Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where's Senator Sam Ervin When You Need Him?

This morning as I was reading The Macon Telegraph's staff op-ed, "American's Shouldn't Wallow in the Cesspools of Torture" it occurred to me that we could really use Senator Sam Ervin about right now.

If you're not from North Carolina, or you are younger than thirty-five, you probably have no idea who I'm talking about, but trust me: from the misrepresentations about the reasons for going into war to the CIA leaks, Senator Sam, nemesis of the likes of Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy, would have cleaned house.

Though I have been a Georgian now for twenty years, I spent the first twenty growing up in the mountains of North Carolina. In 1974, when Watergate broke, I recall both the dinner table discussions and my family gathering to watch the televised hearings that our own Senator Sam Ervin chaired. We were proud that it was our own senator who was leading the charge to confront corruption and abuse of power in Washington.

When the transcripts of the White House tapes were ordered to be released as a part of the investigation, I remember eventually having a book with excerpts. What an amazing system of government, I thought, that places in the hands of a teenager the power to read the conversations of the President. (Now, he just reads mine.)

While we are at Myrtle Beach that summer, we turned on the television to watch President Nixon resign. When he did, there was a profound sense that the people had somehow checked the rich and powerful, that the process worked and the government would endure.

That seems like an awfully long time ago, and I don't know that I have that faith right now. This Congress does not seem to have the will or the courage to confront corruption. They only seem to have the will to get re-elected. It's enough to make Senator Sam turn over in his grave.

This congress, instead of investigating corruption, seems to just move to change the laws to accommodate whatever the executive branch wants to do. Where is their backbone? They have allowed the legislative branch of government to become more and more irrelevant. Where are the representatives and the senators who are willing to seek and do what is right no matter the cost? It's clear that the military-industrial-energy company machine is represented. Where are OUR representatives? Where is our Senator Sam?

Yes, we could use a few more Democrats like Sam Ervin. He had his flaws, particularly his opposition to forced desegregation of schools, but he was a strong, hawkish, honorable, educated man who was committed to national security and to keeping government out of the private lives of people. He acted to oppose (this sounds familiar) "no knock" searches, creation of data banks and other invasions of privacy. He was not afraid to lead, and not afraid to speak truth to power. I hope that this year we will apply the Ervin test to those we choose to represent us.

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