by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 10, 2007
WITH F.I.S.A VOTE, DEMOCRATS SHOW LACK OF SPINE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- We've come to expect Republicans to do the wrong thing over and over again. That's why no one was surprised that virtually every Republican in the House and Senate voted for President Bush's revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
But why did 16 Democratic Senators and 41 Democratic House members vote to expand the President's authority to spy on the international telephone calls and e-mails of Americans?
Why should a president who has admitted and expressed his pride in repeatedly breaking FISA for nearly six years be given more authority to spy on Americans? Why should the law be changed so that his illegal spying would be now be legal?
Even more outrageous, why should the power to authorize the spying now rest with the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, rather than with the special court that was created in 1978 to regulate spying requests?
Few Democrats wanted to ask these questions. Too many are still afraid of standing up to the president and his allies in the news media. Too many are afraid of seeing campaign commercials from their Republican opponents painting them as soft on terrorism for voting against this bill. Too many are afraid of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and the rest of the right-wing barking heads attacking their patriotism. Too many are more concerned about saving their own hides than saving the Constitution.
Why did so many Democrats fall for Mr. Bush's "vote for this bill or the terrorists will kill us all" nonsense? They should have been smart enough to recognize this bill for what it is - another power grab by an Administration that recognizes no limits on its power.
Because of the actions of the Democrats who voted their fears rather than their principles, the vast abuses and criminal acts committed by the Bush White House in its various surveillance programs will remain undisclosed and uninvestigated. There are now no limits to what the Administration can do.
And while the Democrats who voted for this bill can rationalize their vote by saying "it's only for six months, and next time we'll be able to make changes and rewrite this law properly," we can almost guarantee that the Administration will make the same feeble arguments and the Democrats will put up the same feeble defense.
Does anyone still remember why FISA was created in the first place? Back in the mid-1970s, congressional investigations uncovered countless abuses by the FBI, CIA and other government agencies. They involved the collection of intelligence about the political advocacy and actions of American citizens. That information was used to try to destroy the lives and reputations of those whom the government deemed "subversive." For example, White House undercover operatives broke into the office of a Beverly Hills psychiatrist to gain damaging information that could be leaked to the press about Daniel Ellsberg, a fierce critic of the White House and Vietnam War who had disclosed the damning Pentagon Papers.
That is why the laws were rewritten - to put limits on domestic surveillance. The Bush Administration, which has failed to obey these laws for nearly six years, was coming under increased legal pressure. But the Democrats have just allowed President Bush to not only get away with his years of lawlessness, but to expand that lawlessness further.
For every American who believes in the Constitution and the rule of law, these are dangerous times. The core liberties that our nation's constitutional framework secures are under attack. The checks and balances to preserve those liberties and protect us from tyranny are nearly gone.
As we've seen time and time again, the Bush Administration doesn't care what Congress or the American people think. President Bush long ago decided it doesn't have to follow any law that he doesn't like. He can defy Congress, secure in the knowledge that he can get away with it. That's because Congress still refuses to impeach Mr. Bush despite the multitude of crimes he and his Administration have committed.
We are in a dangerous time for our Constitution and our country. If Congress wishes to remain a meaningful and independent branch of our government, it must rein in the executive branch. The tool for doing this is impeachment. The time for doing this is now.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.