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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Plenty of blame to go around

Often lost in the quail in the blind, er, fish in a barrel ease with which to attack the Bush administration's outrages is the enabler role played by the alleged co-equal branch of government. While history will certainly treat W and his cohorts with proper disdain, it should also pay close attention to the Republican Congress' abdication of its rights and powers.

The evidence of administration bullying is clear for all to see: the penchant for privacy that led to a war fought on phony pretenses; the zeal of the Deadeye Dick in covering up everything from his industry-led energy panels to his excellent adventure on the Anderson Ranch; the refusal of the administration to offer any documents or testimony on anything that could remotely be challenged -- from the failures of Katrina to its legal rationale for domestic spying.

But the Fools on the Hill, the GOP majorities in the House and Senate, who blandly and blindly accept the emasculation of congressional authority never quite get the same attention.

Let's start with Arlen Specter. For all his show and bluster, whether during the Alito hearings or the "grilling" of Alberto Gonzalez about his legal opinion that authorized warrantless domestic spying, Specter in the end rolled over. How can I say that? Look at his rationalization for refusing the swear Gonzalez in during his hearing, the most recent example of the GOP Congress allowing potential wrong-doers to skate away.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who built a reputation as a tough prosecutor and burnished it by his shameful cross-examination of Anita Hill, declaimed at the start of the hearing that Gozalez doesn't need to be sworn because:

After reflecting on the matter, I think it is unwarranted because the law provides ample punishment for a false official statement or a false statement to Congress under the provisions of 18 United States Code 1001 and 18 United States Code Section 1505. The penalties are equivalent to those under the perjury laws.
Punishment is not the issue (because the likelihood of contempt of Congress citations are nil). Symbolism is significant, particularly since the hearing was designed to be a showpiece in the first place. And let's face it, what image is most vivid from the Iran-Contra hearings? Ollie North, in uniform, raising his right hand. Or from the 1994 hearings on tobacco? The row of executives raising their right hands to swear that nicotine is not addictive.

By letting Gonzalez off that hook, Specter enabled him to offer even more slippery answers than "I do not recall". He enabled Gonzalez to express his contempt for Congress without fear of repercussion.

And how did the Bush administration repay Specter for his kindness? More stonewalling, bolstered by their umpteenth executive privilege claim and a meaningless statement from the Stonewaller-in-Chief, Scott McClellan, that the administration is "open to ideas regarding legislation."

The final judgments on this sordid piece of American history -- where an administration ran roughshod over truth and the Constitution aided and abetted by a servile Congress -- will not be pretty. In the meantime, all we need to do is survive this venality, a tough task indeed.

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