Cavemen of the 21st Century

If you have an urge to feel intellectually superior (and you’ve grown weary of watching your pooch doggedly pursue its tail), then tune into the new ABC sitcom, Cavemen. While this critically-panned show—which derives its inspiration from a series of Geico commercials—may leave you feeling only moderately more evolved than the prehistoric players, you should feel like a Nobel laureate in comparison to the writers and producers. Seriously, what were these folks thinking?

And what’s so funny about cavemen, anyway? Isn’t Osama bin Laden presumed to be squirreled away in some cave along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? Isn’t he a threat to our way of life? Or maybe he’s no longer a threat. I’m not sure. When I listen to President Bush, it seems to depend on which side of his mouth he is currently speaking out of. (Some might argue that he is talking out of an orifice further to the south.) In any regard, considering bin Laden’s past actions and current locale, cavemen as a source of amusement seems a tad tasteless.

However, what I find even less palatable—and perhaps more dangerous—than a terrorist in a remote cave are politicians who cave, who are so afraid of being labeled soft on terrorism (or crime or the like) that they will knowingly endorse the erosion of fundamental civil liberties and human rights so as to appear suitably tough and silence the bullies, at least momentarily. Why these modern cavemen, who tend to be descended from Democrats, seem unable to stand up(right) for themselves and others is something of an anthropological mystery. Why they cannot fend off the aspersions and innuendo of the Neanderthals across the aisle by labeling them as soft on civil liberties and soft on human rights is a mystery, as well. Perhaps some are right to question evolution.

From the New York Times:

Democrats Seem Ready to Extend Wiretap Powers

Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.

Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.

A Democratic bill to be proposed on Tuesday in the House would maintain for several years the type of broad, blanket authority for N.S.A. eavesdropping that the administration secured in August for six months.

In an acknowledgment of concerns over civil liberties, the bill would require a more active role by the special foreign intelligence court that oversees the interception of foreign-based communications by the security agency.

A competing proposal in the Senate, still being drafted, may be even closer in line with the administration plan, with the possibility of including retroactive immunity for telecommunications utilities that participated in the once-secret program to eavesdrop without court warrants.

No one is willing to predict with certainty how the question will play out. Some Congressional officials and others monitoring the debate said the final result might not be much different from the result in August, despite the Democrats’ insistence that they would not let stand the extension of the powers.

“Many members continue to fear that if they don’t support whatever the president asks for, they’ll be perceived as soft on terrorism,� said William Banks, a professor who specializes in terrorism and national security law at Syracuse University and who has written extensively on federal wiretapping laws. [full text]

7 thoughts on “Cavemen of the 21st Century

  1. This democratic timidity stems from the late 1940’s with the “fall� or “loss� of China. How anyone can lose something as large as China is beyond me, but democrats spent a lot of years avoiding blame for that one.

    Thus the beginning of the “soft� syndrome. Democrats didn’t want to appear soft on communism. An outgrowth of appearing soft on communism was the resultant appearance of softness on national defense. Then came the appearance of being soft on crime. Democrats appeared so soft on crime that they were ultimately held responsible for the loss of the “war on drugs.� Finally, it all morphed into the democrats becoming a party of drug using, promiscuous, unpatriotic “LIBERALS�!! Remember, in 1988 George Bush senior turned “the L-word� into an epithet.

    Over time, in order to prove the negative of not being soft on anything, democrats forgot to promote what they were for. Instead of standing for a set of principles, they stood – or more accurately postured – against weakness, softness, permissiveness. So, instead of accessing the “values� debate, we take a pass. We never talk about health care, good jobs, education for our kids, the rule of law, protection of individual liberties and the like as “values� although they are. We never talk about the preservation of Constitutional protections as a vital part of the war on terrorism, although it is. We never seem to talk about reaching out to the rest of the world as an integral part of a sane foreign policy that is in our national interest and a vital component of our national defense, although it is. We can’t engage in a comprehensive debate and discussion about global warming and protection of the environment even though it’s the most important issue confronting my daughter and any children she may have. We have a hard time speaking about the moral imperative of issues in the tone of Jack Reed when he spoke about the maintenance and expansion of SCHIP so that kids in need can access medical care.

    In the end, the party of my youth no longer exists. The party that reached out to working Americans now hobnobs with corporate CEOs. The party that advanced the cause of civil rights can’t rouse itself to mount a ringing defense of civil liberties. The party that once had RFK stand beside migrant workers in California, not because it was politically expedient but because it was the right thing to do, has no major figure who will take a moral stand without first making the requisite political calculation. As Plato once wrote, unhappy is the land that needs a hero but doesn’t have one.

    The republicans beat the democrats because they have a story – a harsh, Hobbsean story – and we don’t. And in the absence of a competing story, a bad story will always sell. Democrats need to define not merely what we stand for but more importantly, what we will fight for. In the last analysis, James Carville is right – democrats don’t need a heart transplant, they need a spine transplant.

  2. here’s the theme for a new drama–
    secret agents are under your bed
    secret agents are in your head
    secret agents know what you do
    secret agents are protecting you
    don’t worry–it’s only a movie

  3. Mr. Schoos gives the Democrat Party too much credit. After spending some time listening to the assortment of candidates and office holders (C-Span is a marvelous vehicle for seeing these folks as they really are), it is very unlikely that most of the politcal cadre of either party has much sense or knowledge of history. I doubt very much if many members of Congress of either party dwell on the loss of China or whether if we had helped the Nationalists a bit more against the Communists, China would never have gone Red, despite Nationalist corruption. I do believe a sad and cynical desire for self preservation and urge for influence on the public stage above all else motivates the prepnderance of members of both parties. I leave it to better historians than I to determine whether this has always been the case–I recall reading of Mr. Lincoln’s musings as President needing to confront the influence seekers and corrupt of both parties of his day. Perhaps we are worse off however, because of the lop-sided way money and patronage dominate the current national political world. We should all be amazed that tens of millions of dollars are gathered and spent by politicians campaigning for “temporary” jobs that pay less than $200,000 a year. True, the fringes and opportunities are excellent. One can even be in prison and still collect a Congressional pension or even keep your cash “cool” by hiding it in your freezer. No, both parties are guilty of less than altruistic self-indulgence, more extreme than we have seen in the past, and our rights as Americans suffer.

  4. I agree with you, Mr. Wolberg, neither party demonstrates any particular knowledge of history. I was just trying to set a date for the beginning of the democrats’ loss of focus and willingness to fight for their core principles.

    However, I was interested to watch the republicans’ debate yesterday. There was Duncan Hunter, esteemed representative from San Diego, referring to China at least twice as “communist” China. The old “China lobby” – albeit a lobby of one – lives!

    Seriously, I agree with you that both parties have become apparent empty vessels that have sold out to the highest bidder. The advance of political principles has too often been subordinated to the preservation of political power. Over the past thirty years, at all levels of political activity, money has changed the equations and altered the political landscape. I’m not so naive as to believe that there was ever some “Golden Age” when political principle and policy was never cropped for political expediency. But, in my view, it’s gotten a lot worse over the past few years.

    Sometimes I think, to paraphrase J.D. Salenger, that if Jefferson and Madison could come back and see the party they created, they’d puke.

  5. Mr. Schoos makes a number of excellent points. One can only express unhappiness with the state of the electoral process at all levels, except perhaps locally, where some sense of participation at the grassroots remains a force. I am not certain what the appropriate set of remedies might be, but term limits certainly comes to mind; doing away with public money in campaigns and McCain-Feingold has made matters the campaign money game much more corrupt. Beyond all else, I suspect most Americans have become so tired of what they view as political corruption–the “esteem” of Congress is now in the realm of used car salesmen and the IRS–that fewer and fewer voters will determine elections as fewer and fewer Americans vote. The appeal of a third or even third and fourth party, at least as checks to the self indulgence and hubris of the two major parties, just might be possible. After all, the leadership of Mr. Lincoln emerged as a new party movement.

  6. Interesting set of exchanges. Thanks to Mssrs Schoos and Wolberg.

    The only thing I would like to add goes back to Geoff’s first comment. The Democrats’ timidity did not begin with the “loss” of China. It was, largely, in reaction to this that JFK and LBJ felt it necessary to “stand up” to the Communist menace in Vietnam.

    However,something does date to the loss of China: the Right Wing Slime Machine. To cover their record of appeasement of Nazi Germany via isolationism in the 30s, the Republicans latched onto Communism as their schtick which led to McCarthy and Nixon. This is where they learned the tactics of using the Big Lie, innuendo, and accusations of treason to political advantage.

    Newt Gingrich or Lee Atwater didn’t these tactics; they just dusted them off for use in a new era.

  7. Mr. Schoos, you made it crystal clear “…both parties have become apparent empty vessels that have sold out to the highest bidder”, I couldn’t agree more.

    ninjanurse – loved it!

    Leadership seems to be a rare trait.

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