Sunday, June 22, 2008
So, why have activists spent so much effort opposing retroactive corporate immunity as part of new FISA legislation, when there are so many other things in the world to be outraged about? Why do so many people care so much about a mere technical issue such as whether such-and-such is legal or illegal?
I can count three reasons.
- It goes to the heart of illegal actions by this administration. The Bush administration has broken law after law, and been enmeshed in scandal after scandal, and been met with no substantive actions. There are investigations that never end; there are stern letters that are never answered; there are subpoenas that are simply ignored. So to respond to a clearly illegal act by, of all possible things, writing legislation that offers retroactive immunity for those acts, maintains the secrecy of those acts, and declares that the Bush administration itself will be responsible for the future integrity of those acts -- it is patently asinine. It is an insult. It demonstrates a complete lack of regard for the law, and for the very responsibilities of each branch of government. In this, it is symbolic of the entire current Congress, which has proved itself all but nonfunctional when it comes to checking abuses by the executive branch -- or even by their own branch.
- It is a Constitutional question, and of a sort that the administration has fought long and hard to cripple. Among the more basic premises of the Bill of Rights is the notion of probable cause; your government may not conduct searches or seizures without a warrant, and the judicial branch shall judge the merit of those warrants. But the Bush administration wishes simply nullify that entire concept, if those searches are electronic in nature. It takes no imagination at all to observe that once one type of widespread, warrantless, causeless electronic search is deemed to be outside of 4th Amendment protections, an entire series of other electronic searches will follow. That is, after all, the entire reason the Bush administration pursued these searches illegally, rather than attempting to change FISA law in advance; they have every intention of creating a precedent for future searches, and they now have been given exactly that.
- It was easy. I mean, Jesus H. Christmas, it has been the easiest thing in the world -- all they had to do was not do it. It's not freakin' rocket science -- but thanks to the efforts of a number of Democrats, not just Rockefeller and Hoyer but people like Reid and Pelosi, they just couldn't not put immunity in. We were never told why it was so all-fired important -- they would never grace us with any non-childish, non-condescending, non-flagrantly-insulting explanation. But instead of just not passing bills granting immunity, we had Reid treating Dodd more shabbily than he ever treated any Republican, and Hoyer apparently going around Pelosi, and all manner of prodding and dealing by Democrats to get immunity for these acts. It is baffling, and the only rationale available seems to be the most cynical one -- it is merely doing the bidding of companies that provide substantive campaign contributions. No other explanation would seem to suffice.
So those are the reasons. Because of all the issues we've faced, in the last few years, this one was an absolute no-brainer, the one thing that the Democrats, no matter how stunningly incompetent, humiliatingly ineffective or bafflingly capitulating they may be, could manage to win simply by sitting on their damn hands. But no; it took serious work to lose on this one. Serious, burning-the-midnight-oil work to manage to quite so cravenly negate their own oversight duties.
And that is why this will not be forgotten anytime soon. A caucus willing to go to these lengths to satisfy the illegalities of the Bush administration is not one that can easily be defended. It is understandable that it would take a great deal of courage to enforce Congressional subpoenas. We can understand that voting against funding for the war could be risky, if we were to presume that Bush would simply keep the troops in the Iraqi desert to rot regardless of funding.
But this one? This petty, stinking issue of granting retroactive immunity to companies that violated the law, such that they need not even say how they violated the law, or when they violated the law, or how often, or against who, and the whole thing started before 9/11 so it is clear that terrorism wasn't even a prime factor for doing it -- that whole mess is now absolved, no lawsuits, no discovery, no evidence allowed to be presented?
No, that one is indefensible. It is indefensible because it requires not just passive acceptance of a corrupt administration performing illegal acts, but legislators actively condoning those acts with the stroke of a pen. The Democrats are determined to set themselves as partners in committing crimes, then absolving them; there should be nothing but contempt for such acts.