[Cross-posted at DailyKos.]

President Bush has been pushing and pushing to get Congress to pass a bill granting him expanded warrantless surveillance powers, even though the existing FISA court already served as a rubber stamp to approve almost any wiretapping the Executive Branch wanted. Why then would he need such powers? Obviously it’s to conduct surveillance that even the FISA court wouldn’t approve — i.e., surveillance not essential to national security.

Cheney and Rumsfeld
The White House, 1975

What was it that the Nixon administration was busted for? (You know, the administration in which Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld served?) Oh yeah: spying on its political rivals.

Bush has also insisted that any such bill include retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that complied with his illegal orders by conducting electronic eavesdropping on Americans without duly obtained warrants. So they can never be sued for those illegal acts. So the facts never have to come out in court. Bush has shown so little concern for the law to date — undermining Federal agencies, approving torture, striking out bits of legislation he doesn’t like, defying Congressional subpoenas — and has suffered so little in the way of consequences, why would he need to make sure the facts of past warrantless wiretaps never came to light? Obviously because those facts are so heinous that for once, Bush and his friends would be in serious trouble if exposed.

Where is it that Bush recently made a huge purchase of land? Oh yeah, Paraguay — that haven for state-level criminals fleeing justice, where the notorious Josef Mengele and other Nazi officials ended up after the fall of the Third Reich (which was funded in large part by Bush’s grandfather, by the way).

Fortunately, the Democratic Congress beat this legislation back a few times, albeit with difficulty. They were responding to outrage from the public about the bill’s frontal assaults on the Constitution: the vast new powers being handed to the Executive branch, the near-elimination of protections against unwarranted search and seizure, the institution of precisely the kind of tyrannical authority that moved the Founders to rebel in the first place. There was no corresponding outcry in favor of the law, except from telecom lobbyists.

As recently as May it seemed like this issue was finally dead until the next Congress — and the next Presidential administration. Crisis averted, right? Not so fast: all of a sudden, the bill was back in Congress, and before you could say “Bush and Pelosi sittin’ in a tree,” it had been rammed through the House of Representatives. There was an interlude during which a vast coalition of citizens, rights groups, legal experts, whistleblowers, and editorial boards raised an almighty uproar (and a lot of cash) in opposition to the bill — and then yesterday the Senate passed it anyway, at the behest of a president whose approval rating is the lowest in the history of presidential approval ratings. Wasting no time, a gleeful Bush signed it today. It is now the law of the land.

(That is, it’s the law of the land only if you believe that when Congress passes a bill and the President signs it, that makes it the law of the land. The only thing saying it’s supposed to work that way [besides Schoolhouse Rock] is the Constitution — that document that we just keep ignoring anyway, and about which Bush is on record as having said, “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper.”)

What can account for this abrupt reversal, this unaccountable betrayal, this act of seeming political suicide? Why did Congress — the Democratic Congress — stir itself to such swift action for the benefit of George Bush, a terrible, evil, and unpopular president, their sworn enemy, the man whom we elected them to bottle up before he could do any more damage to our beloved nation?

Some might say that the administration has to do nothing more than publicly utter “national security” and the spineless Dems wet their pants with visions of Republicans calling them “soft on terror” at re-election time. A year or two ago that might have been all it took, but I think most Americans can tell that the Bushies have gone to that well a few times too often. I don’t think it is the source of electoral fright for Congresspeople that it once was.

Cynics would say that the telecoms and/or the administration simply bribed the hell out of our lawmakers. I’m sure that played a part, but there’s clearly something more at work here than run-of-the-mill payola.

After seven and a half years of George Bush I think I know his administration well enough to say with confidence that they would never use just a carrot when a carrot and a stick would work so much better. It seems likeliest to me that an element of blackmail was involved. Has the Bush regime been collecting damaging intel on legislators? Has it done such a thorough job of spying on its political rivals that it can now use some secret dossiers to compel them to legalize spying on political rivals? Is this how it’s been getting them inexplicably to roll over on issue after issue despite the public humiliation and the clear will of the electorate?

If I were a lawless cabal intent on a scorched-earth looting of America, that’s certainly how I’d operate.

So obviously Bush and his gang have some pretty good dirt to hold over the heads of our elected officials. To be blackmailed into commission of a gross dereliction of duty — directly contravening their oaths to uphold the Constitution — some of our Congresspeople must have some major skeletons in their closets. The kinds of secrets that would cost them their fortunes or land them in jail.

Well Congress, you may have just cut off the public’s avenue for investigating Bush’s abuses, but we will need justice sooner or later, and if those skeletons really are there to be found… well, Rambo said it best when he was hung out to dry by a weaselly bureaucrat:

Citizens, here is what to do in the meantime:

Become a StrangeBedfellow!

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