Looking for a hero in the primary campaign? One candidate—Newark Mayor Cory Booker—has built much of his campaign on a number of overly-hyped, if doubtful, stories of personal heroics, stories that, true or not, were sure to attract the attention of credulous main-stream media outlets. In case there’s any doubt, one of his standard lines in ads and stump speeches says he “runs toward” problems rather than away from them.
No matter what else that approach is, it’s also a tasteless invocation of the words we remember from 9/11 about the first responders who ran toward the World Trade Center while everyone else ran away.
So it’s fair game to raise the question of who among the four candidates for the Democratic nomination for Senate might best be described as a hero. Someone who actually does take risks for what he believes. Someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for something—beyond reciting mere rhetoric—because what could be at stake in this primary is not simply the ambitions of a man who probably couldn’t be re-elected in his home city. What’s at stake is the future shape of a nation.
I don’t believe in hero worship. Never have. But to those, like me, who believe we have come to a critical moment in this country when the fundamental relationship between citizens and their government is changing radically—and not for the good—then there’s only one candidate who earns that label.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. I’m working for him so, of course, I’m going to say that. That’s fine. Believe it. But that doesn’t preclude the possibility that what I’m saying is right. Read and judge.
Anyone who knows Holt can now picture him cringing at the thought of anyone calling him a hero. But, the other day, in an essay in The Press of Asbury Park, he wrote some things few politicians—few people in any field—would dare to say: He wants to repeal both the PATRIOT Act and the most intrusive amendments to Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA). Rush wrote:
“I will introduce legislation that would repeal the laws that brought us our current ‘surveillance state’: the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act. My bill would restore the probable cause-based warrant requirement for any surveillance against an American citizen being proposed on the basis of an alleged threat to the nation.’’
In the same essay, Holt also wrote about whistle-blowers who try to make us more safe, not only from terrorists, but from our own government. He doesn’t condone law-breaking, but he said his proposed legislation would “provide genuine legal protections’’ to whistle-blowers who reveal illegal operations inside the National Security Agency.
Let’s not forget that the most intrusive legislation was passed during a wave of fear that followed the 9/11 attacks. Anyone who suggested we should be more concerned about the rights of Americans risked accusations of being “soft on terrorism,” just as those who believed in civil liberties in the past were called soft on communism or soft on crime. Think of right-wing fanatic David Horowitz who attributes concern about civil liberties in the Post 9/11 era as “an unholy alliance between Islamic terrorists and American radicals.”
That politics of paranoia remains today. It was heard the other night when the House of Representatives narrowly defeated legislation that would curb the excesses of the NSA in snooping into our private telephone calls and Internet exchanges. Rush Holt, the former chair of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, voted for the amendment. He was one of only four members of New Jersey’s House delegation to defend the Fourth Amendment and one of only two Democrats from the state—Bill Pascrell was the other—to stand up against the White House and party leadership to protect the privacy of American citizens.
What has happened to Democrats?
The last thing someone who is running for the Democratic nomination for the Senate right now wants to do is run against the party leadership. But Holt is doing it.
In that op-ed piece, he wrote: “Over the last decade, multiple individuals in the executive branch — and a few in Congress, including me — have warned repeatedly about how the radical over-reach of these programs was undermining the very foundations of our republic, even as the mass collection activities were not making us any safer. And that is the most important point: If investigators are following the Fourth Amendment probable cause guidelines, they will do a better job. Undisciplined fishing expeditions have not made us safer.’’
And this sort of courage is nothing new. Back in 2008, Rush spoke on the House floor warning about the dangerous implications of the FISA amendments. He warned that massive collection of electronic data would “redefine the Fourth Amendment” and change “the fundamental relationship between the government and its people.’’
He said checks and balances had to be restored between the executive and the judiciary. We’re too close to allowing the executive branch to be prosecutor, judge, and jury and that’s just wrong. Holt says: “There is a fundamental American principle that those who search, seize, intercept, and detain should not be the ones who decide who are the bad guys.’’
Holt is indeed running toward the problems that could destroy American freedoms. He is playing the role of the ultimate patriot—you know, the Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams type–who risks his own position by calling out those who might do grievous harm to the country.
He is trying to save nothing less than the Constitution.
I think that qualifies as genuine heroism.