(updated below [Tues.])
Several days ago I noted that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had agreed to a four-year extension of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act — a bill Democrats everywhere once claimed to revile — without a single reform (despite the long and documented history of its abuse and despite Obama’s previously claimed desire to reform it). Tonight, a cloture vote was taken in the Senate on the four-year extension and it passed by a vote of 74-8. The law that was once the symbolic shorthand for evil Bush/Cheney post-9/11 radicalism just received a vote in favor of its four-year, reform-free extension by a vote of 74-8: only resolutions to support Israel command more lopsided majorities.
As I’ve noted several times, I once thought that the greatest American political myth was “The Liberal Media,” but I realized some time ago that it’s actually the claim that “there is very little bipartisanship.” Washington is driven by overwhelming amounts of bipartisanship, as today’s vote (and the Reid/McConnell agreement that preceded it) yet again demonstrates. The 8 Senators voting against cloture were Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democrats Jeff Merkley, Mark Begich, Max Baucus, and John Tester, and GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, and Dean Heller (GOP Sen. Mike Lee announced he’d vote NO but missed the vote due to inclement weather). Sen. Paul, along with Sen. Tester, took the lead in speaking out against the excesses and abuses of the Patriot Act and the vital need for reforms.
But what’s most notable isn’t the vote itself, but the comments made afterward. Sen. Paul announced that he was considering using delaying tactics to hold up passage of the bill in order to extract some reforms (including ones he is co-sponsoring with the Democrats’ Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Leahy, who — despite voicing “concerns” about the bill — voted for cloture). Paul’s announcement of his delaying intentions provoked this fear-mongering, Terrorism-exploiting, bullying threat from the Democrats’ Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Dianne Feinstein:
“I think it would be a huge mistake,” Feinstein told reporters. “If somebody wants to take on their shoulders not having provisions in place which are necessary to protect the United States at this time, that’s a big, big weight to bear.”
In other words: Paul and the other dissenting Senators better give up their objections and submit to quick Patriot Act passage or else they’ll have blood on their hands from the Terrorist attack they will cause. That, of course, was the classic Bush/Cheney tactic for years to pressure Democrats into supporting every civil-liberties-destroying measure the Bush White House demanded (including, of course, the original Patriot Act itself), and now we have the Democrats — ensconced in power — using it just as brazenly and shamelessly (recall how Bush’s DNI, Michael McConnell, warned Congressional Democrats in 2007 that unless they quickly passed without changes the new FISA bill the Bush White House was demanding, a Terrorist attack would likely occur at the Congress in a matter of “days, not weeks”; McConnell then told The New Yorker: “If we don’t update FISA, the nation is significantly at risk”). Feinstein learned well.
Meanwhile, Electronic Frontier Foundation — the organization that heroically sued over and over to stop Bush/Cheney excesses to the cheers of progressives — is tonight praising Rand Paul “for defending 4th Amendment rights in Patriot Act debate.” A similar dynamic occurred several months ago when newly elected conservative House members (including some from the Tea Party caucus) joined with the most liberal Democrats to temporarily block quick passage of the Patriot Act extension on privacy and civil liberties grounds.
So when they were out of power, the Democrats reviled the Patriot Act and constantly complained about fear-mongering tactics and exploitation of the Terrorist threat being used to stifle civil liberties and privacy concerns. Now that they’re in power and a Democratic administration is arguing for extension of the Patriot Act, they use fear-mongering tactics and exploitation of the Terrorist threat to stifle civil liberties and privacy concerns (“If somebody wants to take on their shoulders not having provisions in place which are necessary to protect the United States at this time, that’s a big, big weight to bear,” warned Feinstein). And they’re joined in those efforts by the vast majority of the GOP caucus. Remember, though: there is no bipartisanship in Washington, the parties are constantly at each other’s throats, and they don’t agree on anything significant, and thus can’t get anything done. If only that were true.
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Is it not so very inspiring how the death of Osama bin Laden has enabled the country to take a respite from its fear-driven assault on civil liberties in the name of Terrorism?
UPDATE [Tues.]: For what this reflects about the corrupt and anti-democratic ways by which the Senate functions, see this comment from the invariably brilliant pow wow, one of the Internet’s most informed political commenters.
Related to these matters, I recorded a 30-minute podcast discussion with MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan late last week for his podcast show, regarding a variety of topics concerning the Obama presidency. That discussion, along with a transcript, can be found here.