March 12, 2006
Spying is Juicy, Legality is Dry
I agreed with Nicholas when he said that the warrantless wiretapping scandal isn't the thing to run on, and I think the headline of this article -- "Feingold Wants Bush Censured for Spying" -- shows part of the reason why. The word "warrant" doesn't appear once in the entire text of the article, and the legal issues driving the case for censure are largely obscured.
The real problem isn't just that Bush was eavesdropping. Most people don't mind eavesdropping, if you follow the law and get a warrant. The real problem is that Bush was eavesdropping without following the law and getting a warrant. Illegal behavior of this kind is something that most people oppose. But since spying is much juicier than mere matters of legality, the media will pitch the debate as one about spying.
Perhaps a legal case for impeachment could be built out of the warrantless wiretapping scandal. But especially given the media coverage we're likely to get, other things are far more likely to move public opinion.
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Okay, first of all, if Bush broke the law (and he did) it shouldn't matter whether it's good political/electoral strategy to point it out. Sometimes you have to do the right thing.
Second, like a lot of Feingold's "maverick" stands, this isn't particularly bad politics. (The classic example was his lone vote against the Patriot Act, which didn't hurt his re-election and may actually have helped it.) At a time when the Republicans are desperately trying to pretend that they're not a bunch of Bush suck-ups, Feingold's resolution forces the Republicans to demonstrate, once again, what a bunch of suck-ups they are. (It also causes many Democrats to demonstrate how timid they are about standing up to Bush, but everybody knew that already.) Watching Frist babble a bunch of insane 2002-vintage talking points ("bold vision... terrorists... bad signal to our enemies... yada yada yada") was a nice quick reminder of which party is the party of pure unadulterated Bush suck-up-to-ive-ness.
Posted by: M.A. | Mar 12, 2006 7:15:14 PM
I should say that while I'm still on the Edwards '08 Bandwagon. I love the censure ploy. Forcing a censure vote would be great politics, because it would in essence put all Republican Senators on record as a vote of confidence. I'm sure DeWine would be looking forward to that opportunity.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Mar 12, 2006 7:43:34 PM
It's not just whether you get a warrant or not. It's the scope of the surveillance program -- who is being spied on, and why.
If the public understood that all of us are now being spied on -- in that all our internet traffic and international phone calls are being intercepted, analyzed, and stored in NSA or DOD computers -- the general public would be worried. They may like spying on people who might really be terrorists. They don't want to be spied on themselves.
That's my guess, anyway. And of course I'm also guessing -- based on news reports and administration statements -- about just what the government is up to.
Posted by: tom | Mar 12, 2006 9:19:30 PM
The answer is not to suppress Feingold, but to defend him and vigorously correct bad coverage. This is a partial transcript of what Feingold said this morning on ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
"... but what the President did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and the laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered. There can be debate about whether the law should be changed... we all believe there should be wiretapping in appropriate cases. But the idea that the President can just make up a law in violation of his oath of office has to be answered."
Posted by: Mickeleh | Mar 12, 2006 9:32:47 PM
Yeah, I like the censure thing in general. But doing it on such an easily misunderstood issue as spying seems to give Republicans an easy out. They can just reinforce the media misunderstandings, and swing voters who don't pay much attention will believe them. When you have choices, it's best not to attack on grounds where it's Republicans and the natural stupidity of the media versus us. Attacking on warrantless wiretapping seems to me like the thing I'd like to see a year from now if we've gotten control of the House, rather than in an election year.
While Bush's advantage on national security / terrorism is decaying, it's still the place where he's strongest, and I'd rather we attack on an issue where it's harder for Republicans to confuse the issue and make it look like national security is at stake.
I say this less in regard to Feingold, and more in regard to what I'd like to see Democratic candidates talking about on the campaign trail for the next few months.
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 12, 2006 11:09:20 PM
I've seen comment by at least one blogger concerned that government overreach could cost her. The torture/warrantless imprisonment activities sure impress me more than they seem to do some. Ditto wholesale "classification" of information.
The cost in free speech may not be calculable but it does exist.
Posted by: opit | Mar 12, 2006 11:19:16 PM
I am increasingly of the opinion that Americans will have a decent government and restoration of constitutional rights only when they start to act in such a way that shows we deserve it.
Censure Bush, impeach Bush, who cares? If he could guarantee gasoline at $.65/gallon, as long as we agree to ditch the entire Bill of Rights, the American people would flock to the polls in order to repeal the 22nd Amendment.
Hey, it was fun, you know? Lotsa freedom, direct involvement, great stuff. But it's pretty much over. We'll give away anything as long as we can drive 1 mile to the chain restaurant to consume a 6,500 calorie meal for less than $40.
After I move away, I'll be sure to tell my children and grandchildren how their ancestors - veterans of the Revolutionary War, both sides of the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea and the 1st Gulf War fought, bled and sometimes died so that fucking self-righteous, lazy, and goddamned stupid imbeciles could piss it all away to help a half-wit, no account drunk and his daddy's friends all get wealthier. People get the leaders they deserve, and we got George "failed at everything he's ever done" fucking Bush.
Posted by: Stephen | Mar 13, 2006 12:03:58 AM
Why is this an either or question? You don't "run" on warrantless wiretapping or on Katrina. You run on the fact that Bush is inept, incompetent and corrupt. Every story which contributes to that theme is a winner for the Democrats and progressives should stop sniping at anyone who isn't telling the "right" substory. Hit him with everything you've got.
Posted by: Mike | Mar 13, 2006 1:34:42 AM
It's a question because you only have so much time in front of the cameras, so much money to buy ads with, and so much time to deliver your speeches.
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 13, 2006 1:51:46 AM
If none of the Democrats object to the illegality of Bush's actions, then the Republicans will say "Look, even the Democrats believe the President was right to do what he did!". Don't be afraid of being attacked because the Repubs will attack no matter which way the Dems go. David Gergen said last night that this White House prefers campaigning much more than governing. Dems need to recognize this fact.
Posted by: Marv Toler | Mar 13, 2006 8:52:25 AM
I too find the media coverage frustrating, particularly the willful refusal to address the root of the illegality - the media didn't have that problem with Clinton's real and imagined misdemeanours, it's worth remembering. But it's important to remember that the public doesn't really need convincing - already pluralities believe the programme was illegal and a majority believe that if it was illegal then Bush should be impeached. What needs to be addressed is the lack of urgency and import in the media - we simply cannot let this set a precedent for licensed executive illegality, because that way lies dictatorship. The public recognise this, if you believe the polls, but clearly the press and Democrats in Congress don't, Finegold and a handful of others aside. Some Republicans clearly recognise it as well but are too cowardly/partisan to do anything about it.
I don't know how to go about changing that perception - Bush's constantly sliding popularity ratings save for a few terrorism/Iraq related polls still haven't persuaded the press that he's not actually the most respected man alive. And Democrats still can't get their head around the idea that if they keep running away from issues that they believe in then it's no wonder that people think they're weak.
Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Mar 13, 2006 10:50:30 AM
It's too bad the Dems are too shy to run on "Bush STARTED the War with Iraq so he could spy on Americans" meme.
Posted by: Ric | Mar 13, 2006 12:52:39 PM
The whole issue doesn't seem that complicated to me. I don't understand why it would be that difficult to make the different between wiretapping in general and illegal wiretapping. I understand the AP headline reinforces the argument, but it still shouldn't be difficult for Feingold and others to make the case. His office should contact AP and tell them they got the story all wrong. That would be a start.
Posted by: Adrock | Mar 13, 2006 4:03:05 PM
Nobody wants to follow Feingold. Not one Democrat supported his attempt at censure.
Ya' know, this is just more evidence of how weird this crowd here really is. You think you're mainstream, but instances like this show that you are not on the same page as most Democrats. You *love* Feingold and no other Democrats want to be seen with him.
Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 15, 2006 5:46:21 PM
Posted by: peterwei | Oct 22, 2007 7:07:24 AM
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