So this is the dream of a Democratic Congress: a vote to legalize warrantless spying on the telephone calls and emails of Americans, and retroactive amnesty to telecoms who turn over private information on ordinary citizens. Such is the victory of 2006, reduced to the ashes of the secret police, the informer, the run-of-the-mill everyday wiretap. Glenn Greenwald's righteous fury:
It's worth taking a step back and recalling that all of this is the result of the December, 2005 story by the New York Times which first reported that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans for many years without warrants of any kind. All sorts of "controversy" erupted from that story. Democrats everywhere expressed dramatic, unbridled outrage, vowing that this would not stand. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for exposing this serious lawbreaking. All sorts of Committees were formed, papers written, speeches given, conferences convened, and editorials published to denounce this extreme abuse of presidential power. This was illegality and corruption at the highest level of government, on the grandest scale, and of the most transparent strain.
What was the outcome of all of that sturm und drang? What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing.
On a more practical matter, I believe enemies of this odious legislation had a serious branding problem that hasn't enabled them to get the seriousness of the cause through to more people. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, commonly known as FISA, became too quickly another gray government acronym that Americans couldn't fix on during the heat of a Presidential campaign (or any given night of network television, for that matter). We needed - we still need, for this has to pass the House - to create a better headline than "FISA Bill Debated." We need to convey that this isn't about arcane regulations - it's about the basic American right to privacy and due process.
For Democrats, it's a reminder that we probably put too much stock in the horse race angle of the beat, your own humble correspondent included. Atrios makes a valid point:
Too many Democrats simply don't have the values we imagine they do, and it lets them off the hook too much to assume they're simply craven people who need to get re-elected instead of bad people who don't share our values.
Experience tells me this, of course - weaned as I was on Bronx Democratic politics. The practical line between D and R in Washington isn't all that sharp. Elections always loom. Libertarians crumble on the right, and liberals quake on the left. As Greenwald (easily the best voice in this whole, sad matter) says: "The fault lines in the Beltway aren't primarily between Republican and Democrat but between those who support the core values of our political establishment (as reflected by the Bush administration) and those who don't."