Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Spying Over Spilt Milk

If you are looking for a reasonable, non-neo-con defense of the NSA's hyper-controversial domestic spying program, check out Marshall Wittman's recent post on the subject at Bull Moose.

I cannot say I share Marshall's sanguineness about entrusting this authority in this administration, which has proven to have a small problem with accountability (on the drunk-with-power breathlyzer, Cheney and his fellow neocons reliably blow off the charts, not to mention the Constitution). But as usual, the Moose makes you think twice about why we are so outraged by this development. In particular, he makes a critical point about the left's confusion about the true threat facing America post-9/11:

"A dangerous and frightening complacency has fallen upon the land. There is little concern about the continuing terrorist threat. The Senate delays passing an extension of the Patriot Act while civil liberties attorneys bicker about dotting the i's and crossing the t's. In some quarters, the Jihadist threat has been replaced by the Bushie threat."

I would contend that "some quarters" is probably too modest. Indeed, the last few years of chicken-little clucking about the Patriot Act, the treatment of detainees and now the NSA program suggest that much of the Democratic activist base cares more about the rights of terrorists than the security of our country. I don't actually believe that to be the case, but I fear that is the message we are sending into the heartland, and that it is producing the same damaging result as our outrage imbalance over crime did in the 70's and 80's, when swing voters became convinced Democrats were more sympathetic to violent felons than to their victims.

In my view, this disconnect helped kill John Kerry's candidacy in 2004. While W always made clear he would never rest until we kill all the bad guys, Kerry's lead talking point was typically about playing nice with our friends. Not an insignificant issue, but also not the best thing to emphasize to an electorate that already had doubts about the ability of Democrats in general -- and Kerry in particular -- to keep them safe. So to the average voter, who did not have time to read and compare the candidates' respective speeches to the Council on Foreign Relations, the unfortunate takeway was too often that Bush was Buford Pusser and Kerry was Barney Fife.

I'm not suggesting that Democrats should keep their mouths shut about the Bush Administration's arrogant disregard for civil liberties or international opinion. We should be condemning them when they go too far, holding hearings, seeking indictments, etc. I just think that given our political liabilities on security, we have to be more careful in our actions and rhetoric to not leave the impression that our President is a bigger enemy than Al Qaeda. And to me, that means always and repeatedly reminding the American people that we fundamentally understand that our nation is at war, that our top priority has to be to destroy those who would destroy us, and that what makes us different than President Bush is that we don't believe our government has to abrogate our basic freedoms to defend them.

I would feel better if every Republican who supports Bush's "extension" of Presidental powers to sign an affidavit "I will not complain about these powers when excercised by President Hillary Clinton." Not that I am endorsing her bid, just using her as many Republicans "worst nighmare."

If they really believe warrantless spying in the US is required, it shouldn't matter who the Prez is. Unless you believe the "Global War on Terror" ends the day GWB leaves office.
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