Will They Do the Right Thing?

Wolfrum at Shakesville seems to be drinking the same tea as I am on the FISA fight and expectations for leadership from our Democratic presidential candidates.

Senators Clinton and Obama, your country needs you. Right now. Because civil liberties matter. Because laws matter. Because retroactive immunity from lawbreaking is not an American trait. Because having a government that can and will spy on its own citizens with no authorization is the antithesis of a free country.

Later in the same post, Wolfrum makes clear how he will view Clinton or Obama missing the cloture vote on the Intel bill on Monday.

If Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are unable and unwilling to go do their job and fight for what’s right, neither of them has any business being President of the United States. Both will have proven themselves as unfit employees who will let down their employers when they’re needed the most.

Clinton and Obama should expect a vocal backlash against them if they fail to attend Monday’s cloture vote. And rightly so.

Separate from what it will mean for our country, this would be a deeply troubling turn of events for me as a progressive Democrat and a patriotic American. It’s safe to say that no Republican presidential candidate will stand up and defend the Constitution in an age where each tries to one-up the other on how much more of a security state they will create once they succeed Bush in office. I do not trust the GOP to defend the Constitution.

But where will we be, where will I be, if our two leading Democratic candidates place themselves on the side of apathy and cynicism and absenteeism on what I believe is the most important issue facing our country right now? Terrorists will not destroy our republic. Insurgents in Iraq will not march through our cities. But if our Congress fails to defend the Constitution against an administration that gives it no regard, then we must recognize that America faces an existential crisis.

We will know in less than thirty-six hours whether or not Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will man the ramparts and defend the Constitution, or if we must pass judgment on their failure to do what our country needs.

2 thoughts on “Will They Do the Right Thing?

  1. I agree, but I think I have to add a bit of nuance. This would be a supreme outrage if, by missing the vote, these candidates caused our side to lose by one or two. But as it stands it doesn’t look like either of their actual votes would be determinative of the outcome, thus absenteeism is not the biggest crime.

    However, these two are not just senators, they are candidates in possession of the two largest bully pulpits in the country at the moment — if Ben Nelson missed this vote and his vote was not determinative then the outcry would be small — and by failing to show up, by failing to adopt the principled position loudly and proudly, they diminish the cause and signal that in the Democratic Party they hope to lead a vote for immunity is no big deal.

    So in a way, whether they show up tomorrow is a secondary concern. They are both already failing to use their power to move this issue; their absenteeism would be icing on the cake. A promise to “support” a filibuster does not equal commitment necessary to actually achieve one.

    Thus, more than failing as our “employees” in the Senate, Clinton and Obama fail on this issue on the level of leadership.

    A troubling element here, though, is that political accountability for their inaction will be small, despite what I can guarantee will be a fierce and correct onslaught of criticism from citizen leaders like you, Matt. With both candidates in lock step on this issue can we anticipate either will suffer? Is this an issue that keeps anyone home next Tuesday (a wash between the candidates even if it happens) or in November? Unfortunately–and really, this sucks–there is no longer a third candidate, Dodd, to vote for to express this outrage in a politically meaningful way. And hence, absenteeism is cowardly but it is also political calculus — do you really forgo campaigning in order to push an issue for which you will feel very little result either way?

    Gore for King, 2008.
    “A principled man, a principled monarch.”


  2. Quite simply, missing the vote tomorrow will likely succeed in turning significant portions of the netroots, as well as the members of advocacy orgs like MoveOn, DFA, CREDO Action, and the ACLU against them. They will be alienating the most vocal, activist portion of the Democratic base.

    How will that manifest? I’m not sure. Most likely it won’t be in a way that is significantly recognized in the national narratives about these candidates. I would not over-value the impact blogs and bloggers can have; we can’t derail a campaign even if we all wanted to. But it’s a dangerous precedent both for the ability of these alleged leaders to work with their core constituents and their future relationship with us if they are elected.

    Plus, it’s just flat wrong.


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