Thursday, September 28, 2006
( 2:53 PM )
Fools on the Hill
I have been trying to consider how to teach my government class about what is happening today in the Senate. I've set CSPAN to tape the debates. I've printed out various news reports. I've even tried to read that whole damned bill. We're only at the beginning of the semester - they've only just learned what happened during the Constitutional Convention, the compromises that were made. Some of them horrible. And now, in real life time, a "compromise" is being made that is taking away some of the very foundational concepts of our democracy.
Of course, I'll have to teach them what habeas corpus is and then explain that it's been part of the philosophy of the "Consent by the governed" since the Magna Carta. Removing the power of a king to imprison you without having to say why is something that has stood the test of time since the FOURTEENTH CENTURY. The fact that we have given so much power to the executive effectively negates the balance of powers that our Constitution was founded on. The fact that our leaders could even DEBATE whether we should entomb torture as an acceptable and non-prosecutable practice shows how far down the slope we have slidden from that ideal the Framers of the Constitution envisioned.
John Adams wanted a powerful presidency - he sought to locate more power in the hands of the executive, and he fought a battle with Thomas Jefferson over that concept. He introduced the Alien and Sedition Acts - he didn't like all the criticism he was getting, especially about consolidating his power - and so he got the Congress to make it illegal to say anything against the government, meaning him. It ended badly for all the legislators who had voted for this clearly unconstitutional idea.
Abraham Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, the one thing he said he regretted doing. The one thing he has been very criticized for in a presidency of many hard choices. He shouldn't have done it. It would not have threatened the union, though he let fear rule the day.
Franklin Roosevelt suspended Habeas Corpus during WWII when he allowed Japanese Americans to be interned without charges for indefinite periods of time. A dark stain on America's history when we once again allowed fear to rule the day.
All three beloved presidents - yet all three stepped over the line. With bad consequences. But not irreparable - the country recovered and did its best to repair the damage.
I feel in my heart the Constitution is stronger than these horrid Fools on the Hill and that it will prevail. But only if it has someone to defend it left in the government. With the passing of this bill today, it becomes more clear that this defense is dying a slow death at best. The Republicans think the passage of this bill will ensure their hold on power. They are trading their souls for it. And there are Democrats who have now done the same. Will Americans allow their souls to be sold as well?
Thomas Jefferson must be doing double flips in his grave right now. What happened to that glorious republic he and the others worked so hard to build? Flawed and damaged though it was, started on some unholy premises (the 3/5 Compromise being the worst), but altogether a simple and completely solid supreme law of the land- the Constitution has survived 217 years because of its strengths and its ability to be amended for the better. This 109th Congress, these Fools on the Hill, now think they can strip our democracy of its foundations.
If the Democrats cannot win in November, they don't deserve to. If they cannot stand up for a simple concept like habeas corpus or stand against a horrifying idea like institutionalized torture, then do we really want them to win?
Rock and a hard place. And that rock has hit the slippery slope and is gaining speed. If even executive tyranny can't be stopped by butting up against the Constitution, then the only thing left is the power of the citizenry. The Consent of the Governed. Don't surrender it, Americans.