Friday, August 31, 2007

If Dems Give Inches on Iraq, GOP May Take Miles--Into Tehran

There is nothing I would love better than to wake up in the morning and have nice things to say about the Democratic Leadership. I mean that--really, I do. I would love to read the news, read the blogs, and give a congratulatory pat on the back those we progressives worked so hard to elect and represent the interests of justice, fairness, and the reality-based community

But I can't. I find myself once again astounded at the cowardice and/or cluelessness (take your pick) of the Democratic leadership and their braindead messaging teams.

As I write this, two extremely important and confluent events are occurring side-by-side in real time. On the one hand, both Durbin and Reid appear set to cower before lame-duck president George Bush and his soon-to-be-shrinking Republican minority in Congress and grant them an additional $200 billion on top of the $120 billion of the People's Money already appropriated for the Iraq fiasco. On the other, serious rumors are abounding from various sources that there is a coordinated effort about to be pushed for an attack on Iran after Labor Day--which is, as Andy Card reminded us, when new products like a new war are to be launched.

That the Democratic Leadership does not understand or pretends not to understand the close connection between these two events is both astonishing as a political observer and infuriating as a progresive American. One need not believe that the supplemental money will be directly used an assault on Iran--though Gates' surprise at hearing about the extra $50 billion is extremely disturbing--to understand that the Bush Administration's success in getting its way on Iraq will be directly proportional to Dick Cheney's success in staging a successful push for an attack on Iran.

It's very simple: if Democrats bow to Bush now continuing our Occupation of Iraq and running roughshod over the will of both the American and Iraqi people even in the face of unequivocal poll numbers and insurmountable evidence of failure, corruption, incompetence and treachery, there will be no way for us to oppose Cheney on the much murkier and less obvious question of Iran. If Democratic foreign policy is to be waged on the basis of fear of Republican accusations of "weakness" on an issue as clear and easy as Iraq, how much more difficult will it be to break that pattern when it comes to deciding how to proceed in Iran? As long as the Democrats refuse to use the power of the purse or challenge/overtun the 2002 AUMF when it comes to Iraq, how will they propose to do when it comes to Iran? With impeachment "off the table", what hope can we have of even distracting, much less threatening or stopping, Dick Cheney from his own stated goals?

The Democratic Leadership believes that it can continue to give the Bush everything it wants on Iraq while pretending to stand its ground enough to keep Democratic voters motivated. The Democratic Leadership believes that it cannot safely politically achieve a change in Iraq policy until George Bush leaves office. The Democratic Leadership believes that if it does nothing to stop the Occupation until 2009, the election will be about Republican failures--whereas, if the Democrats do step up to the plate, the election will be about Democrats stabbing our soldiers in the back. The Democratic Leadership does not understand that more is at stake in Iraq than just Iraq--and that failure to stand up on Iraq will have disastrous consequences that their apparently small minds still do not understand.

Unlike many in the progresive blogs, I have not stood up and screamed that the sky is falling every time rumors came along of a war with Iran. I was skeptical when Sy Hersh was claiming an imminent attack back in 2006, and my skepticism proved to have been well-founded. Now, however, there is more reason for concern about a strike on Iran than ever before--the primary being that a cornered animal has no choice left but to attack. Beyond the recent rumors and the stationing of carriers at strategic points in gulf, the circumstantial reasons for suspecting an imminent attack are numerous:
  • The "surge" is failing--and will continue to fail whether or not the Administration receives the supplementals it is requesting. The need to blame an external enemy for this failure will only grow stronger over time.

  • The economy is teetering on the brink of a collapsing asset bubble in the midst of a credit crunch, and the heroic efforts on the part of the Fed and major banking institutions to stem the tide of worried investors will only last so long. There is nothing like a new war to stimulate an economy and take the minds of American people off of economic uncertainty.

  • Republican hopes for 2008 are in a tailspin. Now that God, Guns and Gays don't quite have the same effect that they used to, the GOP is turning to increasingly desperate dirty tricks to attempt to maintain power. With Independents, Hispanics and Young Voters--three of most rapidly growing demographic segments in America--moving steadily away from the GOP, they will need to do something drastic to attempt to scare the American people into somehow voting for them again. There is nothing to do that like an exciting new war against a supposedly dangerous new enemy.

  • Nearly every Republican candidate refused to rule out pre-emptively using nuclear weapons on Iran to prevent Ahmadinejad from getting his hands on nuclear weapons. More than an astonishing deficit of irony, it was a clear indicator of where the Republican Brand stands on the issue of attacking Iran: sooner rather than later, and as forcefully as possible

  • The Religious Right is all but completely deflated in the wake of the scandals surrounding Foley, Vitter, Craig, Gannon, and the like. Larry Flynt supposedly has his hands on 30 others as well, whose names he will be leaking in a slow-drip fashion. Without a strong turnout from the Religious Right, the GOP doesn't stand a chance. Given the current state of things, the only thing that could motivate the Christianists at this point is another all-out crusading war against a Muslim nation.

Even if all of these pieces of direct evidence, rumors and circumstantial fears about an Iran attack turn out to be little more than hot air, it must be conceded that given what we know now, the danger of a last-ditch Republican assault on Iran cannot be discounted by any rational observer.

Give the GOP its inch on Iraq, and it will take a mile--quite possibly into Tehran. By allowing Bush to do what he wants on Iraq, the Democratic Leadership believes it is giving the GOP the rope with which to hang itself, at the expense of the lives a few thousand more U.S. soldiers and countless more Iraqis. That is a not only an immoral gamble, but a foolish one: for the rope that the Dems give the GOP will not be used to hang just the GOP, but rather will be used to hang all of us in one way or another.

The time for courage is now--before it is too late.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Getting In Front of the Economic Elephant in the Room

It has often been said that intelligence is the ability to learn from one's mistakes and not repeat them. If we take this postulate as a given, it would appear that most congressional Democrats suffer from an epidemic of intelligence deficit disorder.

Time after time, the majority of Democrats fall into a familiar pattern:

1) Watch as Republicans start to push or do something disastrous, shortsighted, and/or evil;

2) Say nothing for fear of being called unpatriotic or inadequately optimistic;

3) Observe in stunned silence the inevitable rotor-driven fecal storm;

4) Express feigned indignation after the fact at the callousness and shortsightedness of Republican policy--thereby prompting actually intelligent observers to ask where said Democrat had been before the worst repercussions of Republican policy took place.

We saw this pattern in the lead up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, as Democrats cowered before Bush Almighty, failed to exert oversight of any meaningful nature, and then finally began to take the Administration to task about three years too late--well after their opportunity to take a morally consistent and meaningful stand had long since passed.

We saw this pattern in the authorization of the Patriot Act and its spawn, as Democrats too afraid to vote against anything with the word "patriot" in it stood by in tacit approval so long that their credibility in denouncing its obvious excesses was utterly shot.

We saw this patten with FISA (can't be seen as coddling terrorists!); with tax cuts (can't be seen as tax-and-spend liberals!); with trade (can't be seen as protectionists!); the list goes on and on. It's almost enough to make one question, as an aside, whom our "leadership" is hiring as their communications directors--and how much they are getting paid to internalize GOP talking points without pushback.

And yet, we see this happening yet again right in front of our eyes--and on an issue that is likely to be the most important focus of any campaign in 2008. If, as has often been said, the biggest difference between human and machine intelligence today is a wide gap in pattern recognition, then it would appear that many elected Democrats--or at least their communications directors--have the brains of an Etch-a-Sketch.

While I don't pretend to be an economist, it is a near certainty that the American economy is headed into some pretty rough times in the near future. While the Fed's extroardinary efforts to quell immediate investor panic and sustain credit flow, combined with recent surprisingly strong growth (albeit misleading) have led to the veneer of temporary stability in the marketplace, the overall trends for the next 12-18 months are not good. There isn't enough money to service debts; the indebted and overworked American consumer is in a historically poor position to withstand an economic downturn; and real estate numbers are expected to fall for at least the next six months. Consumer comfort has decreased sharply. As Henry Paulson and even our own bonddad are quick to remind all of us, the American economy has proven very resilient--but fundamentals are still fundamentals, and it is conventional wisdom even among bullish investors that the American economy is due for a correction.

Not, of course, that the majority of regular Americans have enjoyed the fruits of Wall Street's recent ride of prosperity. Average incomes have fallen over the last five years as productivity has risen and the incomes of the wealthiest 1% have increased dramatically. But it is the unfortunate fate of those of average and below-average incomes that while Wall Street gains may not help them, Wall Street losses will certainly hurt them as corporations eager to maintain their ridiculous profit margins begin to cut jobs in an environment of weakened consumer spending.

Whether the economic turbulence is contained to a credit crunch leading to rough patches over the short term (less likely) or instead leads to broader economic recession over the upcoming three to four quarters or more (more likely), the fact is that the state of the economy is going to be a major campaign issue as we approach the November 2008 elections.

Yet Democrats are silent. Democrats are silent even though many of these economic difficulties can be laid directly at the feet of the Republicans. It is, after all, Republican policies that have:
  • managed the economy over the last six years or more
  • aided and abetted the inflation of one asset bubble to the next
  • precipitated an historic upward redistribution of income from the middle class to the wealthy, weakening the structural supports of the economy
  • plunged the United States into record budget and trade deficits through suicidal tax and trade policies
  • aided and abetted the destruction of manufacturing jobs in the United States while failing to invest in education, broadband access, or alternative energy jobs--all of which are necessary to survive as a service-sector economy in a globalized world
  • embedded the United States in a military quagmire in Iraq, preventing the United States from even taking the immoral route of warring itself out of an economic slump

Most of all, Republicans knew that this was coming: that's why they were so eager to pass the Bankruptcy "Reform" bill. They needed to make sure that the over-leveraged consumers with negative savings rates and no ability to earn extra income would not be able to escape their debts to the bloated bottom lines of corporate America. And where were the Democrats when the Republicans were making these preparations? Nowhere to be seen until it was far too late.

And why are Democrats silent? They are silent because, as with Iraq, the Patriot Act, FISA, tax cuts and all the other examples of Democratic fear of the negative, Democrats do not want to be seen as contributing to an economic downturn by blaming Republicans for what everybody knows is the coming economic downturn.

The time has come to end that silence and--for perhaps the first time--to get in front of the elephant in the room for a change. It is time for Democrats running for election from every office from the presidency to the local mayor's race to hammer Republicans for scandalous mismanagement of the American economy--before things go really sour. The time has come for Democrats to cease being afraid of Republican accusations of insufficient optimism, and instead go on the attack. The time has come to learn from our previous mistakes and claim the policy high ground in advance. If our candidates position themselves correctly, they will be able to do much more than say, "see what the Republicans have done?" They will instead be able to say, "See? Didn't I say this would happen?"

And that could make the difference in 2008 between a year of Democratic victory, and the sort of landslide we need to turn this country back around and get it on its feet again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

We May Need Moderates, But We Don't Need Centrists

Watching the debate between Markos and Harold Ford yesterday was a bit like watching a rerun of Rocky IV, wherein Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa goes to the Soviet Union to fight Dolph Lungren's Ivan Drago. Not because Markos took the fight into the hostile territory of Meet the Press, or because Markos endured Ford's blather patiently before emerging victorious, or because the entire spectacle was brimming with the expectant propaganda of two competing ideologies.

Rather, the resemblance lay in the fact that the fight was already over before it started: we already know who wins in the end, because the end of the debate already took place. As everyone knows, Rocky wins at the end of Rocky IV; in the case of Markos and Ford, the debate was over when labor unions, issue groups, and seven Democratic Presidentials came to YearlyKos, overlooking the DLC's annual convention. There is no more doubt as to whether triangulators or the people-powered, reality-based movement will wield more influence within the party: we won that one already--whether the traditional media realize it yet or not.

It is curious that Ford would choose to attempt to debate on ground that he not only knew he would lose, but that he had already lost in advance. The DLC's sun has set in terms of the party's overall strategy going forward, and it is unlikely that they will return to the height of political influence, only to be rendered weak-kneed and sucked of their courage by the strong political winds and rarefied air they find there. No matter whom the party nominates in the upcoming primaries, they will forced to adapt to the changed political landscape regardless of their previous predilections--and should she they fail to do so, she they will lose, adding yet more fuel to the blazing fire of people-powered influence.

The question that remained unresolved during and after the debate, however, was the proper role of moderates and centrists in the party and within the new movement. This was a question that David Gregory, whether he realized it in his unflattering framing or not, feebly attempted to ask without receiving a completely satisfactory answer. This was primarily because Mr. Gregory failed to understand the question in the right way, but even more so because Markos and Mr. Ford were both using different words to convey what appeared the be the same idea, when in fact the two ideas are quite distinct from one another.

For, you see, the traditional media (and many in the netroots as well) does not quite understand the distinction between a moderate and a centrist. The first problem started when David Gregory framed the debate as between "Liberals" and "Centrists", when in fact those terms describe not apples and oranges, but rather entirely different food groups. When Markos told Mr. Gregory that we would need more conservative candidates in places like Kentucky where we had little other choice, both Mr. Gregory and Mr. Ford were taken somewhat aback; Mr. Ford, somewhat disconcerted, promptly ignored Markos' endorsement of moderate candidates to claim that the party needed not to go "too far to the left" and instead embrace a centrist agenda. It was clear that two intelligent men were talking right past one another about very different things (though I suspect Markos understood this, while Ford did not.)

The key to clearing this confusion and resolving this conflict lies in gaining a more precise understanding of the dichotomies involved. As diarist and Calitics frontpager dday and I will be discussing on our FrameWork show over at Political Nexus today, there are really two axes of division at work:



The first mistake is to believe that a "moderate" and a "centrist" is the same thing. A "moderate" is a person who is neither ideologically left nor ideologically right, but rather has policy positions which set squarely within the middle of the Overton Window of popular political possibilities for the mainstream American public. Thus, a moderate may want lower taxes, be pro-death penalty, and desire slightly stricter controls on abortion, but be fairly progressive on a number of issues where public opinion resides squarely with us--issues from guaranteed healthcare to Iraq to the environment to even national security at this point.

A "centrist", on the other hand, is a person who stands squarely between the two major political parties. A "centrist" is a person like Joe Lieberman, who assumes a smorgasbord of policy positions taken from each of the parties, and has no compunction about trashing his/her own party if it benefits his/her political career. Due to the rightward shift of both political parties over the last 25 years, a "centrist" is guaranteed to stand to the right of the American Public on most issues, while trashing the overall image of the Democratic Party brand. Joe Lieberman is no "moderate"; rather, he's a crazed "centrist."

This crucial distinction was the source of the miscommunication between Markos and Mr. Ford. While Markos was conceding the necessity of backing moderates in areas weak in progressive voters, Ford was insisting on the necessity of taking a centrist line that minimized divisions between the parties. When Markos stressed the need for the candidates to be "proud Democrats" regardless of their specific positions on specific issues, both Mr. Gregory and Mr. Ford looked flummoxed and confused. It was as though they could not understand how a "moderate" could also be a "proud Democrat" emphasizing divisions in the party. The confusion was further intensified when Mr. Ford attempted to take ideological credit for the victories of James Webb in VA and in Jon Tester in MT, ostensibly because they had conservative positions on a few key issues, much to the astonishment of Markos and most of us here in the netroots. What neither Mr. Ford nor Mr. Gregory quite understand is that Tester and Webb are not centrists, but rather moderates on a few key issues: their popular positions on some issues do not prevent them from drawing sharp distinctions between themselves and the out-of-touch, corrupt Republicans they oppose.

It is an unfortunate byproduct not only of politics itself but also the way congressional districts have been gerrymandered, that we will certainly need moderates to win in many areas--especially when it comes to House races in red districts. The last thing we need, however, is centrists who serve only to weaken the Democratic Party's core brand and core values while selling both moderates and progressives down the river if ever they manage (rarely) to win elected office. The vision of Harold Ford and the DLC is moribund because the politics of "centrism" have been proven an absolute disaster. That says nothing, however, of the politics of "moderation" when necessary, especially in deeply red areas.

It is an important distinction to keep in mind as this debate continues into the future--past Harold Ford and his increasingly irrelevant organization, and into the trickier territory of swing states, purple Senate races and uphill Congressional races. The temptation of resorting to "centrist" rhetoric to win these races will be great, but it must be avoided. If, on the other hand, we maintain proudly progressive candidates in blue areas, with moderate but proudly Democratic candidates in red areas--and they speak directly and honestly to their constituents all the while, without DLC-style packaging--we will succeed in taking back our country.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Economist: Republicans in Big, Big Trouble

After a long six and a half years of watching almost helplessly as the Republican Party loots, rapes and pillages everything from the Constitution to the middle class to non-threatening countries overseas, it's always satisfying to see rats call a spade a spade and jump off the pirate ship known as the modern GOP.

But rarely has the sense of schadenfreude been more poignant to me than when reading the latest Economist article today about the woes of the Republican Party and American conservative movement in general.

Today's article, titled The American Right Under the Weather, is but one piece in the new overall issue covering the leftward shift of American politics in recent months. As anyone who has read the magazine knows, the editorial staff of The Economist is certainly no friend to Democrats, favoring a decidedly corporatist agenda valuing "free trade over "fair trade" and a foreign policy usually at odds with progressive values. As a result, however, they find themselves increasingly at odds with the social conservatives who have all but taken over the Republican party's activist base: in fact, they say so directly in the cover article:

The Economist has never made any secret of its preference for the Republican Party's individualistic “western” wing rather than the moralistic “southern” one that Mr Bush has come to typify. It is hard to imagine Ronald Reagan sponsoring a federal amendment banning gay marriage or limiting federal funding for stem-cell research. Yet Mr Bush's departure hardly guarantees a move back to the centre. Social liberals like Mr Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger are in a minority on the right. On the one issue where Mr Bush fought the intolerant wing of his party, immigration, the nativists won—and perhaps lost the Latino vote for a generation.

As a result, The Economist's temporary post-mortem on the enthusiasm and dynamism of the American right is a strange mix of joy and tears: it contains equal doses of worried regret, tempered with palpable glee at the overreaching failures of the social conservatives whom they blame for much of popular rejection of Republican ideology. But it's nothing if not utterly brutal--and well worth the read.

The sheer numbers are staggering. Some key statistical points from the article include:
  • 40% of Republicans think that Democrats will win the next presidential election, compared with only 12% of Democrats who think the reverse
  • Q2 money to the Democratic presidential contenders nearly doubled that given to the Republican contenders
  • As has been frequently mentioned by Markos, the DSCC and D-Trip are vastly outraising the NRSC and NRCC
  • 61% of Democrats are happy with our choices of candidates, while only 36% of Republicans can say the same
  • Young voters and Hispanic voters are trending overwhelmingly Democratic
  • Registered Democrats and Democratic-leaners are now 50% of the population, while registered Republicans and Republican-leaners only comprise 35%--a strong swing from an equal 43%-43% tie in 2002.

And the list goes on and on. Things are so bleak for the pirates on Capitol Hill right now that many prominent Republicans are simply manning the lifeboats and looking for the best way to weather the storm. This little bit about former RNC chairman and self-hating closet-dweller Ken Mehlman is really poignant:

No wonder Ken Mehlman, a former Republican Party chairman who oversaw George Bush's 2004 victory, is now advising hedge funds on how to deal with a Democratic-leaning America.

Most intriguing, however, is the article's nearly ferocious rejection of the idea that GOP woes are entirely the fault of Bush, the occupation of Iraq, or the corruption of specific Republican party officials. Instead, the Economist is unafraid to lay the blame squarely where it belongs: the embrace of a hyper-conservative agenda of social moralizing, beyond-the-pale cronyism, an unhealthy dose of nativism and racism, corruption so blatant it has become institutionalized, a borrow-and-spend budgetary philosophy, and redistribution of wealth to the very rich that has appalled all but the Christianist right and some very wealthy allies:

In fact, the Republican Party in Congress is just as responsible as Mr Bush for most of the recent troubles. The Republican majority routinely appropriated more spending than the president asked for. It also larded spending bills with as much extra pork as possible. The number of congressional “earmarks” for projects in members' districts increased from 1,300 in 1994, when the Republicans took over Congress, to 14,000 in 2005.

The Republican majority also cheered Mr Bush all the way to Baghdad. Add to this the corruption of congressmen like Tom DeLay, a conservative hero, and the semi-corrupt institutional relationship that the Republicans formed with lobbyists, and you see that Mr Bush was only part of a much bigger problem.

Nor can conservatives claim that Mr Bush is a country-club Republican like his father. He has devoted his energies to giving “the movement” what it wants: the invasion of Iraq for the neoconservatives (who had championed it long before September 11th); tax cuts for business and the small-government conservatives; restricting federal funding for stem-cell research for the social conservatives; and conservative judges to please every faction.

This desire to pander to the conservative movement is partly to blame for the administration's practical incompetence. Mr Bush outdid previous Republican presidents in recruiting his personnel from the conservative counter-establishment. But this often meant choosing people for their ideological purity rather than their competence or intelligence. Some 150 Bush administration officials were graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University, including Monica Goodling, who put on such a lamentable performance before a House inquiry into the firing of nine US attorneys. A more pragmatic president would surely have sacked many of the neoconservative ideologues who have made a hash of American foreign policy.

And as the editors astutely observe, the Republicans are now locked in a civil war for supremacy between their corporatist paymasters, the closely allied NeoCons, the Christianist base that actually mobilizes the votes, and the few die-hard libertarians who used to make up the bedrock of American conservatism and are the GOP's only hope of holding onto the rapidly changing West. Whoever prevails in that fight, however, two things are certain: the party will be weaker than it was before, andthe fight will be very, very ugly and very, very public. After all, there is no honor amongst thieves.

In the end, though, The Economist makes the excellent point that Democrats have yet to convince the American public that we are anything more than the lesser of two evils. Certainly, failing to stand up for progressive values such as we saw recently the with FISA capitulation won't do much to help that. Further, Republicans have always been more at home and more comfortable as a minority party than they have been in the position of actual governance. Like the moral and intellectual children they are, it's far easier to complain and snipe at those attempting to actually govern, than to attempt to put a failing ideology in place that gets the job done. Still, I would rather be in our shoes than in theirs. As the article correctly points out:

But even when you enter all the qualifications the right's situation is dire. It is a sign of weakness that the conservatives are retreating to their old posture as insurgents, and need a bogeywoman like Mrs Clinton to hold them together.

The Republicans have failed the most important test of any political movement—wielding power successfully. They have botched a war. They have splurged on spending. And they have alienated a huge section of the population. It is now the Democrats' game to win or lose.

Indeed. Things are looking extremely bleak for the GOP pirates, and it's fun watching the rats jump off the ship. Now all we have to do is stand for what we believe in and do the difficult work of holding ourselves accountable, standing in the way of Mr. 23% for the remainder of his term, and passing legislation that will benefit the American People for a change, rather than GOP monied interests.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Froomkin Scourges Cowardly Dems, Explains Horrific FISA Law

Dan Froomkin has a must-read article over at the Washington Post today in which he takes the cowardly Dems to task for their appalling failure to stand up to Mr. 25% in passing the so-called "Protect America Act". His intro is brutally appropriate:

We won't have President Bush to kick around anymore in about 18 months. But until then, Bush has someone he can still kick around: the Democratic Congress. At least when it comes to terror issues.

Despite his 65 percent job-disapproval rating, Bush was able to cow congressional Democrats over the weekend into granting him unprecedented authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

As I said yesterday, this appalling capitulation was not inevitable; it came, rather, in a rhetorical environment in which Bush and the Republicans were able to come out on offense accusing Democrats of weakness on the "war on terror", while Democrats could do nothing better than argue in defense of the constitutional rights of those being spied on (presumably terrorists). But without the courage to come out on offense beforehand by accusing the Administration of spying on Americans with no links to terrorism whatsoever and demanding to know what the Administration was trying to hide, it was almost a foregone conclusion that many on our side would cave to political pressure once placed on the defensive.

And it was certainly being on the offense that gained Bush this unnecessary and far-reaching victory. Froomkin quotes Jim Rutenbergy in the NY Times:

"For a president who has played defense most of the year, relying on veto threats and, in terms of Iraq, almost plaintive pleas for time, it was a rare, winning use of offense. The victory points up an enduring challenge for Democrats, even as they have gained other advantages over Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans. . . ."

And once again, of course, the Democrats claim to have been taken utterly by surprise:

In interviews, Democratic leaders and their aides acknowledged being outmaneuvered by the White House, which they accused of negotiating in bad faith, and portrayed the bill as a runaway train. . . .

"Everybody was afraid they might be branded as soft on terrorism,' Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Monday while speaking to Iowa voters."

The "we were blindsided" meme that Democrats have been taking for the last six years of the Bush Administration is getting as old as the Bush Administration's own Nobody Could Have Predicted meme. It was enervating enough to hear Chris Dodd mar an otherwise fine performance by claiming to have been blindsided by the Alito and Roberts nominations at the YearlyKos Presidential Leadership Forum. It's worth remembering that these people get paid to be in public office: to continue to claim to be taken by surprise by an obviously bad-faith Administration means that they are not doing the basic job of earning their paychecks, much less standing up for the country.

It's not even as if this is a particularly new gameplan or political strategy for the Bush Administration: they've pulled this same "get it done now or else" stunt multiple times before. Heck, even a 6-year-old child could see this coming by now and be prepared for it. Froomkin quotes Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe:

"Legal specialists who have criticized the expansion of executive power during Bush's tenure compared the law to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which expanded the White House's power over detainees in the war on terrorism, and the Iraq war authorization in 2002.

"Both times, Bush abruptly urged Congress to give him greater national security powers shortly before lawmakers went on recess, warning that there was no time to wait. That strategy was echoed in the White House's sudden rush to enact the Protect America Act last week."

Unfortunately, unless we can accomplish a major shift in our rhetorical stance, as well as hold accountable those cowardly Dems who were cowed by a lame-duck Administration with 25% approval ratings, our citizens are now subject to the arbitrary spying authority of some of the most corrupt political appointees currently working in our government. As James Risen notes:

"Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government's ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.

"They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens. . . .

Remember J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and it habit of spying on such well-known "subversives" as MLK Jr.? Looks like that will be small potatoes compared with what's in store for us from Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and the rest of their merry crew.

Froomkin then spends multiple paragraphs with quotes from various media figures detailing the various underhanded subterfuges now being attempted by the Republican Noise Machine to obscure the issue in the traditional media, and to intimidate major newspapers from publishing the truth of the matter to the confused and apathetic public. As with the the 2002 AUMF, the Patriot Act, the Patriot Act II, and countless other pieces of war and "national security" legislation, there is a sharp division between the actual text of the law as written and interpreted by Administration officials, and the more innocuous stated intent of the law that the WH Press Secretary coos to an all-too-willing WH Press Corps. Greg Miller of the LA Times states it perfectly:

But officials declined to provide details about how the new capabilities might be used by the National Security Agency and other spy services. And in many cases, they could point only to internal monitoring mechanisms to prevent abuse of the new rules that appear to give the government greater authority to tap into the traffic flowing across U.S. telecommunications networks. . . .

"[I]ntelligence experts said there were an array of provisions in the new legislation that appeared to make it possible for the government to engage in intelligence-collection activities that the Bush administration officials were discounting.

"'They are trying to shift the terms of the debate to their intentions and away from the meaning of the new law,' said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

"'The new law gives them authority to do far more than simply surveil foreign communications abroad,' he said. 'It expands the surveillance program beyond terrorism to encompass foreign intelligence. It permits the monitoring of communications of a U.S. person as long as he or she is not the primary target. And it effectively removes judicial supervision of the surveillance process.'"

Froomkin closes by included a variety of furious quotes from editorial boards and major bloggers across the nation, ranging from the New York Times to the LA Times to the Washington Post to Glenn Greenwald and even the normally feckless USA Today, whose editors unequivocally state:

[T]he attorney general and the director of national intelligence will decide without any court review when it's OK to monitor certain phone calls, e-mails, faxes and text messages between foreigners and U.S. residents. Such surveillance can go on for a year. Left on the books long enough, this is not just an invitation to abuse; history suggests it is a guarantee...

It's dangerous to give any administration permanent powers to fight a temporary war, even one that could last as long as the one against Islamic extremism. It's just as dangerous to trust an administration to police itself without court supervision.

A skittish Congress allowed itself to be stampeded last week into granting the president unfettered surveillance power. When it returns to Washington, it should do what it can to make sure that the sun goes down on this flawed measure.

Go read the entire Froomkin article: it's worth it. Then get to work. We've got six months until this horrible Frankenstein bill comes up for sunsetting. Let's start by reframing the debate so that we're playing offense rather than defense for a change, and putting the necessary pressure on the cowards who caved to bad-faith authoritarian politics rather than stand up for progressive values, the Constitution and the American people. You know their names. You know their phone numbers and email addresses.

Now let's get to work.

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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.