What is the issue on which Congressional Democrats are least likely to take a bold–and appropriate–stand?
War and peace? No. More than 126 House Democrats voted against the use-of-force resolution that President Bush used as an excuse for the invasion of Iraq, as did 21 Senate Democrats. Some 118 House Democrats and 11 of their Senate colleagues had the courage to vote against the continued funding of the war–not because they do not “support the troops” but because they want to get the troops home alive.
The Patriot Act? No. While US Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, was the only Senate Democrat who opposed the Patriot Act, 62 House Democrats opposed that assault on the Constitution and the majority of House Democrats have since backed resolutions to address the law’s worst excesses.
Freedom of speech? Yes. When the House voted in mid-February on the so-called Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, only 36 Democrats took the side of the First Amendment. They were joined by one Independent, Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders, and one Republican, Texas renegade Ron Paul.
The vast majority of House Democratic Caucus members–they’re the ones who are supposed to “get” the First Amendment at least a little bit better than their Republican colleagues–sided with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his merry band of crusaders for censorship.
Don’t let the bipartisan support for this measure cause you to think that this was an inconsequential measure. The draconian assault on the rights of artists and communicators to express controversial views was broadly opposed by unions representing the creative community. Under the provisions of the measure, an individual talk-show host, filmmaker, musician or on-air commentator could be fined as much as $500,000 for producing an image or expressing a point of view that is considered “indecent” by censors at the conservative-controlled Federal Communications Commission.
Additionally, broadcasters could be fined as much as $500,000 under the measure, a threat that assures that doors will be closed to controversial artists as a new era of self-censorship unfolds.
If the measure becomes law it will, in the words of US Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, “put Big Brother in charge of deciding what is art and what is free speech. We would see self-and actual-censorship rise to new and undesirable heights.”
Schakowsky was one of the courageous 38 House members who voted “no.” She was joined by many thinking progressives, including the sharpest observers of media issues in the chamber, US Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, US Rep. Diane Watson, D-California, and Sanders.