“Congress” and “courage” are not words that frequently appear in the same sentence these days, so we should take heart that the House of Representatives showed some backbone recently when it refused to bow to President Bush’s fearmongering on warrantless wiretapping. Since 9/11 Congress has been putty in the executive’s hands. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and the

Protect America Act

all gave Bush virtually everything he asked for–without evidence that he actually needed it. Even the

McCain Amendment

on torture, the one occasion when Congress stood up to the President, was only a minor loss, as the Administration succeeded in ensuring that the amendment would have no enforcement mechanism.

But this time things are different. Refusing to extend the misguided Protect America Act permanently, the House is insisting that wiretapping authority include judicial checks to minimize intrusions on the privacy of citizens and residents. And instead of granting blanket retroactive immunity to telecoms that cooperated in the warrantless wiretapping program, the House has directed that a court adjudicate the matter on the merits. The Administration claims the sky will fall if Congress does not do its bidding. But we can gather intelligence and abide by our principles at the same time. Maybe Democrats have learned that holding telecoms accountable and safeguarding privacy are political winners.   DAVID COLE


To commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New Deal, and to remind the next generation of progressive leaders of their movement’s historical roots, The Roosevelt Institution and The Nation sponsored a student essay contest, asking young writers to reflect on the importance of the New Deal to current political thought. The winner,

John West

of Oberlin College, composed a spirited defense of the New Deal’s collective civic consciousness. His essay, “When and How?” is excerpted below. To read it and the four finalists’ entries in their entirety, go to www.thenation.com/student.

“The ethos of the New Deal is gone today. ‘The era of big government is over,’ President Clinton proclaimed, and, with a stroke of his pen, stripped welfare from its moral underpinnings. Social Security, one of the last tangible policies of the New Deal era, has been divorced from the spirit of Roosevelt’s vision…. If we reject this conservative framework, we can replace it with our own. If we argue that government has a responsibility to the most vulnerable, we can make the debate about the methods government will use to fight injustice, rather than about how small government should become. If we take this stand, not only will we fulfill the moral imperative of the New Deal, but we can, once again, build a progressive electoral majority.”