The Treason of the Senate

Treason is a word that rolls easily off the lips of self-styled patriots on both sides of the political aisle. This week a group of 47 members of the Senate signed a letter to Iran’s leadership threatening to scuttle any nuclear agreement made with the Obama administration. In its headline The New York Daily News called them “Traitors!”

Of course, efforts to undermine a sitting president’s foreign policy are not the exclusive modus operandi of the GOP. Democrats have occasionally engaged in this form of international grandstanding as well. Such sabotage, while certainly reprehensible and dysfunctional, has been a part of Washington politics since the beginning.

What seems more treasonous in this case, however, is the flagrant scheming of elected officials who are more beholden to moneyed interests than to the American people. Their leader, freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, according to the website, received millions for his recent campaign from sources outside the state : most notably billionaires Paul Singer and Sheldon Adelson, both known for their desire to dynamite any possible negotiations with Iran and to promote a first strike against that country’s nuclear capabilities. Cotton has also had the financial backing of the Emergency Committee for Israel, run by neocon political analyst Bill Kristol. The Intercept’s Lee Fang reported that the day following the release of the Senators’ letter, Cotton was scheduled to speak at a closed-door meeting of the National Defense Industrial Association, a powerful defense industry lobbying group.

What would President Eisenhower say about this confluence of political power and the for-profit arms industry ? His dire warnings to the nation upon leaving office are well-known and ought to be memorized along with the Gettysburg Address:

“…This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together…”

Why was Ike so grim, so Cato-like in his conjuring such a bogeyman ? Remember, as a general he had fought a long and bloody war against European fascism, one of whose characteristics is the joining at the hip of government and the weapons industry. This was also 1961. The Soviets had launched Sputnik, sending the US into a tizzy of a national debate about military readiness, fueled by propaganda from the defense industry.

In 1906 a series of articles appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine that both scandalized and galvanized a nation. Written by novelist David Graham Phillips, “The Treason of the Senate” exposed the corrupting and unwarranted influence of corporations in the legislative process and called for direct popular election of senators. The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution followed as a measure to reign in the power of big money. “Treason is a strong word,” Phillips writes, “but not too strong to characterize the situation in which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, and indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be.” Well said.

What could be more hostile to the interests of the American people than to scuttle peaceful negotiations and to provoke war? What could be more treasonous than to risk the lives of American men and women in order to profit a few corporations or one’s own religious ideology? Men like Sen. Cotton are doubly dangerous because they combine political corruption with religious zeal. Lord, please save us from such “true believers.” Whatever happened to “Blessed are the peacemakers”?


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