By Luke Brinker
The only thing more predictable than the failure of the congressional “Supercommitee” last week to produce an agreement on deficit reduction was the ensuing punditry lamenting the absence of bipartisan comity on Capitol Hill. Whatever happened to the days when Republicans and Democrats worked together on such landmark issues as civil rights, tax reform, and energy policy?*
But before sounding the death knell for bipartisanship, it’s worth noting that on a bipartisan vote of 60-38 yesterday, the Senate voted to allow military detention of terrorism suspects – including American citizens arrested in the United States. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, offered an amendment to prevent just this sort of unconstitutional abuse, but to no avail. As Udall argued, the Senate’s rejection of his amendment “open[s] the door to domestic military police powers and possibly den[ies] US citizens their due process rights.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican whose Manichean worldview informs his willingness to sign away both congressional prerogatives and Americans’ constitutional rights in the name of the “war on terror,” justified the action by saying, “I don’t believe fighting Al Qaeda is a law enforcement function. I believe our military should be deeply involved in fighting these guys at home or abroad.”
So despite the withering away of Al Qaeda’s top leadership – and experts’ assessment that there is no longer a monolithic “Al Qaeda” as much as many regional Al Qaeda-inspired groups – Graham argues that we need martial law in the United States to defend against what he portrays (ridiculously) as an existential threat. Constitutional protections are quaint niceties unsuited to these Very Dangerous Times.
But it wasn’t just neoconservative Republicans like Graham voting to allow military detention of US citizens. Fourteen Democrats – Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire – plus independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, voted with Senate Republicans to defeat Udall’s amendment.
Support for Udall’s amendment was also bipartisan, but much less so. Of 47 Senate Republicans, a grand total of two – Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mark Kirk of Illinois – thought that the constitutional, civilian justice system is strong enough to withstand the test of Islamic terrorism.
Yesterday’s vote raises two important points. First, the Ruth Marcuses and Tom Friedmans of the world can stop complaining that Democrats and Republicans can’t come together on anything. Second, bipartisanship is not, by definition, synonymous with good policy.
A major explanation, of course, is that liberal Northeastern Republicans became Democrats and conservative Southern Democrats became Republicans. The parties sorted themselves ideologically.