Friday, October 20, 2006

Military Commissions Act: A historic betrayal of the Constitution

Who would have thought that a former sportscaster would be the person? Keith Olbermann, yet again, with another special comment on the Military Commissions Act, blazing with the betrayal that is the Bush regime.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

And lastly, as promised, a Special Comment tonight on the signing of the Military Commissions Act and the loss of Habeas Corpus.

We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived… as people in fear.

And now — our rights and our freedoms in peril — we slowly awake to learn that we have been afraid… of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight, have we truly become, the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

What happens next - a blistering attack on the law and the regime that produced it - is exemplary for a number of reasons. First, it's being shown on the corporate media. While Olbermann's ratings have been rocketing, it is still the case that the system that supports the corporate-ordered status quo government is in place. When will the owners face pressure from their friends on the interlocking directorate boards they serve on to muzzle him? When will advertisers get the push, to pull him? When will the astroturf campaign begin to whip up hatred against him? (They've already started the smearing and the threats.)

The second thing is the commentary itself; and it's not the strident nature, the calling Bush a liar flat out - it's the historical context. I've not been educated in history, except by myself. Perhaps that's why I find the lack of historical context in a huge amount of what's on the internet so appalling. "This is the worst time ever, what they're doing." The Eternal Now - how I tire of it.

For instance, this post by Digby at Hullabaloo about the new "bi-partisan" meme. It's a well-written post, of course, and it's narrow point is correct - that the Reich Wing will bitch about any show of hardball politics by the Democrats if they regain office, despite Newt Gingrich's approach in 1994-onward.

It really can't be overstated how Newt's bare knuckle style of politics changed the way things worked in Washington. When it was combined with the big money media operations that finally came to fruition during that era --- Limbaugh, FOX etc. --- any old fashioned notions of political comity went out the window...

...There has rarely been a more vicious partisan environment than during the 1990's. And the media, as frightened as anyone of this marauding hoard of political hatchetmen, naturally sidled up to the bullies as a way of protecting themselves. Hence, David Broder saying that it was Clinton who came to town and trashed the place when it was really Newt Gingrich and his wild revolutionaries who broke all the rules of civility and comity.

Digby also points out the impeachment for no cause, and the seizure of power by the Supreme Court in 2000. These are certainly historic moves, and Digby is not calling it the worst time ever (but he's close).

But the phrase 'bareknuckle politics' is a metaphor. It's really happened. (C-SPAN)
There is a persuasive argument to be made that, when seen in historical context, recent decades have seen advances in matters of decorum and civility on the House floor. Instances of far more severe violence among Members of Congress were common in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, in 1789, two Members brawled on the House floor using a cane and fire tong. In 1793, a House Member responded to a lingering dispute with a former Member by challenging him to a duel outside of the Capitol and killing him. In 1832, Rep. Sam Houston was formally reprimanded by the House for attacking Rep. William Stanbery with his cane. Stanbery's response was to shoot at Houston, but his pistol misfired. A duel between two freshmen Congressmen in 1838 ended in the death of one. In 1838, Rep. Abram Maury and Rep. William Campbell came to blows behind the Speaker's chair on the House floor. Campbell beat Maury bloody. In separate incidents in 1840, Rep. Jesse Bynum attacked Rep. Rice Garland with a cane, while Representatives Kenneth Rayner and William Montgomery broke canes over each other's heads. In the 1850's, a House Member (Rep. Preston Brooks) strode onto the Senate floor and beat a Senator (Sen. Charles Sumner) senseless with his cane. The Senator lived, but was not able to return to office for three years.

So Olbermann calling out Bush - metaphorically, on television - is by no means historic; it's just been rare in the last decade or so. The Bushies have indeed crapped on the Consititution, which is despicable but nothing new. (And must and will be fought against.)

For those who have made it this far: Mr. Olbermann.

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