People must change politics

By By David Servatius

By David Servatius

If Al Gore somehow manages to save us from ourselves and the human race is still hanging around two or three hundred years from now, historians are going to have a puzzle on their hands when they study 21st-century America.

Looking back, they are going to have a hard time figuring out how a lame duck president with a 30-percent approval rating consistently and repeatedly forced his will upon the majority party in Congress. There will be debates about how, exactly, this president and a discredited congressional minority were able to defeat proposal after proposal offered by the majority party with overwhelming public support.

A few of these historians might point to last week for two textbook examples of the phenomenon. The Democratic majority in Congress started the week by failing to override a Bush veto of funding for the hugely successful SCHIP program, which provides health care coverage for millions of poor children. The legislation enjoyed close to 80-percent support among the public, and yet, somehow Bush and his veto prevailed.

They ended the week with a complete and total capitulation to the Bush administration in its demand for telephone carrier immunity as part of the National Security Agency surveillance authorization bill. For the second time in a few short days, Congress acted in direct opposition to the will of the American people, a majority of whom opposed the provision.

Evidence shows that for several years, these telephone carriers have violated existing laws by giving the federal government information from the private telephone records of U.S. citizens. Dozens of civil lawsuits are now pending against most of the biggest names in the business. With this bill, all of those lawsuits will now conveniently go away.

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the Democrats caved out of the fear of seeming weak on national security. It’s an all-too-common theme by now and easy enough to believe, but it’s dead wrong this time. This was the corrupting power of money in our political system on full display. Period. This was how money, if you have enough of it, can buy favorable legislation and even protection from the law.

The telecom industry is one of the heaviest contributors to members of Congress. Lobbyists for the industry regularly carpet bomb both sides of the aisle with piles of cash. They get what they want. Why do you think your telephone and cable costs have skyrocketed for the last 10 years while the level of service has plunged?

To be fair and look at both sides of this current situation, let’s assume that maybe the immunity provision in the surveillance bill is not simply another case of money buying protection from the law. Maybe there is some compelling national security or common-sense reason for it.

What is the central argument being made by legal representatives for the telephone carriers in their defense? Are you ready? You should probably sit down. They claim they were acting “out of good faith.”

Does that even make sense to anyone with half a functioning brain? You are asked to help a super-secret government agency spy on unwitting American citizens, and there is some way to act on that request in “good faith?” It’s just an outrageous claim that must cause spinning in graves from Monticello to Mount Vernon.

Yet, according to The New York Times, this is precisely what the Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence cite as their principal reason for agreeing to the immunity deal. What a load! Leaders in both parties care more about what their contributors need than what their constituents want, and that is troubling. Even more troubling is that this kind of scenario plays out over and over in this country and, somehow, to most of the American public, it all seems OK each time. There is no outrage, no skepticism, and no one really misses a beat.

“Oh, good faith, huh? Well then, he said ‘faith’ and that makes sense to me. Switch it back to ‘American Idol,’ honey. Did you see what that fat girl was wearing?”

This is what we’ve come to. The bottom line is that, in a democracy, nothing will change unless the people care enough to change it. When those historians in the future are puzzling over the past few years and the events of last week, they will no doubt be reviewing it all as part of a larger discussion about the end of American democracy.