As I write, the Senate is today in the very midst of passing a bill which would repeal habeas corpus; allow the Bush regime to "continue the Program" (i.e., to torture); allow anyone to be scooped up at any time (without judicial review, of course) and be held, well, forever. I'm being neither partisan nor hyperbolic. See, for instance, the good gray New York Times, which compares it, and not favorably, to the Alien and Sedition Acts.
There was an amendment offered to keep habeas corpus. It was defeated 51-48, on essentially party lines. Other amendements will be offered, and will be defeated.
This bill--which suspends the Constitution, which contains provisions which many Senators have not read, which was rushed onto the floor for purely partisan reasons--was the product of a Kabuki "compromise" between the McCainists and the White House, and a far more real compromise between Senators Frist and Reid. In which the Democrats promised not to filibuster in exchange for the right to propose no more than four amendments-- Each of which was, or will be, defeated.
This was and is one of the most important votes in our liftime, if you believe in the Constitution, the idea of justice, that kind of thing. Why did the Democratic leadership cave? Because they were afraid of being accused of being "soft on terror."
Guess what? They're going to be accused of that anyway.
The count on the habeas vote was still echoing in the chamber when Tony Snow said, "[The President will] be citing some of the comments that members of the Democratic leadership have made in recent days about what they think is necessary for winning the war on terror."
So here's a bill that Arlen Specter says "will take our civilization back 900 years." A bill which Patrick Leahy calls "the darkest blot on the conscience of the nation." And yet the Democrats do nothing effective to stop it--when all that would have been required was to move it (as the wiretap bill was moved) past the end of this session.
In The Wild Bunch, Deke Thornton (played by Robert Ryan) says to his band, "You think Pike and old Sykes haven't been watchin' us? They know what this is all about - and what do I have? Nothin' but you egg-suckin', chicken stealing gutter trash with not even sixty rounds between you... The next time you make a mistake, I'm going to ride off and let you die."
That about says it. For fear of being called weak the Democrats sat there and sucked eggs. There was an occasional burst of noble rhetoric, but no concerted effort or real opposition when it would have counted, and no political will to delay the juggernaut. Leahy said, "There is no new national security crisis. There's only a Republican political crisis." And, having said that, voted and lost.
Should we ride off the next time the Democratic Party makes a "mistake" of this magnitude? Or should we ride off right now?
Update: As of late this afternoon the bill has passed, 65-34. All of the Republicans voted for it, with the exception of Chaffee--even Specter, who this morning said that S.3930 would "take our civilization back 900 years," by this afternoon apparently felt that wasn't such a bad thing. Eleven Democrats sided with the torturists, as did Lieberman.
Perhaps we have no alternative but to fight like hell for this sorry party, in hopes that with a Majority will come a Spine. Still, the lovely speeches from the floor don't change the fact that this bill could have been filibustered, or otherwise maneuvered into next session.
To once more quote from The Wild Bunch: "Angel dreams of love, but Mapache eats the mango."