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This is it.
Today the Senate will be debating FISA and retroactive immunity.
By tomorrow, it’s likely that voting will be done.
And what we do together over the next 24 hours will determine what the legislation looks like.
I’ve offered an amendment to strip retroactive immunity from the FISA legislation.
On Monday you joined thousands of Americans online by calling your Senators (with the help of our friends at FireDogLake) and asking them to vote “NO” on any bill containing retroactive immunity.
There’s still time for more calls to be made.
I promise you that your voices are being heard in the halls of the Senate.
I promise you that I will continue to fight alongside you until the last vote is counted.
Help me now to ensure that my next email to you will be a celebration of our commitment to the rule of law.
I’m told that Sen. Feinstein shut down her message machines and her e-mail boxes were all left full throughout the long weekend. Now would be a great time to call her, since she obviously doesn’t want to hear from you.
Addendum: I think Keith Olberman puts on a great show, but I really hope MSNBC gets wise and give Rachel Maddow her own. In any case, she had some great interviews tonight, including one with Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University law school, who says that the Democrats tomorrow will be complicit in helping the presidency cover up 30 felonies. He made the Kitty Genovese comparison somebody made in the thread.
Years ago someone recommended Gary Wills’ treatise on the Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, Inventing America. I finally coughed up some money and bought a copy which I found at Eureka Books last week. Just read the prologue over dinner tonight, and it promises to be excellent.
I’d meant to analyze the first sentence of the version signed by Congress before the 4th, but didn’t get to it. Of course, it reads:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The sentence contains quite a few items of discussion. It’s not a legal document in the enforceable sense of the Constitution, but it does reflect the Enlightenment view of rights and the law. There are the obvious express philosophical statements, and the general theme that rights originate from God, or specifically by virtue of mere existence. Government doesn’t create rights. It merely acknowledges them (or fails to). Most modern conservatives will argue the same, but then fail to apply it practically when talking about Gitmo detainees when all of the sudden human beings don’t have rights of habeus corpus or due process because they aren’t American and therefor are not protected by the Constitution – a reversal which intrinsically asserts government at the originator of rights. But as I said, the Declaration is merely a philosophical assertion, not a legally enforceable document. It does however constitute “legislative history” which may be used in Constitutional interpretation.
But the Declaration didn’t play a huge role in law or politics until Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which ironically for all of Lincoln’s quasi-religious reverence may have done Jefferson a disservice from the historical point of view. As Wills says, Jefferson wasn’t a transcendentalist as was Lincoln, and I expect Wills expands on the theme in the body of the book. But it’s more than that. As I’ve discussed before, strict constructionism is not necessarily original intent. Jefferson’s intent was contrary to strict constructionism – in opposition to John Adams. I don’t want to simplify the account into Jefferson as liberal and Adams as conservative, but we know that Jefferson identified with Thomas Paine (until he ran for office when he retreated from the secularism exhibited in the latter’s The Age of Reason), while Adams was more inclined towards the institutional prejudice view of Edmund Burke. Jefferson believed in the power of Enlightenment rationalism to guide collective affairs. He believed people could create their own governing reality, as opposed to the slow evolution social ecology advocated by Burke.
So basically, Wills’ book presents the argument that Jefferson’s view of the Declaration (and probably the other texts as well, Constitution included) was distinct from the sacred text approach even liberals have taken. In fact, Wills argues that he would shudder at the reference to him as a “Founding Father.”
He did not believe one could “embalm” an idea in a text, lay it away in some heaven of the mind, for later generations to be constantly aspiring after. He denied that a spiritual ideal could be posed over-against some fleshly struggle toward it. He did not think material circumstances and obstacle to Reality. They, and they alone, were reality for him. He would not have accepted Lincoln’s mystique of national union as a transcendentally “given” imperative.
He would never encourage people to yearn back toward some ideal of perfection delivered to their forebears. He opposed “entailing” opinions on a later generation; he wanted constitutions revised often, since accumulated knowledge must make later generations wiser than that which drew up any old document. Even when trying to placate John Adams he would not yield on this vital point.
He then quotes from Jefferson communication to Adams.
One of the questions you know on which our parties took different sides was on the improvability of the human mind, in science, in ethics, in government, etc. Those who advocated reformation of institutions pari passu, with the progress of science, maintained that no definite limits could be assigned to that progress. The enemies of reform, on the other hand, denied improvement, and advocated steady adherence to the principles, practices, and institutions of our fathers, which they represented as the consummation of wisdom, and akme of excellence, beyond which the human mind could never advance. Altho’ in the passage of the freedom of enquiry, you predict that will produce nothing more worthy of transmission to posterity, than the principles, institutions, and systems of education received from their ancestors. I do not consider this as your deliberate opinion. You possess, yourself, too much science, not to see how much is still ahead of you, unexplained and unexplored. Your consciousness must place you as far before our ancestors, as in the rear of our posterity (Cappon, 332).
It’s a remarkable passage. But then perhaps certain folk don’t include Jefferson as one of the “Founding Fathers,” certainly when talking about the “Judeo-Christian roots” of the country.
More another time.
Photo of Jefferson and Declaration comes from Photobucket.