"If the American people accept this last audacity of the president without letting out a yell to high heaven, they have ceased to be jealous of their liberties and are ripe for ruin."
-- Dorothy Thompson, 1937
I sat down to write this column on Sunday feeling more than the usual confusion and bewilderment. It's always that way until the thing actually gets off the ground. It isn't that I don't have ideas; I have too many. And the first rule of "commentary," in a limited space, is that one must pick a single idea and focus on that. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
I had decided by Saturday night that I'd write this week about the unmitigated, unbelievable timidity and cowardice of the Democratic "leadership" in Congress. I even had my opening lines: "So, what's with these so-called Democrats? Do they really have no program and no ideas? Or are they all just a version of Hillary Clinton, trying to play to 'the center' so as not to seem, you know, 'liberal' or 'soft on terror.' Are they that worried about their chances in the next election? I don't think so, because there won't be one if they don't do something -- fast."
But, as you see, that's a very long paragraph, containing more than one idea. So let me be more specific. My "subject" was last Friday's contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Senator Russ Feingold's resolution to censure President Bush, in lieu of any realistic possibility of impeaching him. Feingold's measure relates directly to Bush's unlawful wiretapping of American citizens, in the name of "fighting terror." You may remember how many times Bush has told us, "We're fighting terror over there so we don't have to fight it over here." But the fact is, we are fighting here -- or should be, lest Bush's bunch of criminal, corporate clones manages to dismantle our democracy altogether.
It was beyond unreal -- in fact, it was surreal -- to watch and read the reports of the Senate hearings on Feingold's motion. There was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) solemnly intoning, "Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander-in-chief." ("A good question for the senator," writes columnist Dave Lindorff, "might be this: If the war in question is the so-called 'War on Terror,' when exactly might we consider it an appropriate time for 'weakening' the commander-in-chief?")
There was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) -- a leading player in the effort to impeach President Clinton for receiving a blow job in the White House -- declaring that "censure" was not the remedy.
There was John Dean, Richard Nixon's former White House counsel, declaring that his own experience exposing Watergate qualified him as an expert on the constitutional separation of powers and how easily these can be violated if people don't stay awake.
There were Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) dismissing Feingold's motion as "beyond the pale." There was John Dean again, telling both of these fat cats, "Had the Senate or the House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented." There was Graham, "noting" that Dean was "a convicted felon" and that therefore anything he says must be dismissed out of hand. There was Dean answering back: "You're showing you don't know [this] subject very well."
There was Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) "noting" that Sen. Feingold's censure resolution doesn't specify that President Bush has been acting in "bad faith." And there was Feingold replying, "If you want the words 'bad faith' in there, let's put them right in, because that's exactly what we have here."
There was the great majority of Democratic senators "scurrying away like scared rats," in the words of The Nation's William Greider, with the notable exceptions of Feingold, California's Barbara Boxer and Vermont's own Patrick Leahy, a good and decent man who nevertheless seems to have succumbed to the rules of the club as they currently exist. The Knight-Ridder newspaper chain reports that Leahy is now "inclined to believe" that censuring Bush would be an "appropriate sanction."
"We know the president broke the law," Leahy declared. "Now we need to know why."
Forgive me, Senator, we don't need to know why. We already know why. Bush's regime has been breaking the law from the day it was first unlawfully installed by five Supreme Court justices, originally appointed by Bush's Daddy and his "father," Ronald Reagan. All of us know this, except, apparently, all of you. And that's why it's been allowed to continue.
"Senator Russ Feingold is an embarrassment to the U.S. Senate," Greider continues in The Nation, "which makes him an authentic hero of the Republic. The Wisconsin senator gets up and says out loud what half the country is thinking and talks about every day. This President broke the law and lied about it; he trashed the Constitution and hides himself in the flag. Feingold asks: Shouldn't the Senate say something about this, at least express our disapproval? . . .
"Well, that tore it in the august chamber of lawmakers . . . You want to censure our warrior President, the guy who defends us every day against terrorist attacks? . . . Yuk, yuk."
Now, I must go, before I faint or move to France.