Friday, September 29, 2006

Nelson Running Scared

Yesterday, both U.S. senators from Florida voted for the Bush administration's detainee interrogation bill on final passage. Citizens who realize the deeper implications of that vote are particularly disappointed with Senator Bill Nelson's vote.

No, they're more than disappointed -- they are furious.

The Reaction

Take a gander at Eclectic Floridian's diary at Daily Kos. After persistently redialing to get through to Nelson's office, over the background cacaphony of other phones "ringing off the hook" he says he conveyed this message:
"Please tell the Senator that rather than run for office again, he needs to find a job in the private sector ... something that doesn't require much in the way of morals."
Another commenter farther down the screen says of Nelson, "His reelection is assured -- he had nothing to fear by doing the right thing and yet he backed this horrendous legislation."

Or, read this post from the Miami-Dade blog, Stuck on the Palmetto: "In a partisan vote yesterday, Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, sided with Republicans and voted for torture. * * * Jeebus, do I miss Bob Graham."

Practical Politics

It's true that casting a vote which panders to the worst instincts of the electorate in red state Florida would seem to be a thin excuse -- if it ever could be an excuse -- for Nelson's vote. Although he is up for reelection in six weeks, the opposition he faces is weak at best. After all, Katherine Harris already has been deserted by top Republicans in the state. She trails Nelson by at least 18 points in the latest opinion surveys. That's a gargantuan lead as such things go.

Moreover, Nelson's campaign coffers are so full other Democrats are begging him to share the wealth. So he can't have been worried that a vote against the bill somehow might cripple his campaign financing.

Still, we did find in our own email box today no fewer than three separate solicitations from the Nelson campaign for a financial contribution. So, it's fair to conclude he's still 'running scared.'

In one sense, that's the way every incumbent should campaign if he wants to avoid an unpleasant surprise on Election Day. Does it excuse his vote in favor of S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006?

No, not in itself. Certainly not if you expect your elected officials to vote their conscience, as opposed to self-interest, when it comes to one of the most important votes in our nation's history. And there can be no doubt that the bill approved by the U.S. Senate yesterday represents an historically dangerous piece of legislation, perhaps the most egregious subversion of the U. S. Constitution since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

As TPM blogger "Third Estate" writes today:
"This execrable piece of legislation gives the President the power to imprison American citizens without a trial or due process. It prevents the Courts from intervening, giving sole discretion to the Executive. Any person found "materially supporting" terrorism can be thrown in jail forever, without recourse to a lawyer or the courts. The interpretation of the phrase "materially supporting" is left up to the President. Furthermore, the Congress has now become the first legislative body in the history of the United States to endorse the practice of torture."
But we do see two mitigating factors in Nelson's favor. One of them, surprisingly, has not been noted much and certainly not by any of the critics blogging today.

Mitigating Factors

The first mitigating factor is that Bill Nelson did cast four courageous votes in favor of amending the legislation yesterday. That is something that deserves more attention than it's been receiving from bloggers whom you otherwise would expect to support him.
  • Senator Nelson voted in favor of Sen. Carl Levin's much-superior "substitute bill" that would have protected the homeland and our troops and complied with the Geneva Conventions without violating the Constitution's guarantee of due process or restricting the writ of habeas corpus.
  • He supported Sen. Kennedy's amendment "To provide for the protection of United States persons in the implementation of treaty obligations." (Shockingly, not a single Republican senator supported this measure to protect our troops in the event they are detained by the enemy.)
  • Nelson also voted in favor of the Byrd amendment to sunset the legislation after five years, unless Congress acts later to renew it.
  • Most importantly, in the context of the moment, Nelson voted in favor of Arlen Specter's (R-PA) "motion to strike from the bill" its worst provision, the one that eliminates habeas corpus review for 'enemy combatants' and 'supporters.' True, this was defeated 51 to 48. But that was the closest vote there was yesterday and, effectively, given Republican control of Congress, the Senate, and the White House it was whole ballgame.
The second factor in Nelson's behalf was well articulated this morning by attorney Glenn Greenwald. It is a central, inescapable truth that Bill Nelson, alone, just wasn't going to be able to change the outcome yesterday. But if a few more Democrats can be elected to join him in Congress and the Senate he can help to save the nation -- and the Constitution -- from these parlous times:
"[T]he need to restore the rule of law to our country and to put an immediate end to the unlimited reign of the increasingly sociopathic Bush movement is of unparalleled and urgent importance, and it so vastly outweighs every other consideration that little else is worth even discussing until those objectives are accomplished.

"We are a country ruled by a President who has seized the power to break the law in multiple ways while virtually nothing is done about it. Yesterday, we formally vested the power in the President to abduct people and put them in prisons for life without so much as charging them with any crime and by expressly proclaiming that they have no right to access any court or tribunal to prove their innocence. We have started one war against a country that did not attack us and, in doing so, created havoc and danger -- both to ourselves and the world -- that is truly difficult to quantify. And we are almost certainly going to start one more war just like it (at least), that is far more dangerous still, if the President's Congressional servants maintain their control.

"For all their imperfections, cowardly acts, strategically stupid decisions, and inexcusable acquiescence -- and that list is depressingly long -- it is still the case that Democrats voted overwhelmingly against this torture and detention atrocity."
Fear Factor

There is a final dynamic that needs to be brought into the harsh light of day. It may not excuse Nelson's one bad vote out of the five he cast yesterday, but it might help to explain it.

In a telephone interview Sen. Patrick Leahy gave to Amy Goodman today, he contrasted the current mood on Capitol Hill with the historic courage shown by famous Vermonters in the past. In the process, he made it quite plain that Congress itself is in the grip of a pervasive Kafkaesque "reign of fear."
"And you have to stand up. I mean, it was a Vermonter -- you go way back in history -- it was a Vermonter who stood up against the Alien and Sedition Act, Matthew Lyon. He was prosecuted on that, put in jail, as a congressman, put in jail. And Vermont showed what they thought of these unconstitutional laws. We in Vermont reelected him, and eventually the laws fell down. There was another Vermonter, Ralph Flanders, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy and his reign of fear and stopped that. I mean, you have to stand. What has happened, here we are, a great powerful good nation, and we’re running scared. We’re willing to set aside all our values and running scared. What an example that is to the rest of the world."
If you listen to the broadcast, it becomes even more evident what Leahy is saying: America is on the brink of falling into another McCarthy-like era of mutual accusation, recrimination, persecution, threats of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, all fueled by fear. And it's no mystery who is stirring that fear:
"AMY GOODMAN: Was President Bush on Capitol Hill yesterday?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, indeed. You can always tell, because virtually the whole city comes to a screeching halt with the motorcades, although it’s sort of like that when Dick Cheney comes up to give orders to the Republican Caucus. He comes up with a 15 to 25 vehicle caravan. It’s amazing to watch."
It's no knock against Senator Nelson that he wasn't able to summon the courage of a Matthew Lyon or Ralph Flanders, or for that matter a Paul Robeson or Don Hollenback.

Bill Nelson Is Only Human

So Nelson, like a lot of other senators, may be running scared in another sense. Not admirable, but he's only human. No one wants to be victimized by slanders on their patriotism.

Much less would Sen. Nelson want to be accused of 'embracing the enemy's propaganda,' to use a new phrase George W. Bush introduced today to describe the majority of Americans who now oppose the Iraq war.

After all, thanks to the majority of the Senate including Nelson himself, all it takes now is an accusation by George W. Bush that someone has "purposefully and materially supported" enemies of the United States to land you in jail without bail, without access to a lawyer, and without the right to petition for habeas corpus so a court can determine if "embracing enemy propaganda" is a lawful ground for your arrest.

So, let's give Nelson a pass on this one. He tried, just not hard enough.

Too few of us have tried at all.

Amplification Dept.

Friday Reading: Kafka

Anti-Amplification Dept.

To be 'fair and balanced' Disgrunt has a wonderfully snarky take on all of this titled, "Pity the Election Year Democrats: For They Know Not What They Do" .


Anonymous said...

You too can be detained for Embracing Enemy Propaganda.

Anonymous said...

RE: Courageous to vote for ammendments. Nelson and other FL legislators too often vote FOR ammentments, then when they don't pass, say,"Well I tried."
If you think the bill is no good without the ammendment, how come it suddenly becomes good when it comes down to voting for it?
This vote was outragious and disgusting. He doesn't only not represent the Democratic Party or me. He doesn't represent America.
I will never support him for any office again.

Bryan said...

This isn't the only vote that Nelson has cast that puts in solidly in the Republican camp.

I sent him an e-mail with a pointed mention of Ned Lamont.

It's time to prune the deadwood.

Anonymous said...

Do you think rick outzen has anything to do with the mark foley sting?

panicbean said...

Nelson did not have to vote at all. That would have been the prudent choice if he felt he could not change the vote by voting against.

His use of the word bi-partisian nauseates me at times, especially in light of his vote on the bankruptcy bill, which truly was a vote against the people of the panhandle.

No vote for Harris from me, but no vote for Nelson, either.