Rolling over, again

As they did with funding for Iraq, the Democrats -- or enough of them, anyway -- give Bush what he wants on spying.

Published August 6, 2007 5:07PM (EDT)

As members of Congress head home for August vacations, voters will be hearing from Democrats about how Republicans are making progress impossible. There's certainly an argument to be made there; as McClatchy's Margaret Talev wrote the other day, Senate Republicans have been threatening filibusters and thereby forcing almost impossible to win, 60-vote cloture showdowns on more issues than any party has ever done before.

Us? We're less concerned with what the Democrats haven't been able to do than we are with what they could have done but didn't.

Yes, Senate Republicans have kept the Democrats from holding up-or-down, simple-majority votes on a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, a no-confidence resolution on Alberto Gonzales and a host of other measures that the people who gave Democrats a majority last fall might have liked them to have produced by now.

But Republicans in the Senate didn't filibuster the Democrats into handing President Bush a timetable-free supplemental funding bill for the Iraq war in May. The Democrats had the power then; they could have told the president and members of his party in the Senate that they weren't going to approve any more funding for the war unless the president agreed on a plan for ending it. They could have done that, but they didn't.

And Republicans in the Senate didn't filibuster the Democrats into handing the president -- and, incredibly, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- broad new authority to monitor telephone calls without warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Again, the Democrats could have said to the president and to Senate Republicans that they weren't going to expand the government's surveillance powers unless that expansion was accompanied by a requirement for review by the FISA court and/or the Justice Department's inspector general. What they did instead: They voted -- or, at least, 16 of them did -- to give Bush everything he wanted and the rest of us nothing we had every right to expect. As the Washington Post puts it in an editorial today, this latest cave-in by House and Senate Democrats is "as reckless as it was unnecessary."

There's a common thread running through both of these Democratic failings, of course. On Iraq, the Democrats couldn't bear the thought that they'd be portrayed as voting to withhold money for the troops. On spying, they couldn't bear the thought that they'd be portrayed as weak on national defense. Well, here's a message, and it shouldn't come as a surprise by now: No matter what the Democrats do, the Republicans are going to brand them as antitroop, antidefense, anti-American wimps. The antitroop, antidefense, anti-American part is hogwash. The wimps part? Well, have a nice vacation, everyone.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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