February 12, 2008, was a blot on our democracy. This was the day that the Senate voted to give the Executive Branch vast new powers to spy on us, and to give telecom companies a get out of jail free card.
Harry Reid is primarily to blame for this, since he decided to bring to the floor of the Senate the deeply flawed bill of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as opposed to the far superior bill of the Judiciary Committee.
This was unforgivable.
But two Senators valiantly rose to defend our rights in this debate: Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Both offered amendments to negate the harm of this bill. Both argued strenuously for our rights. Both failed. But in standing up for democracy, they put the nation on notice that the Constitution is in grave peril.
“I have seen some dark days in this chamber,” Dodd said. “In my mind, one of the worst was September 28, 2007: the day the Senate voted to strip habeas corpus and tolerate torture. Today, February 12, 2008, is nearly as dark. . . . Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of darkness in recent years, as one by one our dearest traditions of Constitutional governance have been attacked.”
Dodd was especially scornful of the immunity granted to the telecom firms. “We were asked to put corporations explicitly outside the law and accept at face value the argument that some are literally too rich to be sued.”
His speech, in its entirety, is a gem.
Dodd warned that Bush’s outrages against our Constitution are all connected.
“If we believe that each assault against the rule of law was an accident, that each was isolated, we’re deluding ourselves,” he said.
Feingold also spoke eloquently.
He assailed the Administration and its supporters as they “repeatedly and inaccurately” asserted that “efforts to provide checks and balances will impede the government’s surveillance of terrorists. . . . This is fear-mongering, it is wrong.”
He added, ruefully: “Sadly, these grossly misleading efforts at intimidation have apparently worked.”
Feingold argued that by immunizing the corporations, this bill will shield the NSA’s wiretapping program from judicial repudiation.
“This is an ideal outcome for an Administration that believes it should be able to interpret laws alone, without worrying about how Congress wrote them or what a judge thinks,” Feingold said. “For those of us who believe in three independent and co-equal branches of government, it is a disaster.”
Thanks to Senator Dodd and Senator Feingold for showing real backbone and real principle in a time of Constitutional crisis.