Several of my fellow Science Bloggers have come to a strange conclusion regarding the recent FISA vote in Congress. Ed Brayton titles his post on the subject “Democrats Cave on FISA Amendment.” P.Z. Myers concurs, writing, “It’s a perfect example of the failure of the Democratic party: they allowed the FISA bill to pass, and essentially revealed that they don’t give a damn about civil liberties.” Mike Dunford, writes, “Because every time the Republicans threaten them, they drop to their knees and beg for mercy – like they just did in the Senate, with this wiretap legislation. I swear, watching the Democrats in Congress these days reminds me of my dog.”
There’s just one problem with all of this. “The Democrats” didn’t cave.
If we include Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders (both independents), then there are 51 Democrats in the Senate. There are 231 Democrats in the House. Only 16 Democratic senators and 41 Democratic House members voted in favor of the amendment. That means that 225 out of 282 Congressional Democrats voted against the amendment. That’s just under 80 percent. It’s hard to argue the party caved when nearly all of them did the right thing.
I would also point out that it is only caving if they voted for the bill out of fear or cowardice. Voting out of conviction is not caving. Most (not all) of the Democrats who sided with the administration are conservative Democrats from red states. I suspect most of them voted for the amendment because they actually believe in it. That is deplorable, but it is not caving, and it does not represent some fundamental lack of character in the Democratic Party.
Over at Effect Measure, revere is so outraged that he is plans to take it out on the DCCC:
I don’t care if they are Democrats or Republicans or Independents. They voted to sell out rights guaranteed to all of us in the US Constitution, rights many generations have sacrificed for. They will not get any of my support. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) solicits campaign contributions to get Democrats elected to congress. They help support these scumbags. I won’t actively work against them because the Republican alternatives are worse or as bad and a Democratic congress is better for most of us who aren’t rich than a Republican one. But I won’t support them, either, and that means I won’t send a goddamn cent to the DCCC.
While I share revere’s contempt for those who voted in favor of the amendment, I can not endorse his recommendations about the DCCC. In every case the alternative to the Democrat who sided with Bush on this one issue was a Republican who would have rubber stamped virtually everything Bush wants to do. I do not know how much money the DCCC gave to the Deomcrats under consideration here, but every penny of it was money well spent. Politics is never pretty, and sometimes you just have to accept the lesser of two evils. Not supporting the DCCC only makes it easier for Republicans to get elected. Out of 251 Congressional Republicans, precisely 2 voted against the amendment. It’s as simple as that.
For example, one of the Democrats who voted for the amendment was my senator Jim Webb. In the last election I happily voted for him over the incumbent George Allen. If I had known then that Webb would go the wrong way on this issue, I still would have voted for him and with only slightly less happiness. Why? Because as annoyed as I am by this vote, Webb is so vastly preferable to Allen that voting for him was a no-brainer. It would take a lot more slaps in the face than this to make me jump ship. When it comes to politics, I am a pure pragmatist. Even the most conservative Democrat will vote the right way more often than all but the most liberal Republicans.
Both Ed and Mike linked to this article from The Washington Post. It’s a typical piece of Democrat bashing from our supposedly liberal media. Here’s how the article begins:
The Democratic-controlled House last night approved and sent to President Bush for his signature legislation written by his intelligence advisers to enhance their ability to intercept the electronic communications of foreigners without a court order.
The 227 to 183 House vote capped a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on a general congressional desire to act on the measure before an August recess.
The article presents not a shred of evidence that the handful of Democrats who supported the amendment were moved to do so out of fear of being branded weak on terrorism. As I’ve said, I doubt highly that description applies to more than a handful of the handful. The article does not even consider the possibility that the amendment’s supporters were motivated by genuine, if misguided, conviction.