Last weekend Congress passed the Protect America Act (does somebody get paid for thinking up Orwellian names for anticonstitutuional laws?) and by doing so abdicated its responsibility as a coequal branch of government. I’ve labeled those who voted in favor The Tyranny Caucus because that is what they are. By giving in to the administration on this they have proved to be either demagogues or unforgivably timid, and either way they are not worthy of the office they hold.
I’ve heard various reports this week about why it happened the way that it did. For example, Republicans wanted it passed so they could rally behind the President for something and “score” a legislative victory that divided Democrats. Or that Democrats were promised one thing in talks with the Director of National Intelligence and he ended up publicly favoring something else, at which point it was too late to chage. I’ve read about how different proposals were put on different tracks with different timelines, how some might have defied convention to switch things up on the floor, and so on. At this point I’m not the least bit interested in conspiracy theories or tales of palace intrigue; we should be only concerned with the results of what they do. It’s Occam’s razor, baby - the simplest explanation is the most likely. You don’t need to know anything about how Congress works because it’s safe to assume the outcome is what they wanted - increased, unaccountable spying. They wrote it, passed it and sent it to the President knowing he’d sign it. I’ll write it again, and if I was an all caps kind of guy I’d do that here: Congress is in favor of warrentless surveillance of American citizens. We went down this road in the seventies when people were shocked at the Church Committee’s findings. Do we need to be shocked again? Do we have to find out the hard way again that targeted but unsupervised authority inevitably metastasizes? As a country we’re saying “no thanks on learning history - we’ll just repeat it.”
Their vote over the weekend is by itself sufficient to justify their ouster at the polls. As a group I think the following can easily be said: They are unable to address the confrontation George W. Bush has imposed on them and have announced by their actions that they will not behave as a coequal branch of government. We need to write them off and start thinking about what happens after them. A few thoughts in that direction:
The FISA law deserves to remain front and center. The secretive nature of the spying on American citizens means those of us who are victims of it won’t know it. The Supreme Court’s recent infatuation with standing means we’re set up for the following: In order to sue you must have standing. However, since the wiretapping is secret the people who have standing aren’t aware of it (and certainly have no way to establish it). Therefore no one has a valid legal claim against it. Bottom line: They spy on you if they want and you just have to accept it. As long as this law is in place we may assume that every day Americans are being surveilled by the government with no oversight or paper trail. That is (should be) news every single day.
Since there is a six month sunset provision it’s theoretically possible that this outrage will go away in February. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that based on the Spoiled Milk Principle: If you pull out some milk from your fridge, pour yourself a glass and find that it’s gone sour do you put it back in the fridge for six months and see if it gets any better? In February we’ll have the same people running the executive and legislative branches - why exactly do we expect the debate or the votes to be any different then?
Most importantly we can’t spend half a year waiting around for the legislature to get around to reaffiming it. We should take for granted that it will become permanent and start looking for people to replace the Tyranny Caucus. We should first try to identify primary challengers who will pledge complete and immediate repeal and give them all the support we can. We should look for them in both parties to give us the best chance of sending a liberty-affirming representative to Washington. The FISA changes are news and should remain ongoing news because of their continuing (unseen) damage to the constitutional balance of powers. The people who brought it to us deserve to be thrown out of office by robust, unblinking challenges in the party primary or failing that the general election.
Get ‘em out.