Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bob Barr's book's a bipartisan bombshell

I finished Bob Barr's book today, The Meaning of Is (2004). Though his theme is Clinton, in fact, it's a bombshell lobbed against both parties, or factions as they've become.

My evidence?

As America burned, the Republican Party was fiddling away.

p. 114

Like nervous corporate CEOs, the leadership structure of the Republican Party and it[s] corporate patrons preferred predictable consistency above all else. They felt they could deal with any reality as long as that reality was stable.

p. 227

In the new Congress, partisanship was everything. You played on a team and you were loyal to that team no matter what. Independent thought was strongly discouraged, and loyalty was enforced through a system that rewarded lemmings and punished mavericks. If you towed the line, you got campaign cash, action on your bills, and perhaps a shot at a committee chairmanship. If not, then the party leadership was not going to lift a finger to help you get anything done, either in your home district or Washington. The same system was enforced in both parties, and it ultimately made it difficult for anyone to cross partisan lines...

p. 148

We have a huge responsibility as a nation. We can close our eyes. But when we open them, the problem will still be there, looming before us with a brooding darkness. We can answer this question the wrong way. And allow the president to hold his office with the knowledge that he has committed multiple felonies. Or we can answer this question the right way. The only right answer to the question is to respond to presidential felonies with impeachment. Regardless of whether the president is ultimately removed by the Senate, we must take this step in the House, as directed by our Constitution, in order to establish a precedent that will prevent future presidents from engaging in similar conduct.

p. 171, quoting himself, emphasis added

We had not damaged national security, attacked the integrity of the criminal justice system, abused the most powerful public office in the world, or violated the constitutional rights of large numbers of American citizens. Bill Clinton had done all of these things, and this was the reason he was being impeached, not because of the affair he had with Monica Lewinski or the long list of affairs that preceded it.

p. 180, emphasis added

If any other person had done what Bill Clinton had done, he not only would have been prosecuted, but convicted, sentenced, and put in jail. Obviously, no prosecutor in America was going to bring an indictment against a sitting president. But that is precisely the reason the Founders put the impeachment provision in the Constitution. The whole point of the trial was to determine his guilt or innocence. By arguing that Clinton had already been tried and cleared—when he had not—[Senator Dale] Bumpers conveniently gave the senators cover to vote against removal, even though presented with a clear factual case for doing so. Like any masterful attorney, he was giving the jury a plausible reason to do what it wanted to do, even though its desires ran contrary to the facts and the law. Put colloquially, the senators were chicken, and Bumpers was giving them a place to hide.

p. 199, emphasis added

Along these lines, I observed one of the most amazing cases of odd behavior by a senator during my closing presentation. Its source was Alaska senator Ted Stevens. Stevens chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and consequently owns one of the most heavily kissed backsides in Washington, D.C. He is constantly besieged by a cornucopia of special interests, all seeking their own slice of taxpayer money from the budget pie. He is a guy who is used to having everyone around him act exactly as he wants them to. Early in the trial, he had emerged as one of the most strident opponents in the Republican conference to putting together a real trial. He wanted the spectacle of the impeachment trial to end as quickly as possible so the Senate could get on its real business—which as he saw it was doling out taxpayer monies.

Still, I expected Stevens at least to keep his opinion to himself during the actual trial. Needless to say, I was surprised to look up during my initial presentation and see him slowly moving his hand back and forth across his throat while staring me down. Either they guy was having serious thoughts of suicide, or he was giving me a sign to sit down and shut up. Here, I thought, was Senate arrogance at its best.

p. 209, emphasis added

Does party membership amount to little more than the kind of choice a college freshman makes in choosing a fraternity or a young criminal makes in choosing a neighborhood street gang in which to participate? If parties are mere labels, rather than representations of deeply shared principles, then the answer is "yes."

p. 228

The Libertarian Party actually seemed to grasp the significance of Clinton's assaults on individual freedom. In a public call for impeachment in July 1998, the Libertarians argued that Clinton "has the worst record on civil liberties since Richard Nixon, and the worst record on economic issues since Fidel Castro. What he's done to the Constitution should be classified as a hate crime." Specifically, they cited the administration's systematic assaults on cherished constitutional principles, most notably those contained in the Bill of Rights. I found myself fully in agreement with their logic, and we became close allies in the impeachment effort, although I still disagreed with the party's position on several issues such as abortion and drug legalization. Interestingly, this disagreement would surface four years later when, in running for election in a new district, the national Libertarian Party, in a move reflective of the old adage about "cutting off your nose to spite your face," worked hard to defeat me over the drug issue, even though on privacy and civil liberties I was—in the words of many of the party's own members—one of their best friends in office.

p. 102, emphasis added

Can women say no?
The point here is not that Clinton had extramarital affairs while in office. He was not the first president to cheat, and he will not be the last. Bill Clinton's adultery was—in my view—something that was between him, his wife, and God. I am amazed that any spouse would tolerate his brazen behavior, but it is none of my business. However, what was my business as a member of Congress is that the evidence clearly showed that the president of the United States was a sexual predator (and, of course, a perjurer and obstructor of justice.) There was a clear pattern. First, Clinton targeted women he believed were vulnerable to his advances and who could not say no due to their station in life or their personal circumstances. When some of these women did say "no," they were subjected to a carefully orchestrated and brutal campaign that involved lawyers, political operatives, donors, and White House staff, with the clear goal of threatening or pounding them into silence.

p. 100, emphasis added

Can Congress say no?
Requests from the executive branch to pass its legislative proposals without hearings are becoming more, rather than less, common, even as the complexity and importance of that legislation makes it imperative that the Congress conduct searching and substantive—if time-consuming—hearings (as was not done with the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001).

p. 229, emphasis added

Ignoring the Separation of Powers and attempting to make end runs around Congress was a favorite Clinton strategy, and the use of Executive Orders was his favorite tactic for doing so. In their legitimate form, Executive Orders are simply management tools used by the president to keep federal agencies running in the most efficient manner possible. They reflect the clear intent of laws passed by Congress and merely put a finer point on existing law. Bill Clinton turned this logic upside down, using Executive Orders to legislate—in clear violation of the Constitution—because he though[t] it too much trouble to be bothered by negotiating with Congress. ...

Some of the most insidious sets of Executive Orders were those issued by Clinton on the topic of federalism. A bedrock principle of the Constitution, which is woven throughout the debates over its passage and permanently protected in the Tenth Amendment, is that powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government belong to the state governments and the American people. Although the notion of federalism was being consistently eroded by years of contrary legislation and court decisions, no president had ever changed all that. They essentially set up a system where any conflict between state and federal regulations was automatically decided in favor of the federal law. This meant all an agency that wanted to run roughshod over a state had to do was pick a fight, which it knew it would win because the game was rigged ahead of time by Clinton's Executive Orders. Simply put, this amounted to crippling the Tenth Amendment, and it was done solely by executive action without any involvement from the courts or Congress.

pp. 91-92, emphasis added

However, the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) quickly followed [the failed attempt to require Clipper Chips in telephones]; the Clinton administration convinced Congress to pass this act in 1994. Under CALEA, every phone company in America is legally required to install snooping technology in all its new equipment so that government agents can listen in with ease.

p. 90, emphasis added

I am anything but a supporter of terrorists and criminals. I spent a large portion of my adult life working for the CIA and prosecuting criminals at the Department of Justice, so I am not unsympathetic to law enforcement. However, I have a theory about law enforcement: investigations can be hampered more than benefited by new authority and fancy technology. In my experience—privacy concerns aside—relying too much on sophisticated laboratories and massive wiretapping operations rather than on shoe-leather police work often resulted in cases that took too long to bring to trial and were far too weak and complex once they got there. For example, wiretapping can quickly overwhelm an investigation, particularly if multiple targets are involved or language barriers are present. Merely trying to cope with the resulting information is like trying to drink from an open fire hydrant. Despite the shortcomings, many agents like these methods because they are easier in many ways than old-fashioned investigative work.

p. 85, emphasis added

Who's defending civil liberties and due process now?
In past years, being a Democrat meant having a certain appreciation for civil liberties that went far beyond mere expediency. To be sure, Democrats did not always protect individual freedom, but they were far more reliable allies for the American Civil Liberties Union than were Republicans. This assumption of American politics cracked and ultimately shattered during the eight years of the Clinton administration. The first sign that this philosophy was dying occurred when many respected liberals went out of their way to cover up actions by federal law enforcement in the Waco attack. It went completely out the window when the Clinton administration introduced its draft anti-terrorism legislation following the tragic Oklahoma City bombing.

pp. 81-82, emphasis added

Much later, the FBI was forced to admit that it did use incendiary munitions after officials—including Janet Reno—testified under oath that they did not do so. ...

There are still numerous questions surrounding the Waco tragedy. At least two things are certain, however. First, top federal law enforcement officials from Janet Reno down behaved as if they wanted everyone in that compound dead, and their actions achieved that result. Secondly, the same top Clinton administration officials participated in an extensive effort to cover up the truth about what really happened at Waco. ...

I kept pursuing my hard line of questioning, but as we all know, it was largely in vain. We succeeded in getting important facts one the record, but the official version of the story is still largely one of a fiery mass suicide that the federal government was powerless to prevent. This, like so much of what passes for commonly accepted official stories in Washington, is a lie.

pp. 78, 80, emphasis added

As most Americans remember, Bill Clinton put Hillary Clinton in charge of a task force to develop a new health insurance plan for America. ...

Making this bad situation worse, Hillary insisted on meeting secretly to work on the plan. This resulted in a head-on collision with federal laws requiring government meetings to be open to the public if they involved non-governmental individuals. ...

Interestingly [the precedent] might also be used to prevent White House officials from being compelled to testify about conversations with other private individuals. Such a privilege—if asserted based on this precedent—would certainly encourage all kinds of corrupt conduct currently banned by law. In fact, it was this very argument that Vice President Cheney's legal team made in a bid to keep information about his energy policy task force secret when sued by Judicial Watch.

pp. 51-52, emphasis added

Now I know what my vote for Bob Barr would mean.

A vote for Bob Barr is a vote for due process and the rule of law.

A vote for Bob Barr is a vote to let government officials know that no one is above the law, the Constitution, and a respect for human rights.

A vote for Bob Barr is a vote for holding our President accountable. Our country needs a good impeachment. A vote for Bob Barr is the next best thing.

One last quote :-)
While I was frequently derided throughout my congressional career for never smiling, next to Maxine Waters I was the Cheshire Cat.

p. 131

Version 1.1 - bit about factions added May 18
Now playing: Beck - The New Pollution (I noticed some bits and pieces of this song are from the Brazilian band Os Mutantes)
via FoxyTunes


Shawn Levasseur said...

Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I'll be buying it and reading it myself.

Judging by your excerpts, it seems Barr's "conversion" isn't quite as huge a leap as some have characterized it.

Casey Bowman said...

Well put. That's exactly the point I'd like to make. Thank you for expressing it so succinctly.