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Dodd Leads; Obama and Clinton Follow, Sort Of

022107dodd.jpgThere’s a huge difference between people who are actual leaders and who happen to want to be President, and people who want to be President so they can be the leader. We’re seeing that difference right now in the debate over whether the FISA bill will award retroactive immunity to the telecoms for their complicity in the Bush Administration’s illegal spying programs.

Chris Dodd showed his leadership last week, announcing he would place a hold on, and if needed, personally filibuster any bill that granted the telecoms immunity. His principled stand to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law was immediately joined by Senator Feingold, who, like Dodd, has been a champion of the Constitution, insisting on the FISA (and Fourth Amendment) requirement to obtain individual warrants before conducting surveillance on US persons. And to his credit, Senator Biden gave an unqualified, unhestitating “yes” when asked if he supported Dodd’s position.

These men understand that upholding the rule of law requires holding the Administration and those complicit in their lawbreaking accountable for their actions. Granting immunity for willfully violating a criminal statute and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against warrantless searches undermines the Constitution and the rule of law, one of those “self evident truths” that should not need explaining.

These are the Democratic Party’s true leaders. They understand that defending the Constitution is their first duty as citizens and elected officials. They did not wait to see which way the wind was blowing or see what their colleagues (or other candidates) might say or check to see if they might be supported. They knew what needed to be said and done and that’s what they did.

Dodd, Feingold and Biden understand that the Constitution and the rule of law are under siege by a lawless Administration and that it is critical for principled officials to stand up against this assault. They know that some of their colleagues are weak and susceptible to other influences. Someone has to lead, to defend the Constitution, to take the risks that their stands might be unpopular or lonely, but to set the standard that others will follow. It is because of patriotic leaders like Senators Dodd and Feingold that we have a Constitution in the first place, and why, at critical times in our history when it was under siege, the Constitution persevered and served our nation well for over 200 years.

There are others who aspire to leadership, but do not readily demonstrate it, but whose support in following the leaders is nevertheless essential. So we should welcome the statements yesterday from Senators Obama and Clinton that indicate — sort of — they will support a filibuster of at least the “current bill” if it contains retroactive immunity for telecoms.

Here, via TPM’s Greg Sargent, is a statement from Senator Obama’s spokesman from yesterday:

“Senator Obama has serious concerns about many provisions in this bill, especially the provision on giving retroactive immunity to the telephone companies. He is hopeful that this bill can be improved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But if the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it.”

And here, via Greg Sergant from TPM, is Senator Clinton’s statement:

Q: Can you discuss your position on the reauthorization of the FISA bill?

HRC: I am troubled by the concerns that have been raised by the recent legislation reported out of the Intelligence Committee. I haven’t seen it so I can’t express an opinion about it. But I don’t trust the Bush Administration with our civil rights and liberties. So I’m going to study it very hard. As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently.

Neither of these statements is as definitive as it should be, nor as clear on the important principles at stake. And both statements leave wiggle room — in Clinton’s case far too much. What does she stand for? What will she risk to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution? I honestly can’t tell. It’s agonizing to ponder how Clinton and her aides must have agonized over the wording of that statement.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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