Sunday, September 2, 2007

Conservative Newspaper Teaches Dems A Lesson

Real-world wisdom from outside the beltway.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
America’s Most Conservative Newspaper Teaches Dems A Lesson

The Colorado Springs Gazette is one of the two most conservative papers in America (the other being the Waterbury Republican-American). This is no secret to anyone who has either read the paper, or who is in the journalism industry. But the political continuum is a circle, not a line, meaning that on some issues, ultraconservatives and progressives can make common cause. Today's Gazette editorial on the bipartisan support for warrantless domestic wiretapping and spying is a good example - and a good lesson for Democratic "strategists" cloistered in Washington with their weak-kneed and self-defeating pathologies.

Here's an excerpt:

"What do you do when critics call the legality of your secret spying program into question? If you’re the Bush administration, you defend it, by becoming ever more secretive and by claiming to be above the law. The legal basis for the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which was launched soon after 9/11 to capture conversations of potential terrorists, has always been shaky. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 outlawed warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, and in 2005 it was revealed that the Terrorist Surveillance Program did just that. Though supposedly altered so as to operate within the law, the surveillance program continues to be defended on alarming and seemingly contradictory grounds — that its legality depends on operational details too secret to be revealed, and that legality isn’t an issue, anyway, since President Bush’s powers as commander in chief cannot be so bound by law...We see the justifications of executive privilege as little more than weak excuses. Earlier this month, this same logic of secrecy, which plays on people’s fears, helped excuse a further weakening of the law as Congress, in the Protect America Act, effectively gutted FISA protections against warrantless surveillance...Now that Congress has promised to revise this temporary measure, Bush and Cheney’s continued excuses are all the more intolerable, obstructing Congress’ ability to examine the genesis of the Terrorist Surveillance Program."

Pundits and Democratic "strategists" in Washington, D.C. clearly have absolutely no concept that issues of privacy, civil liberties and government intrusion do not fit conveniently on their preconceived - and childishly ignorant - notions of "red" and "blue." They dismiss the vast American heartland as just a Republican Party monolith that supposedly supports all efforts to strip citizens of their freedom, and they believe that in order to start winning in this heartland, they just have to out-Republican the Republicans on these issues.

We know this not just because they capitulated last month by rubber-stamping Bush's warrantless domestic spying program, but because they all but run out and tell reporters just how totally out of touch they really are when it comes to these issues. Remember how Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) claimed that his efforts to preserve the most odious parts of the Patriot Act were designed to protect "our Democrats in red states?" Remember how the insulated Washington media fawned all over him when he said this, billing him as an amazing political guru? And remember how, at the very same time, Montana's Jon Tester was campaigning against the Patriot Act as a way to attract support from libertarian-leaning voters? Yeah - in a race that was decided by a tiny margin, had Schumer's drumbeat been any louder, it may have lost Tester the Montana senate seat and Democrats might not be in the majority today.

I learned the lesson inherent in the Gazette's spot-on editorial when I watched my friend Bernie Sanders in the House. As Rolling Stone's terrific profile showed, he worked closely with people like Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and then-Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID) to forge left-right coalitions that passed legislation reforming the Patriot Act over the objections of Republican congressional leaders. Paul and Otter, you may recall, are among the most conservative elected officials in America. They know - sadly, more than many Democratic "strategists" in Washington - that there is nothing "weak" or "politically dangerous" about standing up for privacy and personal freedom and against government power grabs.

In fact, its the other way around: Democrats are exuding weakness and are walking into political peril by subscribing to the cartoonish "red" vs. "blue" outlook of those Washington insiders who claim expertise in a national political topography they clearly do not or do not want to understand. The panoply of privacy and civil liberties issues poses great opportunity for Democrats - but only if they show a shred of foresight and reject the absurd Washington conventional wisdom that says helping the most unpopular president in modern history trample Americans' freedoms is somehow "good politics."

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