Monday, August 6, 2007

Bush Barks, Democratic Leadership Quakes, Congress Passes Warrantless Eavesdropping Bill

You might think an administration as wildly unpopular as George W. Bush's would be unable to bully Congressional Democrats into rubber-stamping yet another bill that tramples on our civil liberties. Wrong! You can read the AP report for the gory details, or just check out Fred Hiatt's editorial in the Washington Post:

THE DEMOCRATIC-led Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town early yesterday after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions.
Because if there is one problem in America it is that the Bush administration is too constrained by laws. What's so frustrating about the Democrats' capitulation was how completely unnecessary it was. Now, if the Democrats really did need to pass every civil liberties-trampling law proposed by our Fearless Leader, or risk being thrown out of office, then their stance, though gutless, would at least be understandable. But the truth is that there is no reason for the Democrats to have gone against their principles on this issue. As Glenn Greenwald points out:

Karl Rove's election strategy prior to the 2006 election was to force the Democrats to vote against the Military Commissions Act and warrantless eavesdropping so that he could run around the country accusing them of being "soft" and "weak" on Terrorism. While Senate Democrats chose not to filibuster the MCA and thus allowed it to pass, Congressional Democrats did overwhelmingly vote against it. And most House Democrats voted against warrantless eavesdropping (the Senate never ended up voting).

As a result, Rove repeatedly boasted that Democrats were sure to lose because Americans would punish them for their refusal to be "tough" on the Terrorists...

Rove made national security -- specifically the Democrats' opposition to coercive interrogation, lawless detention and warrantless eavesdropping -- the centerpiece of the GOP 2006 midterm campaign....

How did that big, bad, scary "Soft-on-Terrorism" strategy work out? The Democrats crushed the Republicans in an historic election, re-taking control of both houses of Congress, protecting every single one of their incumbents, and vastly increasing their hold over governorships and states houses. Democrats won in every region of the country outside of the Deep South. Karl Rove's strategy of accusing Democrats of being "soft on terror" due to their opposition to warrantless eavesdropping, lawless detention and torture was a complete failure on every level....

We do not need to wonder or speculate about what might happen if Democrats obstruct warrantless eavesdropping legislation and Republicans are then able to make an issue of it politically. That already happened in 2006. That was Rove's whole strategy. It failed miserably, across the board. And yet the Democratic leadership just permitted, and many Democrats supported, a wild expansion of George Bush's warrantless eavesdropping powers based on a jittery fear of this already-failed tactic, if not based on actual support for these increased eavesdropping powers.
Against all logic, the Democratic Leadership is still terrified at thought that the big, bad Republicans might accuse them of being soft on terror. (As if voting for this bill will prevent that.) What a disgrace. Thank goodness that the legislation expires in six months. Maybe that will be enough time for the Democrats to grow a spine.

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