Monday, August 08, 2005

The View from Beneath the Boot 

We seem to be having one of those not-infrequent days when we want to pinch every item to which our venerated colleague Avedon Carol links. Because that would be presumptuous, not to mention impractical -- on a good day, working at our usual rate of speed, we could copy-and-paste maybe half of the juicy tidbits Ms. Carol typically has on display -- we will settle for pinching the most depressing item, which comes from Matt Taibbi, author of Spanking the Donkey. Mr. Taibbi visited Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio in hopes of learning about possible Democratic strategies to address the well-documented election irregularities in that state in 2004. Instead he learned that Democratic strategies do not matter, because the Republicans have achieved de facto one-party rule:
The party in general has been so effectively marginalized that its elected officials now seem to be rationing political capital the way men in lifeboats ration rainwater.

[Rep. John] Conyers, the leader of the congressional effort to reopen Ohio, is in the middle of a desperate struggle to preserve his relevancy on the House judiciary committee, where he is the ranking Democrat. Last week, while attending a committee hearing, I watched as Conyers struggled repeatedly to get blimp-shaped committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner to recognize him. In the hearing I watched, Conyers and other Democrats (especially our own Jerrold Nadler, who appears to inspire Sensenbrenner's particular loathing) had to shout out "Mr. Chairman!" four, five, or even six times before Sensenbrenner would open the floor for their remarks. In the current Congress, Democrats have to fight just to force the Republicans to respect normal legislative procedure.

Things have gotten so crazy in this Congress, and in this political environment in general, that the Democrats now have to watch their backs 24 hours a day, just to make sure they're not being cheated out of something.

In the abovementioned judiciary committee, there was an incident recently that underscored the problem. During the debate over the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (also known as CIANA; this was a bill designed to prevent minors from traveling across state lines to circumvent parental-notification regulations for abortions in their own states), representative Nadler introduced a series of proposed amendments. But Sensenbrenner, in the official committee report, took it upon himself to rewrite the amendments in his own language. Nadler's amendments had to do with exempting from prosecution certain people (relatives, taxi drivers, etc.) who may have assisted the minors in crossing state lines; Sensenbrenner rewrote them in a way that implies that these people were all sexual predators. An example of the rewrites:

DEMOCRAT VERSION: a Nadler amendment allows an adult who could be prosecuted under the bill to go to a Federal district court and seek a waiver to the state's parental notice laws if this remedy is not available in the state court.

GOP REWRITE: Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have created an additional layer of Federal court review that could be used by sexual predators to escape conviction under the bill.

The bill had nothing to do with sexual predators.

I bring this up because ideology is increasingly not the defining characteristic of this Republican party. What distinguishes this party is its cheating. In CAFTA, in defiance of House rules, they hold the floor open for as long as it takes to get their vote. They not only do this, they proudly announce that they're doing this. In the House, they have made a habit out of disallowing Democratic witnesses, shutting off debate, conveniently miscounting votes and committing brazen acts of slander and libel, like this Sensenbrenner business.

The party routinely refuses compliance with FOIA requests, as well as requests from the Inspector General and the General Accounting Office. It lied and continues to lie outrageously with regard to the Iraq war. It has convinced the country and even themselves that there is something immensely clever, and even principled, about the way that it lies, cheats and bends laws and rules to get what it wants.

In recent years it has been fashionable to compare these current Republicans with the Nazis and other totalitarian monsters. I've tended to resist those comparisons, but we've reached a point where it's looking more and more appropriate to describe the neoconservative attitude toward the rule of law as having many things in common with those other revolutionaries. These neocons may not have the authoritarian bent of the German fascists or the Russian communists. They're far more interested in stealing and deregulating than in controlling, censoring and governing. But it is more and more clear that, like these other notorious movements, they view adherence to rules and to the law as a failure of will and a political weakness.

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