Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Object of Power is Power
It's rare that events unfold in such a way that the whys--the reasons people do what they do--are as clear as the whats. But the last two days of the 109th Congress saw such a sequence of events. Within about 24 hours Thursday and Friday, Republicans in Congress voted to empower the president to suspend habeas corpus, detain individuals without time limit or need to show cause, and unilaterally disregard an international treaty... and then it came out that their leadership had known about and protected Florida Rep. Mark Foley despite being aware that he had an unhealthy fixation with teenaged boys.

Their reasons for shredding a chunk of the Constitution and for sheltering a man they had full reason to suspect was a sexual predator were one and the same: to preserve a majority that they evidently feel they can't defend on the merits of their actions.

The difference is that they voted to make torture a sanctioned policy of the United States because they felt this would appeal to voters--itself a shocking and devastating indictment of where we are as a people now--while they kept Foley's secret (and preserved his standing as chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children--perhaps it takes a crook to catch a crook?) because exposing him could put yet another congressional seat previously assumed "safe" into play.

This Congress, which left town yesterday, failed in its most basic duties: to protect and defend the Constitution, and to pass a budget. Nearly every government agency will be funded until mid-November, when this Congress reconvenes for a lame-duck session that hopefully will represent the last six weeks of right-wing misrule, by Continuing Resolutions, because these Republicans couldn't even agree with each other on funding levels. Needless to say, this does no favors for the agency employees and state and local workers who rely on funding to run programs and set plans for the year. This past February, the Republicans finally passed their budget through an omnibus bill that no legislator actually read all the way through; they had a few hours to try and determine the merits of a document that was in the neighborhood of 1,000 pages. This has become par for the course, and the substantive results have been as bad as you'd expect from such a process.

Since then, they've spent three days on hearings about gay marriage... but allocated just ten hours to debate that abomination of a torture bill. They failed to pass a bill on immigration that was both a priority of their president and enjoyed the support of large majorities nationally. They outright refused to exercise oversight on a war that, in squandered blood and treasure, might be the greatest debacle in the history of U.S. foreign policy. And they would only consider raising the minimum wage, to the benefit of millions of hard-working Americans on the economic margins, if doing so would also mean a repeal of the estate tax, which would have meant a windfall in the billions for the richest few hundred American families.

This is a record that can't be defended--even before we consider the "culture of corruption" embodied by super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who also returned to the news at the end of this week with newly released details of his extensive contacts with the administration. To distract voters from this catalog of catastrophe, the Republicans tried, again, to put the focus on fear and suggest that, by their greater willingness to waterboard poor schmucks picked up on routine patrols with no more ties to terror groups than you, me, or Joe Girardi, they should be returned to office for more public policy hijinks. In their concern that this and other gambits might fail in more districts than not, they knowingly sheltered a would-be pedophile.

So I think it's fair to ask: is there anything--anything at all--that this group wouldn't do to retain power?

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