Friday, September 15, 2006

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.


Blogger Matthew Jerome said...

Good post! Yeah, as a life long Marylander I've never been overly impressed with Sarbanes or Mikulski. More with Mikulski than with Sarbanes.

Good for Van Hollen--shows why he is so overwhelmingly popular in his progressive district. But you'd think having a position on torture shouldn't be too difficult to come up with.

9/15/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liked the post -- it certainly had more energy and was thus more readable than your recent profile pieces.

9/15/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Mookie said...

Van Hollen is a great Rep, I'm proud to say I voted for him last week, and his office has obtained info on this wacky administration for me. I'm suprised about Sarbanes. As to Mikulski, I've had the same problems with her staff. She has the worst reputation for temper in the whole Senate (and that's a lot of egos to beat), so she probably doesn't have the sharpest knives in the drawer working for her. Even if they started out smart, they might lose their composure ducking flying staplers every day.

9/15/2006 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Rfustero said...

I want to say first of all that Mikulski won my heart when her office helped settle a tax problem for me(Connie Morella was also part of that help). That being the case, as a democrat I am progressive on most issues, but when it comes to the detainees in Gitmo, and the torture of terroist, I think that we have to look at the whole picture and realize that in this war that we are caught up in we are dealing with an enemy that has no respect for human life or rules .

I think torture is just what they deserve if it will protect and save the lives of innocents who are not soldiers(children, the elderly and the rest of the civilian population)

9/15/2006 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Dray said...

We may well be dealing with an enemy who has no respect for human life or rules. Which is why we must, absolutely must, not become like them. It is not how we will win. It is how we will lose.

And the more we torture, the more our own soldiers are put in harms way. Torture is wrong, and anyone who believes otherwise is a sociopath, or lying to themselves.

9/15/2006 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger Rfustero said...

The sociopaths are the Islamic-facists that are destroying innocent lives.

9/15/2006 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Dray said...

Rfustero--They are sociopaths too. We won't defeat them by becoming indistinguishable from them. In fact, that's how we lose.

9/17/2006 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger The League: Reassembled said...


You should retract your insult against Sen. Mikulski's staffers. You have absolutely no way to know whether or not they are the "sharpest knives in the drawer."

The temperment of their boss is not likely to be the reason a staffer accepts a position on The Hill. They are more likely to consider their boss' politics and record of accomplishments for the state.

9/18/2006 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger OnBackground said...

I disagree. Anyone who takes a Hill job without knowing what kind of boss their Member is, is foolish. Beyond ideology, accomplishments, or potential, office atmosphere and the basic decency of a boss (as well as honesty) can mean the difference between an awful period in a low-paying job in a bad situation (or a damaged reputation from your boss's indictment) and an excellent opportunity to serve, learn, and grow.

9/18/2006 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger The League: Reassembled said...

There is a difference between ignorance of their boss's temperment and taking a job in spite of that temperment. To insult Senator Mikulski's office because she is known to have a short temper is reckless. In fact, many of the Senator's staffers appreciate her short temper: they see it as another indication that she is emotionally involved in things and remains true to her personality.

9/18/2006 08:02:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

"your personal attacks on us are unprofessional and wrong" - Tim Hiller

Remember that folks when you watch the Steele video on

join me in defeating the GOP this year with ideas! and NOT partisan Slander!

Tell Lee Fang to start concentrating on the issues if he wants to defeat Steele. Democrats who want to see a big win for Cardin.. come to my blog and promote your ideas in the comments section!


9/19/2006 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger Bruce Godfrey said...

RFustero -

There are no Islamofascists. There are killers, and fanatics, but Islamofascism does not exist. It is ahistorical and a Rove talking point used to justify the mother of all terrorist-generating fiascos.

9/19/2006 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger The League: Reassembled said...

Does anyone have some good suggested reading on the term "Islamofascism?" The Newsweek article from last week looked at the genesis of the term's current use by Bush et. al, but apparently it stems from the 1970's. Looking for etymology as well as historocity of term.

9/19/2006 09:06:00 PM  

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