News - Commentary : What price moderate? 

On Sunday, The New York Times endorsed Ned Lamont, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman's opponent in the Democratic primary of that state. (Lest my fellow Texans find that strange, remember that in those geographically less-wellendowed portions of the nation, you can't sneeze without being blessed by some busybody across the border.) In sharp contrast to NPR apologist Cokie Roberts, who on July 31 said to reject Lieberman is to "punish" moderate politics, the Times eloquently argued that it's no use having your bird in the bush if he just gives you the finger all the time. My meanin' being that Lieberman may have pull with his cross-aisle rivals, but all he uses it for is gaining more pull with his cross-aisle rivals. To adapt a somewhat applicable aphorism: Influence is like manure; you've got to spread it around or it starts to smell. Issues at which the senator from Connecticut declined to throw his weight (sometimes simultaneously rubbing salt in the Dems' wounds for soundbite effect): the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the ephemeral Weapons of Mass Destruction, civil rights (all those crazy "immoderate" issues).

After the August 8 Connecticut primary, we will know whether that state's Democrats think it is more important to preserve the influence (read: ability to direct monies home) that comes with a senior senator, or to stand up for the founding principles of this country. (But get ready for Lieberman redux: If he loses the primary - as polls indicate - he's vowed to run as an independent, and already has a party ready to pop onto the ballot. This is a man who clearly has achieved ideological parity with the administration: He only follows the rules of the road if they don't impede his road map.)

The stakes are incredibly high. In June, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush Administration's use of secret military tribunals to try enemy combatants in the war on terror, observing that it violated domestic law and the Geneva Convention. Thanks to Alberto Gonzales, we already know what Bush-Cheney-Rove think of the latter. And with the Hill controlled by Republicans (and one devout Republican patsy) the time is ripe to overturn the first obstacle. The Associated Press reported Friday that the administration has drafted legislation that not only would legalize Stalinesque tribunals, but could allow the government to deny U.S. citizens suspected of terrorist activities access to civilian courts, as well.

"In a time of ongoing armed conflict, it is neither practicable nor appropriate for enemy combatants like al Qaeda terrorists to be tried like American citizens in federal courts or courts-martial," reads the proposed bill. Nor does the executive branch seem to think that American citizens necessarily ought to be tried like American citizens in a "time of ongoing armed conflict" - a time of our choosing, lest you forget the heady post-9/11 rhetoric of yesteryear. Didn't think that one would come back to bite, did ya? Among the protections that could fly out the courtroom window: the bar on hearsay evidence (for a quick tutorial on the effectiveness of hearsay in the hands of well-meaning fanatics, see The Crucible), the guarantee to a "speedy trial" (I know, I know, but imagine how much longer it could take), and a defendant's access to evidence (the stuff with which your attorney, assuming you're still entitled to one, builds a case).

So, who could save us from this out-ofcontrol, power-hungry administration? The Senate Armed Services Committee - where Lieberman holds court - was scheduled to discuss the measure today. But you already know what to expect from Lieberman: a big, fat rollover with a dash of fatuous rhetoric thrown in.

This administration has proved time and again that we and our elected representatives are the only forces that can constrain it, making it all the more important that voters put senators and congresspeople in place who will check and balance the president. If Lieberman doesn't take this moment to confront Bush's plan to rewrite the Constitution in favor of totalitarian government, he deserves to lose to Lamont, and lose soundly. But let's not just point our finger to the Northeast. John Cornyn sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, too. You can call his local office at 224-7485, his D.C. offices at (202) 224- 2934; or you can email him via his website, Cornyn.senate.gov/. And, if all else fails, he's up for reelection in 2008.

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