Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Halfway to Sunset

I didn't expect to be blogging about the USA Patriot Act again this year. I assumed the extensions to the Bush-era anti-terrorist surveillance bill would pass without fuss, and the sun would fail to set yet again. But something happened.

The House didn't pass the USA Patriot Act extension. Apparently they considered it so uncontroversial that they moved it to the floor under a provision that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. One-hundred-twenty-two Democrats voted against it, and they were joined by 26 Republicans, including eight freshman "tea party" candidates. Of course, the headlines will read that it was some kind of "tea party rebellion" that thwarted the extension, ignoring the 122 nays from the Democrats, and ignoring that most of the tea party caucus voted to pass the extension.

Seeing this new Congress in action leads me to a few questions: are the TP candidates posing as libertarians or authoritarians? What happened to the "small government" rhetoric? They certainly have a strange understanding of freedom as Rachel Maddow pointed out last night. Just look at their policies:

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And yet Congress went through all that trouble to read the Constitution on the House floor just to cast votes against the Fourth Amendment a month later.

The bright side is that the issue of civil liberties can be common ground for the right and the left, but Glenn Greenwald has these sobering thoughts:
Last night's unexpected Patriot Act vote illustrates the tantalizing promise of such an alliance. Things would be vastly improved on the civil liberties front if the American Right was even minimally faithful to the political principles they claim to support. But the nature of that movement means that last night's vote is far more of an isolated aberration than anything likely to change the bipartisan dynamic in a positive way. Indeed, the very weak status of civil liberties in the U.S. is compellingly illustrated by the fact that an alliance with this deeply unprincipled and authoritarian movement is one of the few viable means for stemming the tide of the erosion.
Greenwald also believes that the Patriot Act extensions will indeed pass when they are voted on again in a few weeks under standard procedures that require a majority for approval.

But with more attention on the issue now and the votes of some unallied Freshman, maybe they will surprise us again? They do seem kind of fickle.

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