Thursday, September 28, 2006

Burning the Constitution

Five years down the line, people will look back on the last two weeks and the passage of the Right of the President to Detain and Torture Whomever He Pleases Act and shudder at what could have been if it had not been repealed two years later. Or we'll look back and take note of the delicious irony that this bill, so ardently championed by the far right, legally justified President Hillary Rodham Clinton's order to round up a number of fringe right-wing militia members and detain them indefinitely. Don't believe me? Check out the frightening analysis from one of the country's foremost constitutional scholars, Bruce Ackerman. We're slouching towards fascism, one compromise at a time.

For more, check out Sully or Greenwald. Here's Sullivan's take:

How do I put this in words as clearly as possible. If the U.S. government decides, for reasons of its own, that you are an "illegal enemy combatant," i.e. that you are someone who

"has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States,"

they can detain you without charges indefinitely, granting you no legal recourse except to a military tribunal, and, under the proposed bill, "disappear" and torture you. This is not just restricted to aliens or foreigners, but applies to U.S. citizens as well. It can happen anywhere in the U.S. at any time. We are all at potential risk.

As for the way the Dems played it politically, I'm not confident in taking a stand. Kevin Drum, not a reflexively confrontational guy, thinks the Dems blew it. Liberal stalwarts like Ohio Senate hopeful Sherrod Brown have disappointed the rank & file by voting for this odious bill. It's dispiriting, but I see the rationale of appeasers like Brown: win back control of one or the other chamber and the days of Bush/Rove's power-grabbing are over. Vote against this bill now and immediately you'll be faced with a flurry of ads accusing you of putting "the rights of terrorists above the security of the American people." Is the fear of getting "Max Clelandized" justified? Polling data from the beginning of time has shown American people don't go to bat for abstract rights. Majorities are perfectly willing to sell out constitutional guaranteed principles if they don't think it applies to them (separation of church and state, Fourth Amendment rights). Having waged highly successful campaigns attacking Democrats' concern for "rights of criminals," the Republicans understand the American mentality very well. Until white, middle class Christians get detained for no good reason by authorities, the GOP can always cast their attack on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights as a battle between middle America and unpopular groups. Vulnerable GOoPers are already charging that Dems care more about the rights of terrorists and illegal immigrants than the security of the American people. Given this context, I'm not sure it's entirely wrong to try to avoid a political battle where you put all your chips on the enduring need for the writ of habeas corpus.

On the other side, this is a crushing degree of cowardice. We have the values of the country at stake here. And one reason the Democrats have been losing election after election is their habitual fear of being outplayed by Republicans. The Democrats, in poker parlance, play weak-tight. Always on the defense, the quivering Democrats play their cards with the assumption that Republicans are holding the stronger hand. Instead of taking control of the table, they will meekly call a couple of bets before folding. They don't play up Bush's failure and lack of effort in catching bin Laden for fear that Karl Rove will pull Osama's decapitated out in an October surprise. They don't want to come out against the trampling of the Constitution for fear of being tagged weak on security or "more concerned with the rights of terrorists." Only when they're holding a monster hand will they start playing aggressively.

Actually, weak-tight dudes are often winning players, but they're easily manipulated by good aggressive players, who are the ones taking control of the pot and the betting. And to be fair, the Democrats have been trying to control the debate a little more. Bill Clinton's Fox News outburst and the party's ever-mounting attacks on the Iraq debacle are two hands that are being played right -- or at least aggressively. But overall the Democrats are still folding the best hand way too much.

In this instance, I'm not sure pocket 7s is a hand you want to reraise with. But when you see the player fold good hand after good hand to big bets, you kinda start hoping that player will make a stand somewhere. Maybe on the very next hand the Dems will pick up pocket aces and trap the Repugs for all their chips, but being a poker player myself, I wouldn't bet on it.