Some have asked me -- and I have asked myself -- why I keep encouraging readers to invest themselves in battles that, so far, we've consistently lost. We fought fiercely to filibuster Alito -- to be let down by members of our own party. We fought for Senate Intelligence Committee NSA hearings -- and the Republicans deferred the vote. We pressured Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel to honor their pledges to support a real investigation -- but they broke their word. We rallied behind Ciro Rodriguez in Texas -- only to see him defeated by Republican stooge Henry Cuellar because Texas allows Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries. And now we're fighting to prod the cowering class into supporting Russ Feingold's censure resolution -- which shouldn't be, but is, an uphill battle once again.
Why the hell do we keep beating our heads against this wall?
Part of the answer is practical: little by little, we are making a difference. We changed at least two Senators' votes outright during the Alito filibuster, and affected countless others who were officially "undecided" until they received our barrage of calls. Snowe and Hagel were reportedly "defensive" over claims they caved in to White House pressure, and Pat Roberts was "stung" by editorials and letters calling him a lapdog. FireDogLake reports that Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN), who initially opposed censure, is back on the fence, possibly due to constituent calls. (Shades of DiFi during Alito!) Feingold himself boasted that he is buoyed by thousands of supportive calls and emails. The Roots Project may not have resulted in different vote outcomes -- yet! -- but it is leaving behind vibrant, state-centric networks that are continuing to work together after the visible "project" is complete. Real, living, breathing voters are the lobbyist's Kryptonite, and all of us who call and write and strive to make our voices heard do so because, over time, it really does make a difference. As Margaret Meade wrote, it's the only thing that ever has.
But the answer also is that we would do this work whether it seemed to make a difference or not. We fight because we're patriots, not because we have objective reasons to believe we'll win. Did the civilians who fired those first shots at Lexington and Concord really stop to analyze whether a gaggle of colonists on the edge of the world could defeat a superpower? Did the shipyard workers of Solidarity consult strategy papers demonstrating that their movement eventually would bring down not just the Polish Communists but the Soviet Union itself? Did the French Resistance derail troop trains because they really thought shopkeepers and farmers could roll back the Nazi juggernaut? Or did our forebears fight because, being patriots, knowing what was right, they had no other choice?
We don't fight because we have any advance assurance that we'll prevail, but because, loving our country, and knowing what is right, we have no other choice. We fight or we accede, and so we fight. It's what good people do. As I've written before:
So what do We, the People, do now? Easy: we stay in the saddle... We, not they, will win the eventual victory if only, if only, we don't weaken. And we won't weaken. We will persevere. And we will prevail. As Winston Churchill famously said:
"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
Never give in. Never give in. For God's sake, we don't even have to withstand aerial bombardment, we just need to keep calling our Senators and Congresspeople and telling them, our civil servants, that we demand accountability and transparency. Phone calling may seem petty; but we don't yield, even in the petty. Those hammer taps, the voices of democracy recorded on voicemails and logged in daily reports by staffers, those hammer taps of democracy repeated often enough by enough people, will tip the edifice, so precariously balanced today, onto the side of democracy; and you, the virtual patriots, will be the ones that did it.
So please pick up the phone and make a call. Send an email. Shoot a fax.... [F]ill up [your senators'] DC and District voicemails.... Kids home from school? Give them a civics class at home: sit them down with milk, a brownie, a telephone and a phone list. (Not even a Republican can withstand a child's voice saying, 'please, sir, I just want my country to be honest and fair.')
Inexorable democracy doesn't usually make much noise. It's not the raucous blare of quadrennial conventions. Rather, it's usually just a tiny sound: a tap, tap, tap.
While I've had these thoughts many times before, I've never, until today, made the connection between the ethic that drives us, and the ethic that we expect of our representatives. This afternoon, though, I re-read a post by Glenn Greenwald, who says the same thing I've been saying -- except that he is writing about our represenatives, not about ourselves. Reading his words, I realized there is a connection between what we do, and what we are entitled to ask our representatives to do on our behalf:
Strong and resolute people fight. Weak and spineless people run away from fights -- or fight only when their victory is guaranteed in advance. The Democrats have been running away from fights for five years now based on the Kevin Drum theory that fights are only worth fighting if you know in advance that you will win.
That's it. That's it. All along we've been fighting, and we will keep fighting, not because victory is "guaranteed in advance" but because it's the right thing to do. We have the right to demand -- not ask, like subjects, but demand, as citizens -- that our representatives do no less. We are entitled to expect that they will fight with the same passion we do, motivated by the same sense of what is right rather than what is merely expedient, with the same courage based on hope rather than caution based on fear.
Why was every senator's office today slammed with telephone calls, and almost impossible to reach? Because we, unlike most of them, know what it means to fight. Why is Russ Feingold the man of the hour? Because he, unlike most of his colleagues, knows we expect our leaders to fight when principle and patriotism demand it, and he is striving to meet our expectation.
Feingold's censure resolution isn't even about George Bush anymore. It's about us, our representatives and the essential nature of the Democratic Party. Are we appeasers who cower and calculate when our nation's essential liberties and values are under attack, or are we willing to take a stand and do battle for the principles our country represents? We know what the Republican propaganda says about us; the Senate Democrats' initial response to Feingold's motion suggests that propaganda is true. But there is still time for our leaders to redeem themselves.
Feingold has finally called The Big Question. In the Senate Democratic Caucus are Patriots who love the Nation and the Constitution that defines it, and Politicians who hoard their perquisites and their power. The two will now be separated, pols from patriots, goats from sheep. Thanks to Feingold, there is no longer a place to hide: sooner or later censure must be voted on, and on that day every Democratic senator will be weighed in the scales, his or her worth measured and recorded.
* * *
Our nation, endangered from without, embattled abroad, and divided within, requires leaders with extraordinary courage. Feingold's resolution, which imposes no penalty on the President other than opprobrium and exacts no cost from its supporters other than political capital, has become the test of which Democrats possess the requisite courage, and which do not. Those who fail that test -- who conform themselves to less strenuous principles than those their consituents hew to -- will pay a steep political price for their failure. Not, as the pundits will claim, for failing to "pander" to their base, but for being unworthy of it.
UPDATE MARCH 16, 2:17 PM P.T.: A new poll shows more Americans support censure than oppose it. Hat-tip to Glenn Greenwald, who has a good discussion of what that means.
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