Both the Senate and the House covertly passed legislation this week extending the Patriot Act for a full year, Politico reported Thursday. Already withering before the wrath of an endangered public over the Ft. Hood massacre, the KnickerBomber, and the attempt to try Khalid Sheik Mohammad in New York City, Congressional Democrats lacked the cojones to publicly dismantle yet another mechanism that protects the American public from violence. The quiet capitulation signals a disconnect between Congressional Democrats and their base, which consistently regards the Patriot act as an assault on their liberty.
The Senate passed the extension bill in a late-night session by unanimous voice vote, which allows Senators to obscure from their constituents the fact that they voted for the bill. The House passed their version as part of a bundle of extensions grouped under a Medicare reform act. The press release by Congressional Democrats mentioned only the failure of the Congress to adopt some additional privacy protections proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, comments around the Internet from Democrats continue to demonstrate how well the DNC sold its opposition to the Patriot Act — after voting for it almost unanimously in the wake of the 9/11 attack. The base hates the Patriot Act, mostly for invalid reasons. Here are a few comments from yesterday’s discussions at CNN and Democratic Underground (R-rated for language and for incomprehensibly odd thinking):
Pedro: Funny that so many GOP respondents think the government is a threat given that it was the Bush administration that tried to do away with Habeas Corpus and had the military and NSA listening in on the phone conversations of American citizens without having to secure a warrant.
Yeah, I for one feel much safer with the government now.
Why now? Why didn’t all these whiners take to the streets when George WWWWW Bush was in the process of eroding our civil rights, having telecom companies spying on us, capturing our data, and tightening our ability to move freely in the country and to Canada?
Why now? WHAT? What are these people talking about? Whine to the Republicans who TOOK YOUR FREEDOMS AWAY!
You’re all a bunch of looney-tune wackos!
I swear, they have mountains of evidence that it really isn’t effective and that in actuality, it’s illegal .. you have to wonder, who makes the big bucks by continuing this? Greed again rears its ugly head.
Yes, yes, but its DEMOCRATS taking away your rights. They only uphold the Republican status quo.
They don’t invent devious new shit. If you don’t vote for Democrats then Republicans will come in and invent more devious shit that Democrats will have to uphold. Of course, sometimes Democrats also have to invent devious new shit–like destroying public education and forcing Americans to buy shitty, overpriced insurance policies. But those are devious shits that Republicans could never get away with, so the Democrats must take on those issues.
Bipartisanship: Now Everyone’s Fucking You Over.
I discussed at length the legality of the wiretapping authorized under the Patriot Act back when it was a relevant topic. You can review that discussion here, if you like. However, it may not be necessary to do that, as it appears that leaders of the Democratic party agree that the Patriot Act is essential. In discussing this week’s action with Politico, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I, CT), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, very quietly observed that the Patriot Act does not deserve its bad reputation:
“In the end, it became non-controversial,” Senate Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told POLITICO. “[There was] the growing concern about increase on the pace of attacks on the homeland… and frankly, I think the Patriot [Act] got a bad name under the Bush Administration.”
Lieberman said FBI Director Robert Mueller and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano emphasized to his committee the importance of extending the three renewed provisions: authorizing court-approved roving wiretaps that cover multiple phones or computers a suspect may use, court-approved search and seizures, and allowing surveillance of “lone wolf” non-U.S. citizens not affiliated with organized terrorist groups.
What comes through loud and clear is that many, responsible Democrats consider the Patriot Act both necessary and legal. They obviously do not want to try to make that case to their base, however. That makes their continued support of the Patriot Act worse than merely cowardly; it makes it duplicitous. They love the agitation of the base, but they also need the utility of the bill if they’re going to prevent an attack on their watch.
Of course, part of the reason they prefer to keep the Patriot Act in place could be because they intend to use it on American citizens. The Obama administration has not said as much, but some of the comments from the base suggest that the thought may have occurred to them:
Absolutely necessary to keep an eye on the Teabaggers
Now Obama, not Bush, can get you! Be very afraid racists!
They’re against (imagined) violations of liberty, except when it’s the liberty of their opponents. How noble.
If you’re curious, here’s a reasonably thorough (if somewhat negatively biased) discussion of which provisions of the Patriot Act need periodic renewal. In general, the portions of the Act that require periodic renewal extend the ability of the FBI to surveil agents of foreign governments without probable cause of a crime, allow the FBI to obtain and view the sort of information contained in email headers and caller ID, grant the FBI leave to obtain warrants in cases possibly involving chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and in cases involving computer fraud, allow the FBI to share grand jury and surveillance information with national security operatives when necessary (breaching the famous “wall” between foreign and domestic surveillance,) allow for surveillance of all communications of a suspect without requiring a warrant for each specific phone number (called “roving wiretaps”,) give the FBI power to obtain a warrant to examine business and library records, allow the FBI to track the communications of “computer trespassers” without alerting the trespasser, and a few other details.
This is not the first time the Democrats have signaled the inconsistency between their vocal, public advocacy and their actual recognition of the need for sound protective measures. I wrote about the same disconnect when the Democrats renewed the FISA law two years ago. This sort of duplicity is not an occasional thing for Democrats, it’s the normal pattern.