Sunday, August 05, 2007

How To Handle FISA Next Time

As we are all aware by now, cowards in the Democratic Party in the Senate yesterday and in the House today voted to give more power--yes, even more power--to the Bush Administration. Well, not just the Bush Administration; they gave more power to Alberto Gonzales, a self-admitted perjurer who barely survived a no-confidence vote and should by all rights be impeached and thrown in jail. And the power they gave this evil man in an even more evil administration? Just the power to wiretap phone calls without any significant oversight of any kind. And why did they do it? To avoid being seen as weak on terrorism, of all things--even though Dems poll higher on national security than do Republicans.

Those who voted to do such a thing deserve to be called spineless imbeciles, regardless of their personal histories. It is unconscionable that senators such as Dianne Feinstein or Jim Webb should have done such a thing.

But in a very large sense, this is not their fault. The fact that they voted the way they did is all of our fault. It's our fault because, from the beginning of this issue right up until our bitter post facto recriminations, we have been talking about the whole FISA issue in entirely the wrong way.

Some of you may remember my post almost a year ago on the FISA issue, titled What Are They Hiding, Anyway?. In that post I make clear a point that should have been heeded long ago before this travesty of a capitulation. It is a point that, if internalized by Democrats and Progressives on the correct side of this issue, will prevent us from capitulating again when the preposterously named "Protect America Act" is due to sunset in six months.

That point is simple: while the "rule of law" and "defense of the Constitution" are indeed at stake in this issue, that must not be how we talk about it to the American People. In a battle between a post-9/11 President--even one as disastrous, deceitful and unpopular as Dubya--taking a stand to defend America from evildoers overseas by monitoring their calls, and the constitutional legal principle of getting a warrant from a FISA judge first, the American People will side with the President well over half the time. That may be unfortunate. It may be infuriating. But it's just the political truth, no matter how many heartrending posts may be made by brilliant folks like our own Kagro X.

As I said way back then:

t's high time that Democrats made something very clear to the American people: THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE OF BALANCING SECURITY VERSUS CIVIL LIBERTIES. In a battle between Security and Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties usually loses. ON THE CONTRARY: We think it's a great idea to wiretap terrorists--just get a warrant so that we know you're actually spying on terrorists...

More importantly, however, if I'm a Democrat with a national voice, here's what I say: "The whole purpose of getting a warrant--and they're really easy to get--is to make sure that the person being spied on is really a terrorist suspect, and not a political opponent or ordinary American. The ONLY reason NOT to get a warrant is if they wanted to spy on somebody who wasn't a terrorist. My question is, what are they trying to hide?"

This is what it all comes down to: THERE IS NO REASON NOT TO GET A WARRANT IF YOU ARE LEGITIMATELY SPYING ON TERRORISTS. This is not an issue of abuse of power alone. This is not an issue of trampling the Constitution alone. This is not an issue of rule of law alone. It is all of those things, but none of them are or ever will be enough to convince enough Democrats to stand tall in the face of accusations that they are standing with the terrorists.

This is instead an issue of trust. We all know good and well that Bush, Cheney and the gang aren't being this secretive just for the sake of being secretive. Rarely do they go to such lengths unless they are hiding something truly awful--and rare is the individual short of the 9/11 conspiracy theorist who has gone wrong by assuming the worst of this corrupt batch of thieves, villains and scoundrels occupying the White House.

As I said last year, the only reason for them to be this secretive is if they were spying on people they shouldn't have been--people they knew good and well weren't terrorists or anything resembling terrorists. We all know it; our leading Democrats just either don't have the guts or the smarts to say it.

The proper question to be asking here is not, "shall we uphold the Constitution and rule of law?" but rather "what are they trying to hide?". As I said last year:

What we have to erode in the minds of the American public is TRUST. And we don't do that by screaming about civil liberties or Constitutional niceties.

We erode TRUST by letting the American people know that the Republicans are HIDING something. They're spying on ALL of us--if they weren't, why wouldn't they just get a warrant? WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?

If the law as written weren't good enough, why wouldn't they just change the law? WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?

Erode trust, and you win. Whine about constitutional liberties, and you lose.


These are the questions that will turn this issue into a progressive victory; failure to ask them will turn this issue into a GOP club against Democrats.

This issue is really cut and dried. The criminals in the White House act like a mafia gang, and ask us to trust them with our secrets, our privacy, and our basic human rights and liberties. The proper response is not to say that they are taking too much power, or that we should have a vigorous discussion about the balance between safety and liberty (whatever that means). The proper response is to tell them to go to hell because we know that they're using that trust against us, not for us. It's not about protecting the constitutional rights of suspected terrorists: it's about protecting America from Bush, Cheney and Gonzales listening in on anyone they damn well please, including their political opponents.

Like so many other issues from Iraq to healthcare, the only way to win this fight is by going on the offensive in a way that not only evokes our core values, but makes clear once again that the Bush regime stands in opposition to oppresion of not only the American constitution and American values, but the American People themselves. Only when our Democrats--even those who vote the right way--begin to do that, will we begin to back Bush far enough into a corner to make real headway to protect the American People from his long train of abuses and usurpations.


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