Our Senators Are Morally Confused
I want to preface my irate tirade by stating upfront that Maryland Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski are good Democrats. They are on the right side of the issues almost all of the time. And in my experience as a constituent, they have been responsive and thoughtful advocates.
What I am about to say is not intended to pillory them as individuals, but as part of the Democratic Senatorial machine, which cannot whip itself up into a standing position on even the most basic and important issues without consulting a focus group.
That said, I'm about as angry as I've ever been with either of them.
I spent this morning on the phone calling congress people about the proposed legislation that would "clarify" (ie. Redefine) the meaning of torture, depart from our commitment to the Geneva Conventions, establish kangaroo courts in which the accused wouldn't have the right to even know why they were being executed or punished, and retroactively protect Americans who have violated the Geneva Conventions already from prosecution.
I started with Senators Graham, Collins, Warner, and McCain. I thanked them for their leadership in fighting against legitimizing American Torture.
Then I called my own Senators.
When I called Senator Mikulski's office, the staffer politely listened to me express my opinion. But when I asked what Senator Mikulski's position on this issue was, I was told that she didn't know. I pushed harder, "You don't know what the Senator's position on torture is?" She hemmed, she hawed, and ultimately, she said, "Well, she's voted against torture before, but I'm not sure what she'll do this time."
It was all I could do to contain my rage. To my ears, it was not unlike, "Well, your elected representative usually opposes murder, but you never know. . . Tomorrow is a new day."
This is basic, people. This is not some Mickey mouse legislation on tax policy or copyrights where Americans can politely agree to disagree. This is not some issue where I can, as a Democrat, allow my elected officials to carefully weigh the pros and cons, as if torture WERE EVER A LEGITIMATE OPTION.
I managed to swallow my bile long enough to be polite with the staffer. She might be new. Barbara Mikulski might, in fact, be out there asserting to the world that in no uncertain terms would she ever allow this odious legislation to pass. But maybe the staffer just isn't in the loop, missed the morning briefing, somehow made a mistake.
So I called Senator Sarbanes. And this time, I was actually more aggressively rebuffed. Not only did Senator Sarbanes not have a position on torture, but "all constituent input is being forwarded to the Senator so he can make a decision. He'll get back to you." HE'S TAKING A POLL.
I might well have gone round the bend at that point, and become a frothing one-woman marching machine--convinced that Democrats were all as weak and morally bankrupt as the party we are opposing, were it not for my last call of the morning.
It was to Chris Van Hollen's office. He is a Maryland Congressman who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, and this legislation is coming before him in that capacity. Mr. Van Hollen's office was very clear: "Congressman Van Hollen opposes torture, opposes efforts to redefine torture, and opposes efforts to redefine our commitment to the Geneva Conventions." I was told that the legislation was still in its nascent form, and was running into roadblocks in the Senate, so it was unclear what the final result would be or whether or not the legislation would even remotely resemble the pro-torture format that it's taking presently, so Congressman Van Hollen wasn't pledging a yes or no vote on any bill. But he was committing to "advocate" against any softening of our stance on the issue.
This is the answer that every Democrat should be giving. This is a strong answer that is both respectful to the legislative process, and gives the impression that Congressman Van Hollen is a man who stands by the courage of his convictions.
The fact that my senators will not do that enrages me. And it points to the enduring problem we have in the Senate Democrats. Whether it's the fact of the matter or not, they allow themselves to appear weak and unprincipled time and time again.
I don't need my Senators to agree with me on every issue, but if they can't agree with me on something as basic as torture--if they aren't willing to say it outloud--then they have a serious problem with their moral compass. They are actually guilty of at least several of the critiques that Republicans and critics hurl at them: they truly are, morally confused.
On torture, you're either with us or against us. Sorry.