Olympia Snowe Was A Moderate… Susan Collins Has Always Been A Mainstream Conservative
An old friend, Mike Lux, used to blog at OpenLeft. Almost 6 years ago exactly, he wrote about a train ride he took with another far right fascist, Rick Santorum, then a U.S. senator who was going to lose his seat in a landslide of revulsion 10 months hence.
After a while I got up to go get something from the café cart, and it turns out the guy sitting behind me was Rick Santorum, which makes it all the more fun and all the more interesting. So pretty much the whole trip this guy is working his cell phone, talking to people about how anyone is better than McCain and Giuliani would be better than McCain because then at least he wouldn't betray the conservative movement… yeah, Giuliani is bad on some issues like abortion, but at least he would stand with the conservative movement. He was saying that there are people like Susan Collins who vote moderate sometimes, but at least she is a team player who always plays with the team and never plays against the conservative side even if she has to give the liberals a vote because she's from Maine.
The pair of New England Republicans with whom she had aligned in something of a regional caucus-- fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown of Massachusetts-- are gone. So, elite media outlets frequently remind us, it’s up to Collins.
But on a fundamental question of democratic governance-- accounting for civilians killed by US drone strikes-- Collins does not appear to be up for it.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which Collins sits, voted this month to require the government to report on the number of civilians who have been being killed by drone strikes, as part of a broader effort to bring the Congress into a proper advise-and-consent role when it comes to killings that are committed in the name of the American people but without their informed consent.
The legislation is a big deal: “Because the U.S. government number is secret, we can’t have a normal democratic debate about the policy,” explains the group Just Foreign Policy. “Government officials anonymously tell the press that civilian deaths from drone strikes have been rare. Independent reporting says otherwise. Government officials anonymously tell the press that the independent reporting isn’t accurate, but they won’t say why it isn’t accurate and they won’t say what is accurate. So the broad public is left with ‘he said, she said.’ Media that reach the broad public won’t challenge the government’s claims about civilian casualties until we can force the government onto the public record to defend its claims.”
Unfortunately, notes Robert Naiman, the policy director for Just Foriegn Policy, Collins voted “no.”
“Because of the way the Senate works, Susan Collins’s opposition could keep this crucial reform of the drone strike policy from becoming law,” Naiman and his Just Foreign Policy colleagues argue.
This is how Collins fits into the equation: “Senator Collins’s support for this provision is crucial because it’s not likely that the Senate will pass it into law unless it attracts some Republican support. Republicans outside the committee tend to defer to Republicans on the committee. But no Republican supported the amendment in committee. Susan Collins is the Republican member of the committee considered most likely to change her position.”
Which takes this debate out of the Intelligence Committee, out of the Capitol and out of Washington.
Drone policy is unlikely to change unless Collins changes her position. But that is not likely to happen, Naiman suggests, “unless there’s some public agitation for it.”
To get that, there has to be a real debate about drone policy—nationally, but especially in Maine.
Nationally, there’s a MoveOn petition campaign urging Collins “to reverse her opposition to telling the public about civilian deaths from US drone strikes.” It has already attracted roughly 15,000 signatures, with thousands of new names being added daily.
But what about Maine?
Enter Shenna Bellows.
The longtime executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, recently announced that she would challenge Collins in 2014 as a “Democrat. Libertarian. Progressive.”
Bellows is serious about all three words. And she has a record of taking on both parties on issues ranging from the Patriot Act to freedom of information to drone policy. In fact, she has been a national leader on the final issue, having organized a left-right coalition that got the Maine legislature to pass legislation requiring police agencies to obtain a probable cause warrant before using drones for surveillance.
Bellows launched her campaign in October, with a declaration that:
• We need to stop the NSA and the FBI from wasting their time and taxpayer dollars spying on ordinary Americans through our cell phones and email.
• We need to place limits on drones.
She is right.
And her candidacy highlights a vital constitutional question-- that of the right of Congress and the people to information about military missions-- on which Collins is wrong.
Political campaigns, by their nature, are competitions for power. But they are also competitions of ideas. They can put issues into play. And they can force entrenched politicians to think anew about stances they have taken. Even those who might not back Shenna Bellows must recognize the value of a candidacy that demands Collins think more deeply about the essential role of the legislative branch in checking and balancing the executive.
Let me go back to Shenna Bellows and back to drones for a moment. I reached her this morning before she started her campaign schedule of meeting voters around Maine. "What if," she asked rhetorically, "the US drone killing program overseas were harming national security? Commonsense suggests that the drone killing program may be fomenting dangerous anti-American sentiments as revelations about civilian deaths from US drone strikes continue to emerge. This fall, Congress had an opportunity to hear directly from relatives of an elderly grandmother who was targeted by a drone as she was picking okra in a field in Pakistan. On December 12, US drones reportedly killed 12 people at a wedding in Yemen. From a human rights perspective alone, these deaths are deeply troubling. But there are financial and security costs as well-- costs that are impossible to measure accurately without a public accounting. Unfortunately, the Obama administration refuses to make public the number of civilian deaths, and one key Senator-- my opponent, Susan Collins-- is standing in the way of Congressional oversight. Susan Collins voted against requiring the Executive Branch to fully report on the drone killing program in the Intelligence Committee, and now the measure is stalled in the Senate. She and I may disagree about the costs and benefits of the drone killing program. But there's a deeper issue in her refusal to allow details about the program to be released. It goes to the role of government itself. Either we trust government to conduct important business in our names in secret. Or we demand freedom of information, one of the cornerstones of our democracy. I'm running for the United States Senate to restore our constitutional freedoms and advance open government. I believe there can be no meaningful public debate about any government program without freedom of information. Government secrecy breeds abuse of power. It also leads costly mistakes."
Please help Blue America replace Susan Collins-- who vowed she would retire 6 years ago-- with Shenna Bellows, who we see as another courageous fighter for ordinary American families along the lines of public servants like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Alan Grayson and Jeff Merkley. Maine deserves no less-- and here's the place where you can put in your two cents (or, hopefully, more).
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