Mound Of Parchment

by digby

No compact among men...can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no Wall of words, that no mound of parchment can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other. George Washington

I think Washington's wise words were proven, in spades, this week. The constitution is only an idea, written down, that has meaning if we all agree to honor it. It requires our leaders to think in larger terms than momentary political needs. It requires us, as citizens, to be informed and engaged and understand the consequences of fiddling with the basic framework that holds this whole thing together.

There are some members of our ruling elite who don't seem to be ruled by boundless ambition or corrupted morals, but they certainly aren't a majority. In the spirit of making sure that those who are in the minority know that they are appreciated for going against the grain, eschewing the advice of the political consultants and standing up for that ancient mound of parchment, Blue America is sending a check for a thousand dollars to each of ten leaders who stood up for the constitution on the FISA vote.

I'll let Howie Klein give you the details on each of these candidates and why Blue America is proud to be supporting them:

The first names to pop up, of course, where Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold, the heart, soul and conscience of the Senate. Listen to Chris Dodd make his last ditch plea to the Senate yesterday. And take a look at excerpts from Russ Feingold's speech:
“…it could not be clearer that this program broke the law, and this President broke the law. Not only that, but this administration affirmatively misled Congress and the American people about it for years before it finally became public.”

“If Congress short-circuits these lawsuits, we will have lost a prime opportunity to finally achieve accountability for these years of law-breaking. That’s why the administration has been fighting so hard for this immunity. It knows that the cases that have been brought directly against the government face much more difficult procedural barriers, and are unlikely to result in rulings on the merits.”

“I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the Inspector General report, the election of a new President, or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure.”

Those two were the easy ones because they were on the front line of the Senate every step of the way. It took us hours of e-mails and phone conversations to come up with the other 8, not because there weren't eight worthy progressives and patriots but because there dozens of them. It was painful narrowing them list down to just 8. Let me run down the list and give you a bit of rationale for each:

Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) was elected to the House on the same day that Susan Collins was first elected to the Senate. Collins, a reflexive Bush rubber stamp, was a big booster of warrantless wiretaps and retroactive immunity. We don't think it's a coincidence that only 2 senators not running for president received bigger donations from the telecoms than Collins. In 2008, her campaign chest has swelled by over $35,000 with telecom money while she was working diligently to grant them everything they wanted. (She's taken $87,621 from them since being elected.) Tom voted against warrantless wiretaps and against retroactive immunity despite pressure from powerful Democratic Party hacks Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel. Tom didn't care about the telecoms contributions or about party leaders manipulations. He stood for principles that cannot be compromised. "I strongly oppose retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies," he told us. "Neither the government nor large corporations are above the law. Individuals and corporations that break the law must be held accountable." Bingo.

Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) has a somewhat similar story. He's running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici, who voted in favor of wiretapping U.S. citizens. Worse yet, the right-wing extremist Tom must face in November, Congressman Steve Pearce, is equating giving his corporate donors immunity from Justice with national security. Although Tom's Colorado cousin, Mark Udall, buckled under right-wing pressure, Tom stood firm. This is what he had to say on June 20th when the House voted:
The FISA bill we considered today would compromise the constitutionally guaranteed rights that make America a beacon of hope around the world.

Today's vote was not easy. I stood up to leaders of my own party and voted against this bill, because I took an oath to defend Americans and That duty is most important when it is most difficult. We can protect our nation while upholding our values, but unfortunately, this bill falls short.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) has fought to protect the constitution and to respect the traditional New Hampshire motto: "Live Free Or Die." In her state people don't give up hard-won liberties for some tinpot would-be tyrant. Her opponent, a rubber stamp zombie she beat in 2006, is trying to make a comeback and is beating up on her by claiming her defense of the Constitution was... unpatriotic. She's fighting back... proudly and unapologetically. This is part of what she wrote in the Union Leader two weeks ago:
The foundation of democracy is individual freedom from government interference. I am willing to compromise on many issues-- but not on the Constitution. Being forced to choose between protecting our national security or protecting our Constitution is a false choice; we do not have to sacrifice one for the other. It is our responsibility as Americans to protect both.

Doug Tudor isn't in office. He's running against the third ranking Republican in the House, central Florida ideologue and extremist Adam Putnam. Doug is a 20 year Navy veteran and he takes the Constitution for which he fought and risked his life very seriously. His comments about the FISA battle were jarring for their straightforward, no holds barred directness:
“On five occasions during my Navy career, I raised my hand and affirmed ‘to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.’ Members of Congress take a similar oath. I believe that those members who voted in favor of HR 6304 did so in violation of their oath of office. I would have voted against this bill.”

Needless to say, Putnam was jumping up and down and eager as a little redheaded beaver for the warrantless wiretaps to be made legal for his campaign contributors in the telecom industry to have their minds set to rest that they would never have to answer for any crimes they may have committed.

Dennis Shulman is a blind rabbi in northern New Jersey running for a House seat currently occupied by the last radical right Republican left in the Northeast United States, Scott Garrett, who has taken over $9,000 from the Telecom industry this year and, of course, is gung-ho for wiretapping Americans. Dennis spent a great deal of time thinking this issue through. Here's what he told us:
"The House of Representatives, with the support of Republican Scott Garrett, recently passed a bill that would grant President Bush and future administrations unprecedented powers to spy on American citizens without a warrant or review by any judge or court. The new law would also let our nation's largest telecom companies off the hook for knowingly violating the law and releasing their customers' private information at the behest of George Bush.

"Our constitutional right to protection against unsupervised searches was written into our Bill of Rights for good reason by Founders whom we rightly celebrate.

"Neither President Bush nor Scott Garrett are as wise as James Madison.

"It is unfortunate that it appears that the telecom industry has managed to falsely conflate its quest for retroactive immunity for lawbreaking with the issue of national security. The Founding Fathers understood that our safety as a nation depended on our being a nation of laws. Retroactive immunity undermines the rule of law, and therefore undermines our principles and security as a nation.

"The President, his advisers, and his rubber stamps in Congress, including Scott Garrett, have demonstrated a pattern of disregard for the laws of the United States. This bill not only immunizes telecom companies from lawsuits, but it would also block the American people from ever knowing the full extent of the Bush Administration's illegal behavior.

"I urge my fellow Democrats in the Senate to vote against this unnecessary and deeply troubling law.

"I believe that Congress must protect the rights of citizens and the laws of our country from career politicians in Washington too willing to cave to special interests and endanger the fundamental rights that we, as Americans, hold so dear."

State Senator Andrew Rice (D-OK) is running a strong campaign against one of the most extremist members of the U.S. Senate, James Inhofe, who raked in $12,550 from the Telecoms this year and was determined to grant them retroactive immunity-- and positively giddy about giving the government the right to listen in to all phone conversations and read all e-mails without a court order. Andrew disagrees-- strongly:
“Congress must remain vigilant in order to protect Americans from another terrorist attack. However, the bill that is before Congress this week bargains away the privacy of law-abiding American citizens while protecting the companies that allegedly participated in the President’s illegal wiretapping program. The Senate should stick to the narrow fix it set out to accomplish by making it clear that the government does not have to obtain a warrant to listen to foreign-to-foreign communications. Instead, this bill allows a significant expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act so that government can eavesdrop on the international communications of innocent American citizens. Since losing my brother on 9/11, I have vowed to improve America’s anti-terrorism capability without sacrificing the freedoms that so many Americans have died to protect.”

Rick Noriega is running in that big ole state just south of Oklahoma. His opponent, rubber stamp corporate shill John Cornyn has taken $15,250 from the Telecom industry this year and he is as eager as Inhofe to grant them retroactive immunity. Rick has thought about the issue more seriously and from a different perspective than just helping out campaign contributors.
“Many times throughout my lifetime I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States . This isn’t a part-time Constitution. We as a nation cannot grant anyone sweeping amnesty if they break the rules. It’s appalling that my opponent, John Cornyn, puts his special interest campaign contributors ahead of the Constitution. Texans have had enough.

Americans will not accept an abuse of power, and they will not accept corporations getting away with breaking the law.

We already have a law in place that balances national security concerns while adhering to the Constitution. This is not the time to compromise the privacy of the American people and not the time to disregard the Constitution of United States. I regret that the Senate has voted this way.”

Jim Himes is standing firmly with his state's senior senator, Chris Dodd on this issue. Fake moderate Chris Shayes is once again eager to rubber stamp the Bush-Cheney agenda, somehow trying to say that granting Bush the ability to wiretap all American citizens without a court order makes us "safe." Jim sees right through that craven, partisan posturing:
"In Congress, I will always stand up for the fundamental American belief that no man, and no corporation, is above the law. As always, this is a matter for the courts to decide-- not for Congress, and absolutely not for the same Bush Administration who may have violated the law in the first place. It is great to see so many American citizens of all backgrounds coming together to stand up for the rule of law and in opposition to retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies who may have illegally spied on American citizens at the Bush Administration's request. I am disappointed that Chris Shays and so many others continue to stand with President Bush by refusing to stand up for this most fundamental of American principles."

Jon Tester (D-MT) was a populist underdog who ran for the Senate in 2006 against an Insider Democrat backed by Chuck Schumer and the Beltway Establishment. He beat him in the primary, beat an entrenched Republican incumbent in November and has gone on to represent the interests of regular Montana folks in DC. His statement about the this fight was an inspiration and may well have influenced his Montana colleague: "It deals with the freedoms that so many people have fought and died for. If we want to get serious about the War on Terror, we need to make the investments to fight the war on terror. We ought not be taking rights away from honest citizens. If we've got terror cells around the world, then let's invest in human intelligence. Let's invest in our Special Forces. Let's go after 'em, and let's be serious, and not get sidetracked by Iraq. Right now, we're taking rights away from honest people. If they think you fall into their list, you're a target. By the time they figure out there's a terror cell, they can get a warrant.... The government ought not be taking away our freedoms."

Darcy Burner is running against a corporate hack and rubber stamp in Washington, Dave Reichert, who is all about rewarding his corporate donors with retroactive immunity. Reichert took $6,000 for the Telecoms so far this year and thinks they should not be accountable for crimes they may have committed. Darcy has been one of the most outspoken opponents of this bill; watch the 30 second video. After the bill passed in the House, she didn't despair; she start rallying for action:
Like many of you, I'm incredibly disappointed with today's vote on retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies. I've made my position on this issue very clear, and I've been happy to be fighting to ensure that we uphold the Constitution through all of this. But the real question is what we do going forward. We need to make sure that we elect people to Congress who are going to defend the Constitution at the same time that the keep this country safe. I promise you, I will never let you down on that. It's time for us to elect more and better Democrats.

We're less concerned about the "more" and focusing on the "better." We will send each of these patriotic Americans a grassroots contribution for $1,000. If you haven't donated yet and would like to, please feel free-- right here.

Post-partisanship and "maverick" politicians are all the rage these days. Nobody can stop talking about how much Americans want people to stop playing politics and just "do what's right." And yet, for the most part, we have the presidential candidates and a majority of representatives of both parties playing the most cynical game possible of either rank political calculation or unamerican authoritarianism on these national security issues. To many of us they are the very definition of issues that should be non-partisan and beyond the scope of every day political considerations. Certainly, if Democrats can't even do the right thing on fundamental constitutional issues then it's hard to see that post partisanship is anything more than a new label for the usual mushy capitulation and sidelining of the liberal agenda that has been characteristic of the national Democrats for years now.

While Blue America doesn't have the resources to thank all of those who voted to preserve the constitution with this modest contribution, the hope is that all of those who voted as patriots on this know that they are appreciated for standing up when it counted. Contrary to the Village's insistence that the only way to define yourself as a brave and bold politician is to stiff liberals and civil libertarians, it is votes like this that define political courage and prove what you are made of. Everything good about the American experiment flows from the ideas in that mound of parchment. If you don't stand up for that then you are sowing the seeds of our demise.

Update: Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall have a very interesting article posted on Slate today talking about how the way Obama is framing his rhetoric means that he is validating some fundamental right wing constitutional interpretations.

One of the things I had been hoping the Obama campaign would do was creatively frame the agenda on new terms rather than the old reliable issue matrix. It's not easy to do it because people see politics in a sort of shorthand and it's hard to change years of conservative propaganda in one go. But I did think that an election where the other side has been completely discredited and we have a candidate of unusual rhetorical gifts it would have been possible to do it. Certainly, it would have fit the change these. This article discusses some of the ways that it could have been done and I hope the Obama campaign reads it.