Update: still the same, but here’s how to change it

TW: US national security apparatus, mass surveillance

Alright, do you remember this? There’s a cross-party consensus of sorts in the US in terms of the need for and legitimacy of most of the hallmarks of the growing national security state (drone warfare, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, and so on). The unsuccessful vote last Wednesday on whether or not to begin restricting the surveillance program is simply another demonstration of that, as significant numbers of both parties voted against the amended bill, allowing the program to stand as is.

2013-07-29_2128

(The voting results – 205 for the limiting amendment, 217 against, and 12 not present. In terms of party composition, 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats were in favor, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats were against. Those who didn’t vote split evenly between the two parties, six votes on each side. From here.)

But likewise, it’s also rich in the same indications, in terms of how best to solve this problem. The vote breaks down not only with more favorable proportions of the Democrats compared to the Republicans voting for initial restrictions, but also with some indications of which Democrats are more likely to be supportive of these measures. From congressional representatives Pelosi (the minority leader), Wasserman Schultz (chair of the Democratic National Committee), and Hoyer (the minority whip), nearly every leadership figure voted against this. The major rift this reveals isn’t between libertarian and authoritarian wings of the Republicans but between the majority of Democrats and their leadership.

Frankly, the same could be said of the Republicans, whose speaker (Boehner), majority leader (Cantor), most recent Vice Presidential candidate (Ryan), majority whip (McCarthy [CA]), and a nationally contender for their nomination for the presidency (Bachmann) all voted in favor of it as well, in spite of it being introduced by a Republican.

The most important fact here however is that not only did Democrats break about 6-to-4 for the bill, but they did so against the indication of their leaders. The Republicans broke about 6-to-4 against the bill ostensible because of the signalling from their leadership. Not only do the raw data indicate that a lazy “both sides do it” argument is flawed, but the context indicates how ripe the Democratic Party is for the emergence of any leader who would break from the Republicans on this issue.

Besides the leadership, the unfortunate many other Democrats who voted in favor of the bill was full of many currently serving their first term (to name all 23 of them, representatives Bera, Castro [TX], Delaney, Duckworth, Enyart, Etsy, Frankel, Gallego, Garcia, Heck [WA], Kelly, Kennedy, Kilmer, Kuster, Sean Maloney, Meng, Murphy [FL], Peters [CA], Ruiz, Schneider, Sinema, Vargas, and Veasey). The indications of the Democratic leadership likely hold the highest sway over these representatives, so the appearance of any alternative position within the leadership appears likely to change many if not all of these representatives’ minds. Even without a key Democrat that could come forward and push this through, direct lobbying would still be best concentrated on these representatives.

Considering that the amendment was shot down by a simple majority with only 12 more votes than the opposition, targeting that group of senators is not only likely to produce different votes but also different votes that could sway the outcome of votes like these. In short, this is the most pragmatic approach to the current predicament, but it involves acknowledging differences between the parties’ representatives’ behavior and working within one of their established structures.

The question before this country’s civil libertarians is whether those are acceptable costs for changing US policy. Or rather, do they prefer decrying both parties in favor of a fairly good chance at changing the status quo?

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