The Feingold Censure Resolution is unmasking the hideous underbelly of almost every Washington institution as vividly as anything that can be recalled. Each of the rotted Beltway branches is playing so true to form that the distinct forms of corruption and dishonesty which characterize each of them are standing nakedly revealed. As ugly of a sight as it is, it is highly instructive to watch it all unfold.
Let us being with the abject willingness of the media to simply pass along GOP talking points even when they take the form of factually false claims. From the beginning of this scandal, the media has reported -- falsely -- that the public has sided with the Bush Administration in the NSA scandal even though poll after poll conclusively demonstrates that the opposite is true. Continuing this trend of misleading reporting was Tuesday's Washington Post article, which contained this assertion:
Many Democrats, while sympathetic to Feingold's maneuver, appeared to be distancing themselves from his resolution yesterday, wary of polls showing that a majority of Americans side with the president on wiretapping tactics.
That is just false. Reading polls is not that hard. Reporters ought to be able to manage that. And one poll after the next for weeks now has shown that a majority believes (.pdf) that the President broke the law, and that a majority opposes eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.
Although it may come as a great surprise to journalists, anyone following polling data from the beginning of the NSA scandal would have anticipated that the Feingold Censure Resolution is already supported by a plurality of Americans, 46% to 44%. According to the first poll on censure, from the American Research Group:
Do you favor or oppose the United States Senate passing a resolution censuring President George W. Bush for authorizing wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining court orders?
All Adults - 3/15/06
Favor - 46%
Oppose - 44%
Undecided - 10%
Based on 1,100 completed telephone interviews among a random sample of adults nationwide March 13-15, 2006. The theoretical margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points, 95% of the time.
Polls have continuously shown that Americans oppose eavesdropping without judicial oversight. Clear pluralities in most states across the country - including some of the deepest red states -- believe that Bush clearly broke the law. And already, a plurality support the Censure Resolution, and that's with just one person -- Russ Feingold -- advocating it, and Democrats running away from it. And yet the media continues to blithely pass along the conventional -- and factually baseless -- "wisdom" that Americans have sided with the Administration in the NSA scandal and that it is a political loser for the Democrats.
That brings us to these profiles in courage from leading Democratic Senators, showing the nation how strong and tough they are when they were asked their position on the Censure Resolution:
"I haven't read it," demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).
"I just don't have enough information," protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). "I really can't right now," John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters -- an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.). . . .
So nonplused were Democrats that even Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), known for his near-daily news conferences, made history by declaring, "I'm not going to comment." Would he have a comment later? "I dunno," the suddenly shy senator said.
Republicans were grateful for the gift. The office of Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) put a new "daily feature" on its Web site monitoring the censure resolution: "Democrat co-sponsors of Feingold Resolution: 0." . . .
Many of Feingold's Democratic colleagues agree that Bush abused his authority with the NSA spying program. And they know liberal Democratic activists are eager to see Bush censured, or worse. But they also know Feingold's maneuver could cost them seats in GOP states. . . .
"Most of us feel at best it's premature," announced Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.). "I don't think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened is illegal."
The column goes on and on like that, also naming Debbie Stabenow, Mary Landrieu, and Jeff Bingaman as Senators who virtually tripped over their own feet running away from the Feingold Resolution. There were a few -- very few -- honorable exceptions:
Dodd must not have checked with Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa). "The president broke the law and he needs to be held accountable," he said. "Talk about high crimes and misdemeanors!" Harkin said he'll vote for the Feingold resolution -- if it comes up.
Harkin has now co-sponsored Feingold's Resolution. And Sen. Reid did say: "Senator Feingold is a man of principle . . . I think that people should cool their jets and let the process takes its course." But when asked about his view on the Resolution, he would only say this: "It's a question that's been asked 33 times in the last few hours And so, for the 34th time, I'm going to say the same thing: I'm going to wait . . . ."
As a result of all of this equivocation and evasion, we have seen headlines over the last several days like this:
* Feingold Draws Little Support for Censure
* Some Democrats Wary of Resolution On Wiretapping
* Democrats Beat Quick Retreat on Call to Censure President
This is not exactly the way to demonstrate to the country the tough and resolute nature of Democrats. A fairly reliable sign that Democrats have made a serious political miscalculation in how they reacted to the Feingold Resolution is that the verb "retreat" is used in headlines -- accurately -- to describe the conduct of Democrats. Abandoning one's own ally and fellow party member, while wallowing in so much fear as to not even be able to articulate a position, is not the way to demonstrate the courage and principle that lays at the heart of the Democratic Party. It's almost as though Democrats are purposely re-inforcing all of the weakness and indecision imagery which has been imposed on them so successfully for the last couple of decades.
Making matters much more inexplicable, and infuriating, is this list, compiled by Liberal Oasis, of the 24 Senators (19 Democrats, 4 Republicans and Jeffords) who are still in the Senate and who co-sponsored Dianne Feinstein's resolution to censure Bill Clinton (not just for lying but expressly for having an "inappropriate relationship" with an adult woman). Included on the list are many Senators who are afraid thus far to support Feingold's resolution -- including Schumer, Reid, Landrieu, Feinstein and Kennedy. Most political positions are subject to reasonable debate. Favoring a censure of Bill Clinton while opposing a censure of George Bush isn't one of them.
It is not too late to rectify this damage. It is long past time for Democrats to make clear to the country just how radical this Administration is in its expressly claimed power to break the law. Democrats can take a real stand for the core principles of our government by making clear to Americans that they find it intolerable for the President to engage in illegal behavior -- to deliberately, continuously and even proudly violate the law. Democrats need to make the point that this scandal is not about eavesdropping, but about whether we will continue to be a nation that adheres to the principles on which our country was founded and continue to be a nation which lives under the rule of law. Sen. Feingold has created the perfect opportunity to finally have that debate.
Americans have deeply instilled within them the value that nobody is above the law, including the President, and that it is hubristic, arrogant and intolerable for anyone to claim the right to break the law, no matter the intentions. Every poll has shown considerable opposition to this law-breaking despite very little leadership on this issue. Think of what those numbers will be if Democrats stand united and forcefully explain the profound damage our country will suffer if we simply allow the President to break the law without consequences.
And yet, at least for now, the Democrats continue to equivocate and hide, flamboyantly displaying the very characteristics of which they most need to rid themselves-- weakness, fear and a steadfast refusal to wage any battle unless it is popular and victory is guaranteed in advance. Between Russ Feingold and the Democratic Senators who are literally hiding behind each other in order to avoid taking a position, it is not difficult to determine who looks stronger and more resolute.
Finally we come to a characteristically vile little e-mail sent around by Ken Mehlman, exhibiting the only tactic Bush followers really can rely on these days -- accusing anyone who criticizes George Bush of supporting The Terrorists:
This week, liberal Democrat Russ Feingold called on the Senate to censure the President for a program that is successfully stopping terrorists. After months of searching, Democrat leaders are finally beginning to find their agenda: take away the tools America needs tofight terror. . . .
Weakening our national security is their agenda. Is it yours? Sign the petition to tell the Democrat leaders to stop undermining the War onTerror with cheap political stunts. We are a nation at war. Our President has no more basic responsibility than to protect the American people and fight terrorists who want to kill us.
It's one thing if a lone Senator wants our government to look the other way when an Al Qaeda terrorist contacts a sleeper cell inside the United States. It's entirely another when Democrat minority leader Harry Reid commends Feingold's censure move for "bringing [theterrorist surveillance program] to the attention of the American people."
This statement is as factually false as it is reprehensible. No Senator, including Feingold, "wants our government to look the other way when an Al Qaeda terrorist contacts a sleeper cell inside the United States." And Ken Mehlman knows that. But he says it anyway, because he knows that the media will not report that this statement is false, and because accusing their political opponents of being traitors and Best Friends to the Terrorists in the only political tactic which the Administration has left.
So, to summarize what our survey reveals: We have Democrats running and hiding, afraid to stand up to the President even when he gets caught breaking the law. We have the media mindlessly reporting GOP talking points even when they are factually false and when the falsehood could be easily verified with about 60 seconds of research. And we have Republicans accusing those few Democrats who are willing to criticize the Leader of being on the side of Terrorists, while the media passes along those false accusations without comment and Democrats run away and hide some more, never showing any offense or anger at all from watching Republicans accuse them of treason.
That's our system of government, in a nutshell. These events over the last week's news cycle, by themselves, would be sufficient to teach a Civics class how our national political institutions work right now. That is the system which Sen. Feingold decided to disrupt, and few things need disruption more than this morass of dishonesty and principle-free corruption that permeates every single component of our national political life.
We are a country in which the President has literally seized the power to break the law. That is a serious and profound governmental crisis, and the Feingold Censure Resolution is the perfect opportunity for those issues to finally be debated and resolved. In a healthy and properly functioning political system, they would be.