court of public opinion. My impression is that what we have here is a number of powerful people in both parties who simply do not want to win on this issue, because they are out to protect powerful friends in the telecommunications industry. Their avowals that they would really, really like to hold the telecoms accountable, but dare not do so because the Incredibly Shrinking President G.W. Bush will wield his micron-sized political stick, and turn their votes into a GWOT propaganda victory for Republicans hardly seem credible. These worries are just a convenient excuse for serving those at the top of the food chain.

Bottom line: The feckless and craven Democrats have caved in to worthless, unpopular president on FISA and more war.

FISA is more than "the narrow issue of retroactive immunity" -- it is a trashing of the Fourth Amendment. Why? Because the craven and feckless Dems want to spy on us just as much as the Repubs do.

Arthur Silber: "Most Americans [include Michael Cohen] don't realize that the FISA compromise comes in two parts. The first part greatly alters FISA by expanding the executive's ability to wiretap and engage in much broader searches of communications than were permissible under the law before. It essentially gives congressional blessing to some but not all of what the executive was doing under President Bush. Part II, by contrast, is the part that everyone has gotten up in arms about. It creates effective immunity for telecom companies.

The other gift of the craven and feckless Democrats was to fully fund the Iraqi killing fields through next June AND introduce a bellicose new anti-Iran bill.

It's continuity you can believe in, whilst balancing political and national security considerations, of course.

Hey Michael,

You said a couple of days ago you'd write on why the telecoms are getting a bum rap. Would love to see this, especially if you plan to deal with the fact that the telecoms starting illegallyt cooperating with the government before 9/11 and not after as people seem to suggest.

. . .focusing exclusively on the narrow issue of retroactive immunity. . . well I'd like to live in that Ivory Tower, but I do not. It's not my job to explain these things to Mr. Greenwald. . .

I'm not sure what you think Greenwald (and by extension, myself), need explained to us. We're not focusing on the narrow issue of retroactive immunity. We're focusing on the rule of law, which I don't view as a narrow issue. I view it, along with the occupation of Iraq, as the major issue in our country today.

You seem to think that we don't understand political compromise. I understand it just fine. You give up little things to get little things. You give up big things to get big things. The Democratic party appears to view the entire issue of the rule of law as a little thing. Greenwald earlier this year had many good things to say about a FISA compromise in the House that he thought was reasonable, and the best we could expect. I would be fine with an actual FISA compromise, but attempts to paint this current bill as a "compromise" strike me as nonsense. I would also understand (sort of) if this complete capitulation on FISA was necessary because the Democrats had used up a lot of political capital closing down secret prisons, or ending the war in Iraq. But the FISA bill is just the most recent in a long line of Democratic capitulations on every issue that I consider a core issue. If you view the rule of law as one of a myriad number of roughly equally important issues, like assistance to homeowners, or social spending, your post above is fine. But I'm not particularly excited about the Democrats caving on every major rule of law issue just so that they can get some increased social spending. For me, the post above is roughly the equivalent of "Sure, the Democrats just helped the Republicans kill your dog (again), but they had to do that, so they could get you some ice cream later."

news report:
The battle to protect Americans from warrantless wiretaps and hold telecommunications companies accountable is all but lost, Sen. Russ Feingold, a leading critic of President Bush’s likely illegal surveillance programs, said Monday.

The “farce” of a surveillance law deal heralded by House Democratic leaders last week could permanently hide evidence of an “impeachable offense” on the part of President Bush, the Wisconsin Democrat said.

Not original but apt,

As long as the trains run on time...

Cohen, I just took another peruse through my well worn copy of the U.S. Constitution. Maybe I missed it but I couldn't find any reference to the GI Bill, Unemployment insurance, or ANWR.

Maybe you could point me to the right section, since obviously I must have missed it?

You just don't get it, it not the freaking Farm bill we are talking about. We are talking about bedrock principles that define us as nation...principles that Americans have died for.

Earlier Michael:

"Autumn I wish I lived in a world where I could base all of my political positions on adherence to the rule of law."

Later Michael, backpedaling desperately:

"The first line of that previous comment is misstated. ... I of course think the rule of law is hugely important ..."

So... you mis-typed?

Usually, with a Freudian slip such as this one, it's the first words spoken, not the backpedaling and retraction, that show the speaker's true thoughts.

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