Edwards Leads, Clinton And Obama Are Absent

[ Posted Thursday, January 24th, 2008 – 16:46 UTC ]

There's a difference between leading and following. Leading means getting out in front, and charting a course. Watching to see what others do, calculating where the political chips are going to fall, and then picking the safest course is not leading. It is following.

John Edwards today came out strongly in support of Chris Dodd's fight against Harry Reid in the Senate over giving telecommunications companies immunity for breaking the wiretapping laws. To be fair, Dodd is the one leading on the issue, but he has dropped out of the race for president, so he deserves the leadership honors on the issue. But among the three leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, only Edwards is even speaking about the issue. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as of this writing, don't have any press releases up on their web pages on the issue, one way or the other. Both of them are out on the campaign trail rather than in the Senate to cast votes on the issue.

To me, this is a stark example of political cautiousness on Clinton and Obama's part. In the abstract, they've said they support the concept, but if they're not willing to take to the Senate floor, make a speech about their stance, and cast their vote against giving Bush what he wants, then they're not really showing much leadership on the issue. Hillary has been making Barack's "present" votes in the Illinois legislature an issue of late, and here is a chance for both of them to show bold votes... and neither of them can even vote "present" because they aren't. They couldn't be bothered because they're out campaigning.

Now, it's true that Edwards is not a sitting senator. He can't vote whether he'd like to or not. But being in the Senate or not doesn't preclude any candidate from speaking out on the issue. While the Clinton and Obama camps are silent, here is what Edwards has to say:

Today, Senator John Edwards released the following statement urging Senate Democrats to filibuster the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA):

"In Washington today, telecom lobbyists have launched a full-court press to win retroactive immunity for their illegal eavesdropping on American citizens. Granting retroactive immunity will let corporate law-breakers off the hook and hamstring efforts to learn the truth about Bush's illegal spying program.

"It's time for Senate Democrats to show a little backbone and stand up to George W. Bush and the corporate lobbyists. They should do everything in their power -- including joining Senator Dodd's efforts to filibuster this legislation -- to stop retroactive immunity. The Constitution should not be for sale at any price."

And here's what Clinton and Obama have to say:

[sound of crickets chirping]

Throughout this campaign, Edwards has been out in front of Clinton and Obama on a number of issues, the most notable being health care plans. This is just another example of his taking a stance which is later echoed by the other two (usually in a watered-down version).

Of course, it doesn't do Edwards any good if the mainstream media (and the public at large) don't notice, and the media has been mostly ignoring the telecom immunity issue altogether. So I don't really see it giving Edwards a much of a boost.

Which is a shame, because he's out front on a touchy issue, and he's right. And that's what I would call leadership.


-- Chris Weigant


14 Comments on “Edwards Leads, Clinton And Obama Are Absent”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I hope that it won't be necessary but if it is I hope that Sen. Dodd will go thru with his filibuster.

    I am also very happy to see Edwards out in front on this issue - it would be nice if the press noticed.


  2. [2] 
    benskull wrote:

    your prediction was right. Its a shame the lack of coverage. I find that I get more info on the daily show and colbert report that the major networks. They focus on wierd unimportant stuff and then hype it up. I must say that as much as I like Edwards, I'm not sure about the insurance mandate. Seems like that may hurt some. But anything is better than the current. Glad he got in on this issue, while it may not seem big, if the immunity passes, it basically confirms that money = power and the law is of minimum importance. that can't happen. And its important for the dems to be on the right or just side of this. Republicans talk about morals and family values, but its really just rhetoric. More bs to rope in the Christian right.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:


    The second link in this article didn't work, but it has now been corrected and should take you to the press release by Edwards.

    Sorry for the mixup.


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    I sense a little contradiction in philosophys here, CW...

    With regards to the MCA/Torture issue, thru our debates, you stated that there is no reason to "legalize" torture. It would be better to leave the laws
    against torture on the books and, in the event of a "ticking bomb" scenario where torture was justified and necessary, then the troops who perpetrated the
    torture could be pardon'ed or not prosecuted after the fact. I am summarizing what I recall your position to be. Please correct me if I misstated your

    In any case, here we have the exact situation you described. The "troops" (in this case, the Telecoms) were asked to take extraordinary measures in
    extraordinary circumstances and they complied. Now, ya'all want to line them up in front of the firing squad, like lambs to the slaughter. Whatever
    happened to "the needs of the many" outlook??

    Again, I am reminded of the "Las Vegas scenario".. Ya'all don't seem to mind if authorities scavenge intel AFTER the fact, to learn who might have just
    murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent americans. Yet, ya'all scream bloody murder and privacy issues if authorities want to do much less to PREVENT
    the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent americans..

    Do ya'all not see the inherent illogic of such a position?


  5. [5] 
    benskull wrote:

    yada yada yada, there's a democratic process for a reason. The laws have been designed for a reason. If you plan to break them for a reason, you take that to those overseeing you, so they can decide whether its right or wrong. You know, vote on it etc. Maybe see what the public thinks of it? Being the decider, and doing whatever the hell you want is not what's expected of the president. And the telecom companies going along with it is not alright. They broke the law. Any grownup knows that an action has consequences, good or bad. If they aren't willing to face them, then don't commit the actions in the first place.

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    The laws have been designed for a reason.

    Yet, times change. Laws that were reasonable a couple decades ago no longer apply.

    It's like LSD in the 60s.. There was no law on the books against LSD. Because, when the law was made, LSD didn't exist.

    The laws have to be changed to incorporate a new reality.

    So it is with anti-terror laws.

    Why are you so intent on hamstringing the authorities in the prevention of terrorist attacks on Americans??

    "Do you not fully comprehend the threat??"

    "Are you more interested in your own personal comfort than you are the safe guarding of hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans??"

    These are questions that everyone who doesn't support these needed anti-terror laws needs to ask themselves..

    Let's lay it out on the table...

    In the event of an imminent and confirmed nuclear terrorist attack on Los Angeles CA, New York NY, Chicago IL or St Augustine FL, do you think that the individuals liberty or rights should be given ANY consideration??


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    Or let me give you another scenario..

    You have reasonable and compelling evidence that a nuclear device is going to be detonated in Times Square. You know that the terrorist who will detonate the bomb is amongst a group of 1000 men.

    You need 48 hours to determine who the terrorist is. The bomb is set to detonate in 1 hour.

    So, do you arrest and detain all 1000 men for 48 hours, knowing that 999 of the men are completely innocent, but preventing a nuclear holocaust??

    Or, keeping in mind the civil comfort of those 999 men, do you allow a nuclear bomb to destroy New York and kill millions of innocent men, women and children?

    This is the problem that most overly-idealistic liberals have. They do not understand that the maxim that we grew up with, "Better 100 guilty men go free rather than have 1 innocent man arrested" no longer applies.

    In this age of nuclear terrorism, the end **DOES** justify the means....

    Or, to put it more accurately, if the ends are honorable and true, then so are the means, regardless (to a point) of what they are.


  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Hoo boy. Sorry, I've been remiss about answering comments. OK, one by one...

    Michale -

    Your first paragraph accurately describes my position on the issue, so thanks for that recap for others to read.

    However, I think calling telecom companies "troops" is a bit of a stretch. Especially when (1) they're making a profit off of these wiretaps, and (2) they cut them off when the NSA fails to pay the bills. That doesn't sound like "troops" it sounds like "mercenaries."

    Second, they are not being criminally prosecuted. They are being sued in civil court. Now, I'm no lawyer so I don't know what this means in terms of a pardon. I don't know that a pardon would shield them from prosecution or not, but I suspect not. I don't offer this as supporting or not supporting either of our arguments, I just wanted to throw it in there in case a lawyer is reading this and wants to post an answer.

    I would ask you if you would support either of two amendments being discussed in the Senate currently. The first is from Dianne Feinstein, and would move these cases directly into the FISA court, in an effort to preserve national security secrets. I don't support this, since the federal courts are quite capable of not leaking secrets as they stand, but I wonder if you'd support this compromise.

    The second would substitute the telecoms with the federal government. In essence, this is closer to your position -- they were ordered to do something by the feds, they did it, so the feds should take the heat on the issue. This would mean the NSA and whoever else would be sued for damages, rather than AT&T and the other telecoms.

    OK, this is long enough, so I'm going to answer the other comments separately.


  9. [9] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    benskull -

    I agree one hundred percent with what you wrote.

    I would further state that there was one company (Qwest) that refused, and lost a lot of money by doing so (federal contracts disappeared as a result). They are not being sued now, as they did not partipate in illegal activities. This is how the marketplace is supposed to work. If AT&T goes bankrupt as a result of these suits (which the White House was talking about as a scenario last week), then Qwest could step in and take up the slack. Fine with me. It would teach companies in the future to follow the law.

    Lastly, a society where the executive orders individuals and companies to comply with their orders, and expects obedience no matter what the laws say has a name -- it's called a dictatorship.


  10. [10] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    That's actually a good analogy with the LSD laws. It seems to support your arguments.

    [Oh, to any posters, I fixed the italics in Michale's post, if you want to use italics, the tags have to be in angle brackets (characters above period and comma keys on American keyboards).]

    But you know, we've been faced with terrorist threats before. And we haven't trashed the Constitution to deal with them. And we're still here. I still don't see how getting a warrant -- after the fact even (the FISA law permits this) -- stops anything you've described. Why couldn't, in the Las Vegas scenario you describe, they have gone back and done the paperwork after the fact? What would that have changed?

    And once again, I'm not a lawyer, but don't the police have a loophole in the fourth amendment already which seems to me covers the "24" scenarios you describe? If there's a crime in progress (a kidnapping, for instance) and the cops break into a house because they hear a cry for help and save the victim's life, the courts will still allow this as evidence. No warrants, but the cop acted to prevent injury or death, so it's OK. I'm oversimplifying something from TV, so I may be completely wrong here, but I believe that's already covered.


  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:


    Clinton and Obama actually did the right thing in the Senate. Glenn Greenwald has the rundown at Salon.

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:


    I used the terms "troops" in the sense of they were asked to do something to support the war against terrorism. The fact that they profited from it does kinda rub me the wrong way, but it was still supportive of the war effort, so.....

    I would be happy with either of the two options you mention. I disagree with you that leaving it in the regular courts is fine as you know there are bound to be leaks. Leaks that could get our people killed.

    However, you are dead on balls accurate that the people that should be held accountable are the NSA and the government. Now, I am not saying they did anything wrong. They didn't. But for those who are worried that their brownie recipe may have ended up in Bush's hand (oh the horror!!!) then Bush and the NSA are the ones who should be sued..

    [Oh, to any posters, I fixed the italics in Michale's post, if you want to use italics, the tags have to be in angle brackets (characters above period and comma keys on American keyboards).]

    Yea, I do a lot of forum postings and most forums use the [ ] symbols for that. I now have a little stickie on my monitor that says " CW " as a reminder. :D

    That's actually a good analogy with the LSD laws. It seems to support your arguments.

    It comes from watching DRAGNET as a young (VERY young) child. :D There was an episode where they busted this guy for drugs, but they couldn't prosecute for the drugs because, as far as the law was concerned, there was no such thing as LSD..

    As to your other points, that is in keeping with your attitudes on the MCA/Torture issue. To whit, "do the right thing and we'll make sure yer not punished, even if it's illegal." philosophy. A variance on the old "no good deed goes unpunished" axiom.

    In a perfect world, that concept would work and I would whole-heartedly support it. However, as we see with the Telecom issue this ISN'T a perfect world. Invariably what happens is that the whole thing becomes political fodder and hysterical people on all sides forget that sometimes the end DOES justify the means. What invariably occurs is that the perpetrator of the honorable, yet illegal act, is sacrificed to appease political gods..

    Personally, I don't think it's fair that we should force people to wrestle with their conscience's, even for a split second. If it's the right thing to do, then people shouldn't have to risk jail to do it.

    Yea, I know.. Life ain't fair.. But, to put paraphrase the old saying by Edward Morgan Forster

    "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying it's laws, I hope I should have the guts to betray it's laws."


  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:


    But you know, we've been faced with terrorist threats before. And we haven't trashed the Constitution to deal with them. And we're still here.

    I am constrained to point out a corollary to that point..

    The Constitution has been "trashed" before. And we're still here.

    What ya'all must realize is that, built into the framework of the US Constitution, is the permission, nay, the OBLIGATION to "trash" it, in the event of a national crisis..

    Given that, then the only apparent point of contention seems to be, does this current crisis constitute sufficient cause to "trash" the Constitution??

    While I would hesitate to use the word "trash", I DO think that our current war against terrorism does require that extraordinary measures need to be taken.


  14. [14] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Don't have time to address each of your points (gotta write today's article first!), but I did want to point this out. I don't like or regularly watch the show, but my wife does (so sometimes I sit through it), and if you get a chance to see last night's "Law And Order: Special Victims Unit" on TV, I think you'd find it interesting. The story line was about a doctor who was prosecuted for helping interrogations in Iraq (with lots of convoluted legalisms, par for the course on L-n-O shows). In the court case at the end of the show, I thought they did the best job I've seen of presenting both sides of the argument we've been having here. The prosecutor took my side, and the defense lawyer argued almost exactly what you have been. It was evenly presented, and well-articulated by both sides. If you get a chance to see it, watch the last 15 minutes or so of the show to see what I refer to. Neither side really "won" the argument, but both sides were well represented, I thought.

    Gotta get writing....


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