U.S. Senate actions degrade democracy

Newspapers reported last week that senators voted to approve an $87 billion spending bill to fund the military and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this statement can hardly be taken at face value. In fact, only five members of the Senate voted for the bill, and one member voted against it. We condemn such behavior as a clear misuse of power and subversion of U.S. democratic ideals.

The senators’ absence from the vote was a blatant attempt to buffer themselves for the next election and avoid being pinned down on a contentious and politically costly issue. Once again, Democrats demonstrated their unwillingness to defend their principles at the expense of seeming unpatriotic. Even the six senators who showed up for the vote did so by voice ballot, in order to not create a written record. House representatives did not use such tactics.

The $87 billion appropriations bill was the largest such spending bill in U.S. history. As senators erased their visible trail, they simultaneously dissolved accountability and undermined their own authority, which is given by the U.S. public under a reasonable expectation of transparency. The voice ballot is not an appropriate tool for such significant legislation. It is particularly inappropriate in the face of a ballooning domestic deficit.

However, the blame should not fall solely on our senators. We must look at the ways the U.S. public has implicitly allowed the degradation of democratic ideals. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have rushed the gates on blind loyalty to the executive. This has not gone unnoticed by the Republican administration, which has invoked its executive power at every turn, including on the issues of Guantanamo Bay detainees, reconstruction contract allocations and the glaring absence of a timetable for operations in Iraq.

As Americans tout their form of democracy as a model for the Middle East, we must recall and reapply the principles on which it was based. American revolutionaries in the 18th century acted out of a well-founded fear of monarchy and absolute rule. Representative government was largely intended to counter closed-door decision-making and its resultant corruption.

President George W. Bush has engineered an environment of constant domestic uncertainty by declaring an unending “war on terrorism.” Therefore, we can no longer provide a blank check to elected officials under the guise of a state of emergency. Permissive views toward the executive and legislative branches will inevitably degrade our own security and guarantees to freedom.