Democratic House Sit-In: A Script Even Orwell Couldn’t Have Written


John Lewis, hero of the 1960’s civil rights movement, led House Democrats in a sit-in, the goal of which was to pass legislation that would empower government bureaucrats to place on a “watch list” those people whose rights will be restricted.

Lewis was joined by most other House Democrats, who were eager to be pictured sitting in. They believe the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is a fascist. But they’re all down with legislation that would allow Trump, if elected, to name those whose rights he’d like to see restricted.

This is all because gun deaths in America are mainly ISIS inspired, you know.

Seems like the sit-in was a political no-brainer. Even the most calculating of calculating politicians, Blue Dog Kyrsten Sinema, was there, posing for a selfie with Arizona colleague Ruben Gallego, from the Progressive Except Palestine caucus.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are gravely concerned about the impact the proposed legislation would have on constitutional freedoms. Those are the same Republicans who rushed to pass the freedom-restricting Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11, which, you’ll remember, was committed by those who “hate us for our freedom.”

Puzzling? Here’s a little background from Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept:

Before the bodies were removed from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last week, Democrats began eagerly exploiting that atrocity to demand a new, secret “terrorist watchlist”: something that was once the domestic centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney war-on-terror mentality. Led by their propaganda outlet, Center for American Progress (CAP), Democrats now want to empower the Justice Department — without any judicial adjudication — to unilaterally bar citizens who have not been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime from purchasing guns.

Worse than the measure itself is the rancid rhetoric they are using. To justify this new list, Democrats, in unison, are actually arguing that the U.S. government must constrain people whom they are now calling “potential terrorists.” Just spend a moment pondering how creepy and Orwellian that phrase is in the context of government designations.

What is a “potential terrorist”? Isn’t everyone that? And who wants the U.S. government empowered to unilaterally restrict what citizens can do based on predictions or guesses about what they might become or do in the future? Does anyone have any doubt that this will fall disproportionately on certain groups and types of people?

Any doubt? No, not really. But I think Greenwald may understate the problems inherent in this legislation.

Say the legislation passes, and anyone placed on the so-called terrorist watch list is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. What then would be the fate of bureaucrat who fails to place a mass murderer on the list? Undoubtedly, such a failure would be devastating, perhaps career-ending.

Which of course means that list would grow very long, as in millions of names long. No bureaucrat would lose her job for wrongly placing someone on the list. But failing to place someone on the list?

What would happen the first time a “terrorist” from the list committed a murder with a gun he bought before being placed on the list? It would be amendment time, right? If your name goes on the list, you give up your guns.

How would we identify those conspiring with listed terrorists? Why not have those terrorists we’re an ankle bracelet so they can be monitored? Yes, that would encroach on their freedom, but it would save lives, right?

The next step of course would be confinement. I wonder who John Lewis would guess might bear the brunt of “watch list” status at that point? Hint: They wouldn’t be white, John.

A Facebook friend of mine, Steve Benedetto, made an important observation:

What if they dropped the term “terrorist”? How much support would any other secret, due-process-less government “watch list” garner? The power of a word…

Which connects back to Greenwald:

For eight years, this mentality was the driving force behind the worst Bush/Cheney war-on-terror abuses. No matter what the extremist policy was — indefinite detention, warrantless eavesdropping, torture, no-fly lists, Guantánamo, rendition, CIA black sites — Republicans would justify it by saying it was merely being done to “terrorists” and would accuse their due process-advocating critics of wanting to “protect terrorists.” What they actually meant was that all of this was being done to people accused by the U.S. government of involvement in terrorism. But in their mind, “government accusations of terrorism” were synonymous with “proof of guilt.”

That is exactly the warped, Orwellian formulation Democrats embrace: As is extremely obvious, the Democrats’ definition of “terrorist” is “anyone whom the U.S. government suspects of being a terrorist.” Just as was true of all those GOP abuses, what makes these Democratic proposals so dangerous is that they constitute a war on the most basic right of due process. As Vox’s Dara Lind explained, “If you give the government more power to ban terrorists from having guns, you’re reinforcing the power it has to define who counts as a terrorist.”

I agree, but I doubt even Orwell could have dreamed this up.  


  1. Bob, thank you for pointing out what should be obvious to anyone who thinks. A secret list that curtrails your Constitutional rights without recourse and no questions are asked when some bureaucrat places your name on it. There are few tools more dangerous in the hands of those in power to stomp on the rights of citizens than such a device. It almost begs to be abused.

  2. It is this same lack of due process that supposedly prevents Mrs Clinton from being president. All parties are guilty of striping us of our rights the past several years in the name of security. Yet security has not been achieved. So what is the solution?

  3. Brilliant piece, Bob. I’d tell you ways to improve it, if I could think of any. Oh, yes. There’s an “auto-correct” incorrection in there, somewhere— centered on the word “we’re” being substituted for “wear” or “where” or “were,” or something equally inoffensive and picayune. But the strength and clarity of your argument that Democratic groupthink (and grandstanding) is as insipid and dangerous as the Republican variety came as a breath of fresh air in an increasingly toxic and unbreathable roomful of hot air and gas being simultaneously belched, farted, and declaimed by representatives of BOTH dying, establishment parties. Thanks for the respite. It was like finding a weekend trip to Colorado wrapped inside a cogent, courageous installment of

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