Reid and company target the true enemy: "Dodd and his allies"

In Beltway World, anyone who objects to lawbreaking by the government and telecoms is either unserious or insincere.

Published December 21, 2007 9:28AM (EST)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

During yesterday's chat with Washington Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane, this extremely revealing exchange occurred, regarding the view of Harry Reid and other anonymous Democrats of Chris Dodd's actions this week, whereby Dodd disrupted their collective desire for quick, smooth, trouble-free passage of Bush's surveillance and immunity bill:

New Hampshire: Hi Paul and thanks for taking my question. I read your article from the 18th about Harry Reid pulling the FISA bill and still am left wondering why "Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the decision had nothing to do with the efforts of Dodd and his allies."

I watched the entire proceedings and remain incredibly moved and thankful for the efforts of Sen. Dodd and his "allies" to protect and defend our Constitution by objecting to retroactive immunity for the telecoms. Can you fathom why this dismissive and seemingly disingenuous statement was made? Was there more to your interview with Manley that you will share? Telecom Immunity Issue Derails Spy Law Overhaul (Post, Dec. 18)

Paul Kane: Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, was speaking the truth as Harry Reid viewed things. Reid could have pushed the FISA bill through if he wanted to, over Dodd's objections, but it would have taken time, several days. Reid decided to wait till mid-January.

A little noticed statement Reid made to reporters on Tuesday: he said that by mid-to-late January, when the Senate takes up FISA again, it's likely the presidential campaign will be finished. That was a not-so-subtle dig, I think, at Dodd, who some Democrats believe was grand-standing to try to gain attention for his floundering '08 campaign. Don't yell at me for saying this, this is what some Democrats here on the Hill believe.

Eventually, in a month or two, it's extremely likely the Senate will pass a FISA reauthorization with telecom immunity, so Manley's comment in that regard was accurate. So those of you in the blogosphere attacking Jim should understand, he's channeling Reid when he says that.

Where to begin? In the Beltway world, anyone who aggressively objects to the Bush administration's extremism, and especially its lawbreaking, is always guilty of (at least) one of two sins: they are either fringe, unSerious, overly earnest losers, or -- as in the case with the accusations against Dodd here -- simply pretending to be bothered by such things in order to rouse the rabble and exploit them for cynical political gain. Anyone who disrupts Beltway harmony in order to hold the Bush administration accountable -- anyone who seems actually bothered by the rampant lawbreaking -- is thus easily dismissed as an annoying radical or a self-promoting fraud.

After all, it can't possibly be the case that Dodd actually believes in what he's doing and saying. He can't really care if telecoms are protected from the consequences of their years of deliberate, highly profitable lawbreaking. Clearly, Dodd's just doing all of this to prop up his flagging presidential campaign, just a cynical ploy for attention, not because he has any actual convictions that there is something wrong with granting such an extraordinary and corrupt gift to lawbreaking telecoms. No Serious person would ever actually get riled up about anything like that.

* * * * *

This is what exactly the same people -- Democratic insiders, GOP operatives, and the Establishment pundit-propagandists -- spent all of 2006 doing to Russ Feingold. Feingold was one of the few voices on the national political scene who actually objected meaningfully to the fact that the President was deliberately breaking our laws in how he spied on Americans ever since October, 2001. Feingold spent the year espousing what ought to have been the uncontroversial proposition that for Congress simply to look the other way and to ignore these revelations of illegality would be to reward lawbreaking and eviscerate the rule of law. But his motives were impugned by the Beltway establishment exactly as they are doing now to Dodd.

In March 2006, when Feingold introduced his Resolution to censure the President for breaking our laws, the super-sophisticated punditocracy, GOP Bush apologists, and the highly responsible Betlway Democratic establishment all jointly scoffed at Feingold, oh-so-knowingly dismissing his little outburst as nothing more than a cynical ploy to shore up the "leftist base" as he prepared to run for President. After all, nobody could really take seriously the idea that Bush shouldn't be allowed to break our laws. The only possible motive for pretending to care is that Feingold wanted to scrounge up support for his presidential campaign.

Feingold announced in November, 2006 that he wasn't running for President, yet he continued to pursue these matters with exactly the same tenacity and intensity as before. There he was this week, standing with Dodd against warrantless surveillance and telecom immunity, even though -- as a Senator from a far-from-blue state -- there is little political benefit and some risk in his doing so.

So perhaps Feingold was sincere all along, maybe he does genuinely believe that the President and the telecom industry shouldn't be permitted to break our laws with impunity. But that thought is beyond the reach of our Establishment guardians. Because they believe in nothing other than their own petty Beltway rituals, they assume everyone else is similarly barren and empty, bereft of any actual convictions about anything.

* * * * *

Notice, too, who is smearing Dodd's motives here. It isn't Dick Cheney or Mitch McConnell. Instead, it's Harry Reid and anonymous, cowardly Democrats whispering in Paul Kane's ear about Dodd's manipulative "grandstanding" and proclaiming that Dodd will ultimately fail, dismissing the notion that he achieved anything other than delaying their well-laid plan to ensure that the President has everything he wants.

So here we have one of the very few acts of the last year by a Democrat in Congress which has actually engaged and energized people; made them feel as though someone was listening to them and taking a stand for what they believe; something that enables actual citizens to have some influence on the political process; and, most of all, an effort that at least disrupted the relentless Congressional march to capitulate to all of Bush's demands.

And in response, Harry Reid and his mewling anonymous Democratic allies immediately recruit the Washington Post's Congressional reporter to attack what Dodd has achieved, demean his motives with a ferocity that they never display in opposing George W. Bush, and assure everyone that their will to do the President's bidding will be realized despite Dodd's temporary interference.

It's one thing to watch Congressional Democrats fail to stand up to any of the Bush abuses. It's another thing entirely to watch as they actively enable them. But they've now moved beyond even that to actually perceiving as their Enemy anyone -- such as "Dodd and his allies" -- who seeks to disrupt their Bush-enabling efforts and, worst of all, who infects their rituals with any dirty, outside riff-raff, such as actual citizens.

That is the worst crime there is, Dodd's real sin here, the reason he has to be attacked. He allowed the riff-raff to derail Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller's plan for quick and quiet enactment of telecom immunity. As Digby caught Nancy Pelosi saying recently about Democrats who are dissatisfied with Congress:

Though crediting activists for their "passion," Pelosi called it "a waste of time" for them to target Democrats. "They are advocates," she said. "We are leaders."

Dodd enabled the boisterous, irritating "advocates" to enter the gates just for a moment, allowed them to disrupt the plan of the "leaders." And as a result, the Ultimate Leader made clear yesterday in his Press Conference that he is not happy -- at all -- about the disruption that Harry Reid allowed:

I'm also disappointed that Congress failed to pass legislation to ensure that our intelligence professionals can continue to effectively monitor terrorist communications. . . .

The first priority of Congress when it returns in the new year must be to pass a good bill and get it to my desk promptly. They have a duty to give our professionals the tools necessary to protect the American people. The bill should include liability protection for companies that are facing multi-billion-dollar lawsuits, only because they are believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend or nation following the 9/11 attacks. And it must ensure that our intelligence professionals have all the tools they need to keep us safe.

Look at how The President talks to Congressional leaders -- the way a stern teacher addresses slightly misbehaving middle-school students. They didn't complete their assignment he gave them by the deadline he imposed. He is quite "disappointed" by their failures, but he's willing, magnanimously, to restrain himself in the punishment provided they understand that "the first priority of Congress when it returns in the new year must be to pass a good bill and get it to [his] desk promptly" -- and Reid and his scared, hiding allies dutifully run to assure the The Washington Post that they will comply with their orders ("Reid decided to wait till mid-January. . . . Eventually, in a month or two, it's extremely likely the Senate will pass a FISA reauthorization with telecom immunity").

* * * * *

In helping the Bush administration spy on Americans' communications without warrants, the telecoms indisputably broke numerous federal laws (.pdf) for years. Yet Attorney General Michael Mukasey -- supposedly the top law enforcement officer in the country -- gave a speech yesterday devoted almost exclusively to demanding telecom immunity, managing in a matter of weeks to turn himself into a mindless defender of every last Bush talking point in defense of lawbreaking -- a development which led former Mukasey supporter (and Mukasey law partner) Scott Horton at Harper's, in a typically excellent post, to conclude:

To be very specific, [Mukasey] urgently pushed for immunity for telecommunications companies who violated the criminal law by collaborating with the Bush Administration in warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and residences. So for Mukasey the priorities were clear: protecting telecommunications companies who commit crimes is the core function of the Attorney General, requiring his personal attention. . . .

At this point, it's clear that breaking the law is the Justice Department's number one, two and three priority. And law enforcement? That's disappeared from the scene.

But Harry Reid, Senate Democratic leaders, and most of our very Serious Beltway press aren't the slightest bit interested in any of that, except to the extent they can help suppress, justify and bolster it. And anyone -- such as "Dodd and his allies" -- who does think that this is problematic, anyone who objects to allowing our government and large corporations to break our laws continuously with impunity, is the only enemy they recognize.

Reid and friends aren't merely refusing to stand with Dodd. They're not even merely impeding what he's doing. They're actually attacking him, impugning his motives, dismissing his efforts as insincere and worthless.

It's just undeniably true that the most important allies which the Bush/Cheney machine have now are Congressional Democratic leaders. Hence, the motives of Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold and their allies are highly suspect ("grandstanding"), but the good faith of the President and the telecoms in illegally spying on Americans is above and beyond reproach. That's the Harry-Reid-led Democratic Senate speaking.

UPDATE: In Comments, El Cid adds a good point:

What's most funny about the apparent Reid view is not just the classic establishmentarian's suggestion that any anti-hawkish political stance (Dodd's throwdown against telecom immunity) which appears to be based on principle is really just cynical manipulation of the rubes' passions for some political or other non-principled goal.

What's really funny is that Reid & co. actually view that presumed cynical manipulation as saner than an actual dedication to anti-hawkish, Constitution-defending principles.

If Reid & co. thought Dodd was doing all this crazy oppositional stuff because of real dedication to principle, then he would appear truly frightening to them.

It might be okay to manipulate the rubes every now & then by vowing to filibuster to save Constitutional principles. Hey, we all do it, right, sayeth the courtiers and gossips of Versailles.

But heaven forfend anyone actually mean it. Now that would simply be mad.

All one can do now is speculate -- only time will tell -- but I'm quite convinced that Dodd actually means it. It will be interesting to see the reaction it provokes when he continues to impede these efforts even once his presidential campaign has come to an end.

UPDATE II: More omnipotent Holds from the All-Powerful Super-Senator Tom Coburn:

Congress on Wednesday passed a long-stalled bill inspired by the Virginia Tech shootings that would more easily flag prospective gun buyers who have documented mental health problems. The measure also would help states with the cost.

Passage by voice votes in the House and Senate came after months of negotiations between Senate Democrats and the lone Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who had objected and delayed passage. . . .

Despite the combined superpowers of bill's supporters, Coburn held it up for months because he worried that millions of dollars in new spending would not be paid for by cuts in other programs.

The bill could pass only once "Just before midnight Tuesday, Coburn and the Democratic supporters of the bill struck a deal." Seriously, is there anyone who can explain why it is that, in Harry Reid's Senate, Tom Coburn's holds possess impenetrable omnipotence while Chris Dodd's (and other Democrats') are treated like mosquitos to be swatted away?

UPDATE III: Markos makes an important point with which I agree completely: one of the most significant ways, if not the single most significant way, for meaningful pressure to be exerted on Democrats is to support successful primary challenges against incumbent Democrats who deserve to be removed from office. He articulates the rationale as to why that is and identifies two of this year's most critical primary challenges against horrific incumbent Democrats.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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