More Moral Rot In Congress

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Dear Colleagues:

We are currently
being “treated” to more of the moral rot that infests
both political parties and, consequently, to yet another example
of why a third party is desperately needed. I speak, of course,
of the spectacle of the bitter outrage expressed by Congressional
members of both political parties over the FBI’s search of
the office of Congressman William Jefferson. (Too bad it wasn’t
the office of William Jefferson Clinton, isn’t it?) The search
was done on a quiet Saturday night (and all night). That is scheming
and bad. But it was also done pursuant to a court authorized warrant,
after Jefferson had refused to comply with subpoenas, after he had
been caught on tape, says the FBI, accepting a $100,000 bribe, after
the FBI found most of the money in a freezer in his home, after
Jefferson has become suspected of taking hundreds of thousands of
dollars more in bribes, and at a time when, it has become obvious,
Congress has become an utter cesspool of corruption, including,
of course, the particular corruption of bribery.

The leaders
of the cesspool, however, profess themselves outraged – shocked,
shocked – over the supposed violation of their supposedly inviolable
precincts by the FBI. Not just the expectable coterie of partisan
Democrats (the usual suspects), but reactionary Republicans who
lead Congress rushed to the defense of an African American Democrat
from Louisiana who appears to be a major league political criminal.
It likely has not escaped these Republican heroes, of course, that
if the FBI can search the offices of the Democrat Jefferson, then
it can also search the offices of the numerous Republican bribe
takers and grafters in the national legislature. That is a possibility
the reactionary Republicans would devoutly wish to forestall.

Needless to
say, the Democrats and Republicans both wrap their selfish concerns
in supposed principle, here the so-called Speech and Debate Clause
– the little-known subject of legalistics over the years – and
separation of powers. But let’s forget the legalistics in favor
of discussing what in reality is supposed to be at stake – of what
has historically been said to be at stake in analogous situations
involving prosecution of legislators. What is said to be at stake
in these kinds of situations are the institutional prerogatives,
the institutional interests, of Congress, the very powers of Congress.
In plain English, if the Executive can search Congressional offices
and/or prosecute legislators, it is said, then it assuredly will
have the power to intimidate, cow, and coerce the legislative lions.
It will become all-powerful, and Congress, the branch that the founders
intended to be preeminent, will (further) shrink in importance.

Well, today
that argument is a fine how do you do, isn’t it? We have a
Congress that jumped on the Executive’s war-making bandwagon
and allowed the Executive to go to war without exercising its own
legislative authority by questioning WMD claims that were bushwa.
We have a Congress that, as occurred before with Viet Nam, lacks
the brains and guts to exercise its own power to stop the war. We
have a Congress that has itself done nothing effective – zippo
– to stop the Executive torture that violates Congress’ own
anti-torture statute, that has done nothing to stop rendering for
the purpose of torture or to force the closure of secret prisons
in awful foreign countries, a Congress that wouldn’t even dream
of – and surely does not want to so much as mention – exercising
its power to curb these illegalities by impeaching and convicting
their perpetrators. We have a Congress that has done nothing effective
to stop the (impeachable) Executive electronic eavesdropping, in
violation of Congress’ own law, that was revealed over a year
ago (all we ever got on this subject was more hot air from Arlen
Specter), and that equally has done nothing to curb the NSA’s
mammoth, recently disclosed electronic domestic data mining of almost
everyone’s telephone (including, I imagine, the telephones
of people in Congress) (and again all we got is hot air from Specter).
We have a Congress that does not prevent the accession to higher
benches of judges who, as lawyers, sponsored ideas for massive inroads
on the power of Congress. We have a Congress that has done nothing
about the Executive’s 700 plus signing statements saying that
it does not have to follow the laws being signed. And this Congress,
which has allowed so many phenomenal, and phenomenally important,
inroads upon its own power, is the same Congress that is complaining
that its prerogatives have been invaded and its power threatened,
because the FBI searched the office of a guy who apparently is a
big time crook? Gimme a break.

That this Congress
could rise up to protect a crook, because a Congressional office
was involved, and could do so under the completely phony guise of
asserting principled institutional interests even though it has
allowed those interests to be mercilessly trampled in far more important
ways for years on end, is symptomatic of the selfish moral rot in
the Congress and in the two political parties that run the country.
As well, Congress has previously shown it will not rise up when
other people and their offices are subjected to warrantless electronic
searches, but God forbid that the Executive, using a properly authorized
warrant, should search the office of one of Congress’ own.
The Congressional rising-up in this case is inevitably remindful
of the prior political gutlessness of the Congress and the two parties
in so many other cases. It is still another demonstration of why
we desperately need a third political party lest moral rot, political
spinelessness, raging hypocrisy, and plain lying take this country
right down the tubes.

Addendum:
Still More Moral Rot

After this
posting was pretty much finished, I learned that, on that very day,
George Bush had ordered that the materials seized by the FBI from
Jefferson’s office be sealed for 45 days to allow the various
contending parties to work things out. The Bushian order is, of
course, just another example of his own apparently unlimited moral
rot, which has been continuously thrust before us for years in so
many ways. The order is also a nearly supreme irony.

What has happened,
of course, is that in this case Bush, very quickly, buckled extensively
when Congress got really angry over actions of the Executive. Yet
Bush has shown no compromise, no buckling, when it comes to war,
torture, rendition, secret prisons, electronic spying, electronic
data mining, signing statements that say the Executive doesn’t
have to follow the law, appointment of reactionary judges, or anything
else where the Executive, under his leadership, has invaded, or
has nullified, the powers of Congress. Yet in the Jefferson matter,
Bush, like most bullies, who are fundamentally yellow, buckled as
soon as someone really gave sign of standing up to him, and he buckled
though the leaders of Congress, having truckled on everything else,
are now standing up not in a good cause, but in a terrible cause.
There is irony here, is there not? – when Congress stands up, in
a bad cause, the peerless leader falls down, but most of the time,
no matter how good the cause, the Congress won’t stand up.

There also
is moral rot here, is there not? Bush has stood up for one horrible
action after another taken by him and his administration, from lying
us into war, to torturing people, to spying on Americans, to whatnot.
But when it comes to enforcing anti-bribery, anti-corruption laws
against the morally and legally crooked politicians who are close
to ruining our system, Bush does not stand up. He backs down. This
is moral rot for sure.

It also is
symptomatic of another problem, one that is not often mentioned
in plain, unvarnished terms. Bush doesn’t care about law. He
is perfectly happy to see the law broken when this suits his purposes,
especially if he can get corrupt Executive Branch lawyers – as
he always can – to write indefensible, morally retrograde legal
opinions that give him cover. That is a lesson of torture and rendition,
where such legal opinions became public, and, if and when other
Executive Branch papers are ever disclosed to the public, perhaps
as long as 50 or 75 years from now unfortunately, it is nearly 100
percent certain to be a lesson of a host of other Bushian actions.
(Bush himself wouldn’t have the guts to let us see the relevant
papers. So, like Nixon, he will claim that national security precludes
it.)

Anyway, the
point of this addendum is that Bush has now weighed in with his
own moral rot, to match the moral rot displayed by Congress.

May
31, 2006

Dean Lawrence R. Velvel [send
him mail
] is an honors graduate of the University of Michigan
Law School, has practiced law in the public and private sectors,
and been a law professor. He is the author of the quartet Thine
Alabaster Cities Gleam. The books in the quartet are entitled:
Misfits
In America
, Trail
of Tears
, The
Hopes and Fears of Future Years: Loss and Creation
, and The
Hopes and Fears of Future Years: Defeat and Victory. Visit his
blog
.

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