We've said before that almost any defective piece of public policy can be traced back to our current system of financing political campaigns—people representing special interests raise funds for candidates disproportionately and receive disproportionate access, if not outright favors, once those candidates win. We'd like to add the increasing emphasis on party politics to the short list of fundamental flaws in the way our governments function.
Last week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Democrat from Maryland, engineered a “compromise” with the White House and congressional Republicans for an overhaul of the expiring Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. One need only look at the subsequent roll-call vote to know who got the better of the compromise. Not only did the president approve of the deal—you know, the guy who didn't think he needed to follow FISA's rules in the first place as he merrily went about the business of eavesdropping on Americans without consulting the judiciary—but also, House Republicans voted 188-1 in favor. Meanwhile, Democrats voted 128-105 against it.
This tells us who's running the show in the House. It's not the liberals; it's the conservatives. More precisely, it's the centrist Democrats who care more about passing a bill, any bill, than fighting for the right bill or the rule of law—the same Democrats who refuse to call off the occupation of Iraq.
The bill that Bush and the Republicans like so much grants retroactive civil-court immunity to the telecommunications companies that aided and abetted Bush's illegal wiretapping campaign. Hoyer and friends point to a provision that calls for judicial review of specific grants of immunity, but legal experts say it's paper-thin and next to meaningless. Hoyer, acting on behalf of his boss, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, gave in on immunity because he knew the bill wouldn't pass muster with Bush and the Republicans without it, and Hoyer and Pelosi didn't want to give John McCain a loaded gun (“Democrats want the terrorists to kill you!”) to use against Barack Obama this fall.
A liberal could argue, we suppose, that electing Obama is ultimately more important than punishing the president and his co-conspirators for breaking the law. We don't think so. We think the rule of law, especially when it comes to civil liberties, is pretty weighty stuff and hard to top in the “importance” category. (Of course, our editor also once thought it necessary to teach the Democrats a lesson by endorsing Ralph Nader over Al Gore.)
The alarming trend here is the elevation of the good of the party over the good of the public and adherence to the Constitution. Perhaps the Democrats are trying it now because they've watched the Republicans use it so effectively.
Though it can be argued that party hubris undid the GOP in 2006, the Republicans are still at it.
For example, on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates listened to arguments in a case that will decide whether the White House can ignore congressional subpoenas of its top staffers. (The House Judiciary Committee called Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to answer questions related to the politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys. They refused to show up. The Judiciary Committee sued.)
Well, reportedly, House Republicans filed a brief in the case arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed. So, instead of standing on the side of maintaining checks and balances among the branches of government—and fighting for their own right to get answers from the executive branch, regardless of the president's party—the Republicans lined up with the sitting president because he's a Republican.
If parties were tossed upon the scrap heap of our democracy's failures—a relatively small pile, to be sure—it's possible that lawmakers would organically separate into two factions, but we don't think so. As it is, there are already factions—Blue Dog Democrats, progressive Democrats, fiscal conservatives, the religious right, libertarians, etc.—within the two major parties struggling for influence. We'd surely like to see more cross-pollination among them on various policy issues based not on what they think is in the long-term interest of their factions, but on what they think is in the long-term interest of the majority of the public—or, what was once known as the middle class.
George Washington once said that political parties “serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”
That was Washington's fancy way of saying political parties suck scrambled eggs.
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