Editorial: They'll listen only when they shouldn't (Brattleboro Reformer)

Rasmussen Reports, a polling firm, found that the percentage of voters who say Congress is doing a good or excellent job stood at 9 percent in July -- the lowest rating in the history of the company's tracking poll.

In that same poll, 52 percent say Congress is doing a poor job, also a new record.

Why? Start with the actions of the Senate on Wednesday regarding new rules on secret government eavesdropping. It shows how the people in Washington care more about pleasing the pundits and the corporate class than upholding the Constitution.

By a vote of 69-28, the Senate voted to grant legal immunity to the telecommunications companies who aided the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The Senate not only rendered moot the dozens of lawsuits against these companies, it also provided broader powers for the president to spy on Americans.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., joined every Republican senator and all but one of the Republican members of the House by voting in favor of it.

We are proud to say that the Vermont delegation took a brave stand for the Fourth Amendment and its prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures and surveillance without warrants by government. But only 26 Democratic senators joined Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders in taking that stand.

The Democrats in the House and Senate that did not should be ashamed of themselves.

Leahy was joined by Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., in trying to strip the telecom immunity from the final version of the Senate bill. That measure failed, as did an attempt by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would have required a court to determine the constitutionality of the Bush administration's spy program before granting immunity.

That too many Democrats still are afraid of Republicans portraying them as "soft" on the so-called war on terror is a given. The Democratic Party, for the most part, is spineless when it comes to standing up for the rule of law.

But Obama's actions are even more disappointing. In effect, he voted to cover up nearly seven years of deliberate lawbreaking by the Bush administration. He voted to put the needs of Verizon and AT&T ahead of the Constitution. He voted to allow President Bush and his successors to be able to wink at the legal prohibitions against warrantless wiretapping. And he did all this against the wishes of his supporters and contradicted his earlier opposition to the bill.

So much for change you can believe in.

It seems far away now, but the Democrats won control of Congress in the 2006 election because most Americans wanted to see an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Iraq war, however, grinds on.

The Democrats won the majority because most Americans wanted to see the excesses of the Bush administration reined in. The lawlessness, however, continues.

The Democrats won the majority because most Americans thought the party could do something about a sagging economy and rising energy costs. The economy, however, keeping sliding deeper into recession.

The Republican Party has never been more feckless and unpopular. So why did the Democrats cave in to the GOP on warrantless wiretapping? We haven't heard a good explanation from Obama or the Democratic leadership in Congress, and we probably won't.

So let us review. For nearly seven years, the Bush administration circumvented the law and conducted surveillance on U.S. citizens without a warrant. President Bush admitted doing so, and was unrepentant.

Telecommunications companies were enlisted to help with the eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails. Both the administration and the telecom companies broke the law, but now will avoid prosecution thanks to Congress.

Congress could have stopped this blatant assault on our civil liberties and our right to privacy, but chose not to. And that is why Congress' approval ratings are at an all-time low.