How do Sleazy Senators Get Away With It?

A weird new tactic is highlighting the troubling extent to which the news media fails to hold our elected officials accountable. First, a politician calls a press conference where he issues a strident declaration for or against a bill. Big headlines follow. Then, when the matter comes up for a vote, he votes exactly the opposite of what he had said he would. And no one pays attention.

Ten years ago, not even the most outrageous legislator would attempt such brazen perfidy. Back then, “flip-flopping”–changing one’s mind about an issue, voting one way and then the other–was the worst sin a pol could commit. Now he can take to the Senate floor, shout about a proposed law being a threat to mom, God and apple pie–and the next day vote “yes,” secure in the knowledge that no reporter will call him on it. Thus can a reputation for courage and integrity be built. It’s just that easy.

John McCain pulls this neat trick all the time. He even did it on the same issue twice: torture.

In 2005 the Arizona senator grandstanded in favor of an anti-torture amendment to a defense bill. Bush signed it, but then took it back with one of his notorious “signing statements.” NYU law professor David Golove, an expert on Congressional politics, explained that Bush would continue to order torture in U.S. prisons and concentration camps. “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to,'” he said.

Senator McCain earned media plaudits for trying to stop torture. But he didn’t try hard enough. He was too afraid of losing the backing of Bush and the GOP establishment for his 2008 presidential big. Bush conned him, and he shut up.

Then, on February 13th of this year, the Senate passed a bill that would ban waterboarding and other types of torture. This time, McCain came out and voted “no”.

In its typically sloppy Orwellian style, The New York Times gave McCain credit for opposing torture–in his imagination–even as he voted in favor of it in the real world, on the Senate floor. “The leading Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war who steadfastly opposes the use of torture, voted against the bill,” scrode The Times. “Steadfast”? “Formerly opposed” is more like it. Better yet, “sort of formerly opposed.”

Everyone knows that Senator Barack Obama was against the Iraq War since the beginning. He’s been blasting it in speeches since October 2002. He was still at it a few days ago, telling supporters: “John McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for a war in Iraq that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. A war that is costing us thousands of precious lives and billions of dollars a week.”

Nice talk. But less than a year ago, on March 27, Senator Obama voted to fund the Iraq War to the tune of $122 billion. On April 26 he voted yes again, for a $124 billion version of the same bill. On November 16, he voted for another $50 billion. Billions of dollars a week…

Reporters don’t ask Obama why he keeps voting for the war if he’s against it. Former President Bill Clinton did: “…there was no difference between [Obama] and George Bush on the war and…there’s no difference in [Obama’s] voting record and Hillary’s…This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” He was absolutely right.

The media pressured Clinton–not Obama–to apologize.

Obama built his career on headlines that portray him as a hopeful proponent of personal liberty and opportunity. Then, when no one is paying attention, he votes like a fascist.

Passed without debate in the grim months following 9/11, the USA-Patriot Act violates our basic privacy rights by allowing the government to spy on us. “Obama’s Stand Against Patriot Act Cheered,” declared a June 26, 2005 Associated Press story that appeared in hundreds of newspapers. Finally! Civil libertarians were happy. Many would go on to support Obama’s presidential campaign. Indeed, any reasonable reader would infer that he was, as the story said, against the Patriot Act. Did he try to repeal it? No. He voted to renew it.

At a January 5th Democratic debate Senator Hillary Clinton confronted Obama: “You said you would vote against the Patriot Act–you came to the Senate and voted for it.” It takes a hypocrite to know one. Hillary voted for it twice.

One of the most accomplished big talkers/vote wimps in the Senate is Clinton’s fellow New Yorker Charles Schumer. On issue after issue Schumer, a notorious publicity hound, loudly lambastes the Republicans and their works. “The most dangerous place in Washington,” Bob Dole once quipped, “is between Charles Schumer and a television camera.” When push comes to a roll call vote, however, the Democrats’ attack dog turns into a teacup poodle.

In January 2006 the Senate held confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. “70 percent of all Americans,” Schumer told CNN, “say they do not want a Supreme Court justice who will vote to overturn Roe [v. Wade].” If confirmed, he said, Alito “would vote to overturn.” Since the right to an abortion is a key Democratic platform plank, everyone read his statement as a declaration of jihad against Alito’s nomination.

On the first day of the hearing Schumer called Alito a right-wing extremist: “In case after case after case, you give the impression of applying careful legal reasoning, but too many times you happen to reach most conservative result. You give the impression of being a meticulous legal navigator, but, in the end, you always seem to chart a rightward course…Under your view, the President would…have inherent authority to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, to ignore Congressional acts at will, or to take any other action he saw fit under his inherent powers.”
Schumer voted against Alito’s confirmation. But, as a powerful member of the senate leadership, his support for a liberal-led filibuster could have kept Alito off the high court. He did nothing.

Eighteen months later, he issued a rare apology. “Every day,” he said, “I am pained that I didn’t do more to try to block Justice Alito…Alito shouldn’t have been confirmed.”

National news organizations chose not to cover Schumer’s apology. You see, the news media doesn’t merely refuse to call out say-one-thing-vote-the-opposite politicians. It won’t even let them call themselves out.


11 Responses to “”

  1. Sandman Says:

    Our Congress is like the Duma in the old Soviet Union; it’s votes are nothing more than window dressing to promote the illusion of a legislative process, while the rich old men huddle in secret places and decide how best to further consolidate their power and wealth. Complaining about our “lawmakers” is a ridiculous waste of time. They no more make our laws than do you or me. We should design a new flag and pick a new, more appropriate name for the country that is properly reflective of a totalitarian state: “The People’s Democratic Republic of America.”

  2. Aggie Dude Says:

    ESPN is highly popular because it is sports entertainment, and that’s what people want: sports entertainment. Therefore it is incumbent upon news agencies to economically justify themselves through ratings, and they have done so by turning news into packaged ‘reality TV’ dramas that must fit some formula to be “newsworthy” at all, and must be then packaged into the “appropriate” box to capture audience demographics created by an army of self-absorbed zombies created by a factory education system that taught them long ago that they, too, are a commodity to be packaged, bought and sold.

    So what genre is presidential politics? it is sports entertainment. What your talking about is like televising the off-season daily regiments of professional athletes. It may draw some audience but it’s not going to compete with the Super Bowl or the World Series.

    This is about an entire society that doesn’t have its priorities right. It’s impossible to blame any individual, and that’s by design as well.

    I suggest that politicians lying carry a lifetime mandatory imprisonment. I also suggest that politicians and their families must live in conditions that reflect the accepted poverty rate of the nation, and that their children go to inner city DC schools while their parents are in office.

    The only way to make public office greedy-averse is to make it thoroughly unprofitable. The only way to keep politicians from lying is to make it a criminal offense.

    As president of the united states, ted, you could invade another country and no matter how disastrous, you will not actually suffer for it.

    Right now our politicians have complete immunity unless the inside machine tries to screw them. That’s why McCain steps back in line when he gets thrown under the bus.

    My solution for the news media is more complex and for a different time. We should have a beer sometime and talk about it.

    Of course, I’m not an activist.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    It’s all “democracy theater”, nothing more. It’s the illusion that the mechanations of a corporate-controlled empire actually has some link to the “will of the people”. That ship has long since sailed.

  4. swisn Says:

    The only way to make public office greedy-averse is to make it thoroughly unprofitable.

    You mean like not being allowed to vote yourself a nice raise, set up generous (and lifelong) benefits packages, and then settle down in a nice K-street office peddling influence and souls? It isn’t like anyone has to worry about being voted out, now that the voting districts have been so thoroughly gerry mandered it isn’t funny.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Let’s see, what did Obama say when he voted for the Patriot Act?

    “Let me be clear: this compromise is not as good as the Senate version of the bill, nor is it as good as the SAFE Act that I have cosponsored. I suspect the vast majority of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. But, it’s still better than what the House originally proposed.

    This compromise does modestly improve the PATRIOT Act by strengthening civil liberties protections without sacrificing the tools that law enforcement needs to keep us safe.

    In this compromise:

    * We strengthened judicial review of both national security letters, the administrative subpoenas used by the FBI, and Section 215 orders, which can be used to obtain medical, financial and other personal records.
    * We established hard-time limits on sneak-and-peak searches and limits on roving wiretaps.
    * We protected most libraries from being subject to national security letters.
    * We preserved an individual’s right to seek counsel and hire an attorney without fearing the FBI’s wrath.
    * And we allowed judicial review of the gag orders that accompany Section 215 searches. The compromise is far from perfect.

    I would have liked to see stronger judicial review of national security letters and shorter time limits on sneak and peak searches, among other things.

    Senator Feingold has proposed several sensible amendments–that I support–to address these issues. Unfortunately, the Majority Leader is preventing Senator Feingold from offering these amendments through procedural tactics. That is regrettable because it flies in the face of the bipartisan cooperation that allowed the Senate to pass unanimously its version of the Patriot Act–a version that balanced security and civil liberty, partisanship and patriotism.

    The Majority Leader’s tactics are even more troubling because we will need to work on a bipartisan basis to address national security challenges in the weeks and months to come. In particular, members on both sides of the aisle will need to take a careful look at President Bush’s use of warrantless wiretaps and determine the right balance between protecting our security and safeguarding our civil liberties.

    This is a complex issue. But only by working together and avoiding election-year politicking will we be able to give our government the necessary tools to wage the war on terror without sacrificing the rule of law.

    So, I will be supporting the PATRIOT Act compromise. But I urge my colleagues to continue working on ways to improve the civil liberties protections in the PATRIOT Act after it is reauthorized.”

  6. Ted Rall Says:

    The Patriot Act should be repealed. Period. Obama should have voted no. Period.

    Change you can believe in? More like the same old shit.

  7. Ryan Kittleson Says:

    Ted, I love your cartoons and read your column every week, but attacking Obama for funding the war is hypocritical. You yourself said that there are many good reasons to stay in Iraq: clean up our mess, keep civil war down, attone for doing it in the first place, etc. Can’t Obama opose the war but also vote that we should take responsibility by staying there til (if) things settle down?

  8. Ted Rall Says:

    In the column you’re referencing, I said that Republicans weren’t even bothering to cite the good reasons for staying in Iraq.

    As for Obama, he is positioning himself as the antiwar candidate who was against it from the very beginning. It’s pretty obvious now that we have no intention of preventing ethnic cleansing or of rebuilding what we destroyed. Therefore, the correct antiwar position is to be against the war. That includes not spending money to prolong it.

  9. AltWorlder Says:

    Even Lincoln had to make compromises over slavery.

  10. John Madziarczyk Says:

    “But I urge my colleagues to continue working on ways to improve the civil liberties protections in the PATRIOT Act after it is reauthorized.”

    That’s the key phrase there.

    All right hope for change!

    I agree with Ted that the reason both Hillary and Bill is so pissed of is that it takes a hypocrite to know one. And because Bill Clinton can’t say anything without it being politicized he’s in a catch 22 situation.

    Lies lies lies from Obama. Look up on his website about the ‘health care that congressmen get’ claim. You’ll see that what he says is that the system he advocates resembles the system that every employee of the federal government gets…including congressmen/women.

    So much, much, more. In terms of shameless self promotion….“Fact Checking Obama’s Seattle Speech, by yours truly, gets a lot of them.


  11. Eric Xodik Says:

    Maybe Hillary actually voted AGAINST the war but didn’t want to look like a wuss on National Security so she pretends she voted FOR it!

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