Saturday, August 11, 2007

Democrats and the national security path

Here's Russ Feingold's reaction to the recently-passed legislation giving NSA broadened powers of listening for terrorist chatter:
“There was an intentional manipulation of the facts to get this legislation through,”
Liberal readers shouldn't blow a gasket--this post isn't designed to impugn anyone's patriotism, it simply questions the direction this country will go should we elect a Democratically-controlled government for 2009. Voters will be subject to heaps of rhetoric in the upcoming year regarding methods of "dot connecting", attack prevention and so forth, so it's our job as responsible citizens to look past the rhetoric and consider the paths most likely taken and react accordingly.

There's no doubt Russ Feingold and friends love this country and our Constitution just as much as anyone. He's not against dot-connecting per se, just opposed to the way Bush is doing it. The president's response has consistently been as follows:
"It is inexcusable to say, on the one hand, 'connect the dots' and not give us a chance to do so."
And there's the rub. The question of presidential powers is not a new one. Our present debate has roots in the post-Nixon era, magnified during the Iran-Contra hearings and recently discussed at length in Stephen Hayes' book about vice-president Cheney, a long-time voice against the neutering of executive powers. Actually the debate goes back to the founders.

Senator Feingold takes a more Jeffersonian/Madison view, believing executive powers should be reigned in as much as possible, which is all fine and dandy except during times of national threat when his criticism rings hollow on the practicality side. The Constitution is clear on the role of the Commander-in-Chief and was not intended as a suicide pact as mentioned by Jefferson himself.

The founders knew external threats were best handled by an elected CIC rather than by partisan Congressmen and their various political agendas. Had the founders understood or envisioned WMDs they might have added or changed the document in some way, nevertheless modern threats have really complicated matters. But give Feingold some credit--the Constitutional method of dealing with the executive is spelled out and he's following it. So far, few have joined him.

As to the NSA story, the Times quoted another prominent Democrat, one long privy to inside information about "TSP" well before it was leaked to the very same newspaper, who turned it into a political football:
Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, said the White House “very skillfully played the fear card.”

“With the chatter up in August,” Ms. Harman said, “the issue of FISA reform got traction. Then they ran out the clock.”
Ironically the chatter was full blast in summer 2001 as well, referred to by Tenet as the system "blinking red". Many on the left chastised Bush at the time for spending August in Crawford and ignoring the warnings, yet when he and other Republicans mention such threats these days they are accused of fear-mongering.

Yet despite all the bluster we continually see a number of Democrats voting with the president to authorize Patriot Acts and surveillance programs. Aside from the conspiratorial angle involving Trilateral Commissions and such, this certainly suggests a strong dose of pandering while simultaneously giving the terrorist threats merit. The "Spitballs" speech must have stung a few Democrats, whether they'll ever admit it or not.

Still, the question remains unanswered as to which direction the Dems might go with full legislative and executive control. Would the Feingold/nutroot wing take over and deconstruct things, taking us back to a reactionary 1990s law enforcement approach in dealing with threats? Most Americans, while probably believing the GOP has politicized the GWoT for their own purposes, also probably believes we're still vulnerable.

Or maybe not. That someone named 'Clinton' even has a remote chance of winning might suggest otherwise. The impact of 9/11 is becoming more distant with each passing week.

Speaking of terrorist surveillance programs, there is an ongoing investigation into finding the culprit who leaked the program to the author of the above-linked story, Times reporter James Risen. Coincidentally, this popped up Friday, which is the second allegation of prominent Republicans leaking national security information for political gain. Sure sounds like a push-back on the TSP leak investigation, which might be targeting high level Democrats. In reality, it's a perfect example of what happens when Congress tries to run a war.

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