Friday, June 10, 2005

Congressman Rick Boucher being testy, or being tested?

Today's Roanoke Times hardcopy carries a commentary (apparently unavailable online) by 9th Congressional District Representative Rick Boucher titled "The Patriot Act was a rush job that abused the legislative process."

Interestingly, Boucher's piece comes only days after RT editor Dan Radmacher's self-humiliation in a Patriot Act "debate" with U.S. Attorney John Brownlee. Cavalry to the rescue? Now that would be constituent service.

Salt Lick understands that reasonable men and women differ on Patriot Act, and notes that some liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have joined in suggesting change in certain of the act's provisions. That Boucher may join these calls is unremarkable. What caught Salt Lick's eye in Boucher's piece, however, was its sharp tone. Boucher is normally the deliberate chess player, keeping his rhetoric under control, stating his case in a lawyerly manner. In public pronouncements, he usually stays above "politics" and personal attacks. Salt Lick has admired this and thinks it's been a secret to Boucher's success. This time, however, Boucher's language is harsh and accusatory, far beyond the nevertheless supportive critiques of the act by self-proclaimed liberals like former Mayor Ed Koch, for example.

Boucher writes:

...the Patriot Act...tramples on the basic rights of Americans...[its]enactment...grossly abused the legislative process...

...the Ashcroft bill was too extreme...sweeping invasions of civil liberties.

In my 23 years in Congress, I have never witnessed a greater abuse of the legislative process or a more careless act by the leadership of the House.

The law was passed at a time when the country was traumatized by the attacks of 9/11. Ashcroft and a compliant House leadership took advantage of the public's fear to circumvent long-honored legislative procedures and place an unworthy statute on the books.

This is a remarkable departure for Boucher. He is not just accusing his opponents of having bad ideas, he's accusing them of bad faith -- of fear-mongering and abuse of power.

These claims of abuse are interesting stuff coming from a man who, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, read a statement supporting Bill Clinton and voted against his impeachment for abuse of power. Likewise, the concern for an overbearing government is intriguing coming from a Congressman whose aides, presumably while on government payroll, watch local newspapers for dissenting opinions and mail their opponents unsolicited letters answering them personally (as they did Salt Lick). Not that there is anything wrong with that. Constituent outreach, you know. (And any blogger who thinks he can attack Boucher anonymously needs to remember Boucher is very active in internet issues and technology. Constituent outreach, you know.)

Then there is the question of why play the "John Ashcroft card?" Few figures in the Bush administration raised liberal hackles more. But Ashcroft is gone. It's as if Boucher hopes to taint the Patriot Act not by argument, but by insinuation.

So, what's going on? Why this huge departure in style for Boucher? Has Rick caught the Washington bloviating fever? Was he sincerely upset because he respects the processes of legislature? Or is he just angry he was left out of the power loop in the House?

Or is it something else? Something connected with the fact that if the Democrats retake Congress, Boucher's seniority (23 years in a secure district) will place him high in the ruling ranks? He does, after all sit on two key committees -- Commerce and Energy, and Judiciary. And Commerce and Energy are very important to Southwest Virginia's coal industry. The prospect of acquiring these plumbs would be tempting to a politician of either party.

"Abuse." "Trample our rights." We've heard similar words from Democrats and their allies frequently in recent months.

Senate Minority leader Harry Reid at a recent Democratic fundraiser:

[Republicans] want to scrap rules that have been in place since our nation's beginning that give every Senator the right to speak their mind and say their piece. They are demanding a power no president has ever had: the ability to all-but personally hand out lifetime jobs to judges without giving the other party any say.

That's too much power for one person. That's too much power for one President. That's too much power for one political party.

Or the press releases of House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:

"Republicans have broken their promises, betrayed the public trust, and abused their power... They have undermined the ethics of the House, abandoned any principle of procedural fairness or democratic accountability, and overreached into private family matters and the federal judiciary.

Hillary Clinton e-mailed supporters:

What I see happening in Washington is a concerted effort by the Administration and the leadership in Congress to really create absolute power.

and said at a recent fundraiser:

There has never been an administration, I don’t believe in our history, more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda.

Offical Democratic Party websites warn:

Republicans Warn against Frist-DeLay-Bush Power Consolidation

which matches the anti-Bush hysteria of others such as Bill Moyers and the Roanoke Times.

So again, what's going on? Why so many Democrats saying the same thing? Could these be talking points supporting an...


Salt Lick doesn't know. He wonders if Boucher received marching orders from somewhere to get with the Democratic program. It would be a shame if Southwest Virginians' congressman moved to the Howard Dean wing of his party. And Salt Lick thinks it's a shame we have no Southwest Virginia newspaper willing to seriously watchdog our representative's intent and motives, to find out for us what's going on.

Now, that kind of journalistic integrity needs to be tested.