Sunday, December 18, 2005

So Far Only Bill Kristol Smart Enough to Use Ape Man Defense

A lot of right-leaning Democrats LURVE Bill Kristol. Whenever they're asked to name some fundamentally freaked-out right-wing nut sandwich that they agree with (agreeing with a few fundamentally freaked-out right-wing nut sandwiches is how right-leaning Democrats maintain "credibility" with their corporate constituencies) most Blue Dogs will come up with Bill Kristol.

Let me say at the outset that I am not in this group. I don't like Bill Kristol on any kind of human level. However, I have to say, the man is a brilliant political tactician and media man. He has an image that the left desperately needs someone to cultivate - radical policy positions, moderate image. What we get on the left is the opposite: guys like Howard Dean (whom I like), who has moderate polcy positions and a radical image.

In any case, I have to give Kristol tactical credit for being the only right-winger I've seen so far try out The Ape Man Defense on the domestic spying issue. Think Progress brings us the story of Kristol on Fox saying how we should all be thankful that President Bush had the moxie to authorize a domestic spying program.

This is a great defense. Not because it makes sense; in fact precisely because it doesn't. Since this is such a black-and-white issue (the president broke the law, full stop) the best hope for the right wing is to use their considerable media empire to advance the argument that Bush broke the law because he had to do so in order to save Americans. Of course this is idiotic - the President controlled both houses of Congress and could have easily had the law changed. It's the political equivalent of pushing all-in with a pair of fours. But the White House has lived for the last five years on the principle that if it pushes all the chips into the middle at the right moment, the Democrats will fold, no matter what hand either side holds.

The Republicans have made the decision to stand and fight on an issue that is, on the merits, a total loser, to the point of threatening to undermine the legitimacy and political solvency of the entire Republican party.

If recent history holds, the Democrats will back down. If that happens, I think I speak for a lot of the party's hated "activists" when I say that will be the final straw. I am as committed to major-party politics as any political radical can possibly be, and I will say unequivocally that if the Democrats allow the GOP to get away with illegal, warrantless NSA investigations of American citizens, I will never vote for another Democrat as long as I draw breath.



heatkernel said...

The question that comes to my mind is, why didn't the admin. just get warrants from the secret FISA court and do the surveillance they wanted to do anyway? As far as I have heard, the FISA court hands out warrants like candy.

So the secret rule change to allow warrantless searches seems completely pointless unless a) the Bush people thought that in these particular cases, they would have some trouble obtaining warrants even from the pliable FISA court or b) the Bush people just get a high out of breaking the law in secret.

My point isn't to find out the motivation of the Bush administration, which is strictly speaking irrevelevant, but just to test my understanding of what is going on here. This may be an uneducated question, since I haven't had the time to do the reading up on this issue I normally would.

Adam P. Short said...

Indeed, why? I think that's the $64,000 question. I have a couple of hypotheses but no way of testing them.

The most straightforward is based on the fact that for the first time the FISA court did deny some warrants in 2003, when the change was made. So it may be that at that point the administration was just like "fuck this, we're skipping this shit the next time." That's the very most generous explanation I can think of, and it's still pretty egregious misconduct.

Another is that this was actually something the NSA wanted and the Administration gave it to them as part of some deal. Then of course the question becomes, what did the Administration get from the NSA in return? But that's a shot in the dark; I don't think that's what really happened.

My best guess, though, is based on my assumption that the "secret" piece of this is more important to the "why" angle than the "warrantless" part. You have to think about this in the context of 2003. The White House was at that point in the middle of open war with its own CIA. The CIA director's loyalty to the president was in doubt (that was pre-Porter Goss of course). Spies were being burned. Fingers were pointing at all the wrong people.

If the NSA is going to FISA to get a warrant to eavesdrop on some CIA asset, the CIA can esily find out about that and tell the NSA to back off. If NSA can do whatever it wants without warrants, nobody can find out.

So my guess is that the NSA was viewed at the time as a more loyal partner in whatever internecine warfare was going on between the White House and the CIA, and they wanted to make sure that if they were using the NSA to spy on the CIA, the CIA wouldn't find out about it.

Ethridge said...

Let me offer an explanation. Not one that I agree with or condone. As far as I'm concern, try the scumbag and let him rot. But here's the thing:

He's playing the "I did it for the safety of Americans" card because people let him. Time and again, people continually vote and act in ways that show they prefer safety (or perceived safety) to actual freedom. And the President figures, "Hey, I'll just say that again." Because it works almost every time.

Civil libertarians and privacy advocates constantly hear the critique that "Oh, well, that's only going to concern you if you're doing something wrong." And that's what he's banking on - so many people feel like, well, as long as he's just targeting terrorists and not law abiding citizens like them, it's no bother to them and it makes them feel safer.

And what makes this lie any more or less important than a lie in a courtroom about sex? Hell, at least this lie was trying to protect Americans, and that other guy was trying to cover his ass. (not my sentiments, mind you, just a line of thinking I suspect is prominent among certain groups)

Of course, the Democrats should call him on it. Of course they should. But it might mean that some of them, particularly the ones in close fights for 2006, end up going home because many Americans prefer the (again, perceived) security to the truth.

And I think the party leadership ends up weighing that against trying to nail him on this one. And it's unfortunate that there is even a need to weigh such things, but that's the political reality of America, 2005.

Something to chew on. Not that I give a lick about either major party, of course. ;)