Monday, May 22, 2006

The Do Nothing Democrats
Cenk Uygur
The Do Nothing Democrats

The president floats between 29% and 31% in the polls. The Republican led Congress is at 18%. Democrats have an enormous 12-17% advantage when people are asked which party they would rather see in control of Congress. And yet the president keeps on winning.

He wants a $70 billion tax cut, he gets it.

He wants to pass a gay marriage amendment through committee, he gets it. He wants to appoint an incompetent law breaker as the head of the CIA, and he is very likely to get it.

General Hayden led the NSA when it bungled 9/11 (he was on before Bush even came into office, so he doesn't have the excuse of a short period of time to figure out the intelligence). He bungled the Iraq intelligence. Everyone loves to blame the Iraq War on bad intelligence - well, then why in the world should we promote a man who was the head of one of our major intelligence gathering agencies at the time?

Not one senator asked him about screwing up the intelligence on Iraq during his nomination hearings. Not one. I watched the whole thing in disbelief.

Many senators (Republicans) asked him how he felt about leaks to the press that uncovered the warrantless spying on Americans. Not one senator asked him how he felt about the leaks that led to the outing of a covert CIA operative. Remember, he is being nominated to be the head of all those operatives. It would be his job to protect them. Not one senator, Democrat or Republican, asked about Valerie Plame.

On the same day, The Baltimore Sun ran a devastating article about how General Hayden picked the wrong tracking program, Trailblazer, for political and bureaucratic reasons over a tracking program, ThinThread, that was far more effective and protected privacy. Hayden acknowledged the article during the hearings and seemed to confirm it in passing. Of course, not one senator asked him why he made such an enormous mistake or inquired into the political reasons behind the decision (Senator Wyden asked about Trailblazer but not in regard to this).

And all of this before we even get to his law breaking. He acknowledges that the NSA had an internal debate as to whether to ignore Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - they decide they would. They also made an active decision that they would not consult Congress or the courts in making this decision. They would unilaterally break this law, and then inform a handful of compliant Congressmen about it later.

When asked why he chose this route, General Hayden said three NSA lawyers he trusted gave him this advice. When asked if these lawyers wrote these legal opinions down (finally a good question) - General Hayden answered no. Wait, take a minute to absorb that. The top lawyers at the NSA gave the most important legal advice of their careers to the Director of the NSA - and they didn't write it down.

This was not a small matter. Even according to General Hayden's testimony, this was a very serious issue to which they gave considerable thought. Remember, they were making the decision to bypass a very clear federal law. And the lawyers who gave that advice didn't write it down?

Come on! This is when I expected the hearings to be over. Look, there are only two possible reasons why they wouldn't write it down: 1. They were so sure that it was illegal, they didn't want to be on the record as advising the director to break the law. 2. Or they never gave that advice in the first place. And General Hayden is lying in public - again. Something he has shown a clear propensity to do many times before.

This is when incredulous senators should have demanded to see the so-called legal advice that Hayden received or told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be confirmed. Instead, the sound of silence.

This guy is going to pass through Congress like a hot knife through butter. He is going to get confirmed in a cakewalk. I want to be fair -- Senators Wyden, Feingold and Levin asked him some actual tough and interesting questions. The rest of them were creampuffs.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski's questions were so soft, I wanted to put my head down on them and go to sleep. And the only question that remains is how many of the Do Nothing Democrats will vote for Hayden.

These are the same people who bowed their heads, kept their powder dry and assented to Alberto Gonzales as the Attorney General of the United States. Apparently, having learned no lesson at all from that mistake - as Gonzales has transformed his job into one of perpetual damage control for the White House and aggressive pursuit of the press - promise to make the same mistake again.

Hayden broke a federal law, lied about it repeatedly and now gives no assurances that he won't do the same as the head of the CIA - and in this upside down world we live in, he is going to be easily confirmed. It would be one thing if the Republicans were ascendant and the Democrats were cowering in the face of overwhelming polls against them. It wouldn't be right then either, but at least it would be understandable.

But as things stand, with the Democrats clearly more popular than the nearly universally loathed Republicans (the 18% approval rating for Congress is really astoundingly bad), the fact that they still won't stand up even to a nominee this egregious makes one despair. Some of these Democrats are craven politicians to their core - and bad ones at that.

The Do Nothing Democrats are led by their New York Senators. Chuck Schumer who is in charge of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2006 elections and Hillary Clinton who is supposedly the leading candidate for 2008 (I shudder at the thought). They have sent out the memo - do absolutely nothing until the 2006 election; we have a lead, let's sit on it. Bold, very, very bold.

Every sports fan knows what prevent defense does - it prevents victories. Action matters. It matters that we just added another $70 billion on top of our already grotesquely large deficit. It matters that the head of our CIA will be both incompetent and a wanton law-breaker. We cannot run out the clock to 2006, let alone 2008. These next two and half years matter.

Democrats have to fight back and win. If they don't, there is absolutely no point to their big leads in the polls. The American people aren't behind you because they won't you to do nothing. They're behind you because they want you to bring change.

I know, I know, Chuck Schumer and the like yell, "But we can't do anything until we regain Congress." First of all, that's not true; the minority can definitely block a nominee or even filibuster terrible bills - if they had the guts for it. Did you see how quickly the Republicans filibustered an early version of the immigration bill they didn't like? They did it at the drop of a hat, without any hand-wringing about "procedural maneuvers."

Second, and most important of all, inaction is not necessarily smart politics. That's such a funny statement. We live in a world where we have to convince people that inaction and compliance with a hated political party is not the correct political route.

Have Schumer and Clinton considered just once that perhaps what voters like most of all is strength. The courage of your convictions. In 2004, 17% of voters said they voted based on who they thought would be a "strong leader," and 87% of those voted for Bush. You don't think that makes a difference?

Why did Paul Wellstone keep winning? Why does Russ Feingold keep winning? Why does Bernie Sanders have a 45 point lead in his Senate race? According to the Clinton-Schumer logic, shouldn't they be toast for being among the most liberal members of Congress and speaking their minds loudly?

Bernie Sanders is a socialist. And he has a 45 point lead! Vermont has a Republican governor. The people of Vermont might not necessarily agree with everything Sanders says - but they respect him.

This is apparently a concept lost on the Do Nothing leadership of the Democrats. The next six months is not time to sit on your lead. The next six months is the time for action. To show the American people what you have to offer. It is not a time for jogging in place, it is a time for moving forward. It is a time to show that you have the strength to lead the country.

An excellent start would be blocking the nomination of General Michael Hayden. Unfortunately, I can't even get myself to believe they will do that. At a time when we have the overwhelming majority of the American people so clearly behind us, how can our leaders provide us with such little hope?