Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fear vs. Constitution: The Box Score

Today, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted out of fear and ignorance rather than loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. American democracy is the loser.

By votes of 66 to 32 on the Dodd-Feinstein Amendment... and 61 to 37 on the Specter Amendment... and 56 to 42 on the Bingaman Amendment, the U.S. Senate rejected three proposals that would have moderated the Bush administration's requested FISA update legislation.

As it now stands, the White House-engineered bill (backed by nearly all Republicans and aided by too many craven Democrats) grants the president the exclusive authority to wiretap Americans at will over the next four years without any meaningful checks or balances. It also grants absolute immunity to those major telecom companies who abetted Bush's past illegal wiretapping over the last seven years.

Of the three amendments considered, in some ways rejecting the amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman is the least defensible. By all admissions, the White House repeatedly has refused to tell the vast, vast majority of senators just how intrusive the White House and telecom companies were in illegally monitoring and recording your emails, telephone calls, and other communications from 2001 through 2007. Bingaman's amendment merely would have delayed any grant of immunity for that criminality "until 90 days after the date the final report of the Inspectors General on the President's Surveillance Program is submitted to Congress."

In other words, the Bingaman amendment would have enabled Congress, first, to gather the facts, and only then to make a decision whether immunity is so justified that it warrants ordering the courts to butt out. As a matter of logic -- never mind constitutional principle -- it seems inarguable that Congress should want to know what it's doing before it does it.

Not in the Wonderland that has become the D.C. Beltway village. There, the laws of logic have been suspended. As the mad Queen explained to Alice, it now goes "sentence first--verdict afterwards."

Florida's own senators, Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, voted pretty much in lock-step with the Bush White House. Nelson strayed off the Bush reservation only on the Bingaman amendment.

So, let's give faint praise where it's due: If you're looking to vote for a politician who violates his oath of office to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States" only two-thirds of the time, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is your man. If you want one who undermines it one hundred percent of the time, Mel Martinez is the guy for you.

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