Cutting Pelosi Too Much Slack

by on September 7, 2007 · 0 comments

Brian Beutler has a generally good summary of the coming FISA debate. Unfortunately, it reflects the defensive crouch the Democrats continue to take on this issue, and the great degree of lattitude lefty commentators are giving the House leadership for its craven capitulation to the Bush administration. The article starts out thus:

House Democrats went limping into August recess, having watched a president with historically low public support nonetheless cram his surveillance agenda past them.

I’m no parliamentarian, but my understanding of House rules is that the House leadership can never have anything “crammed past them”—certainly not in 48 hours. What happened, rather, is that Nancy Pelosi was faced with a choice between a bad FISA bill or no FISA bill, and made the political calculation that the bad FISA bill would hurt Democrats less.

The story continues in the same vein. For example:

But Judiciary Committee aides say meeting such an ambitious timeline may be easier ordered than done. They are not at all certain they can move legislation that would survive a presidential veto before the February 2008 sunset.

Obviously any FISA legislation reining in the executive branch is likely to be vetoed, because President Bush has staked his administration on expanding executive power. Which is why Democrats in Congress should be crafting a bill that, if vetoed, will put them in a good position to shift the blame to the president for vetoing the legislation. President Bush is not a nice guy who will sign FISA legislation that strikes a reasonable balance between executive power and civil liberties. He’s a ruthless partisan who will wield his veto pen any time he thinks it will either expand executive power or put Democrats at a political disadvantage.

One of the things I think the conservative movement understands better than the liberals is that politicians will only toe the line if they’re subjected to withering criticism when they fall short. If an activist base cuts its politicians slack when they screw up, as Brian is cutting Pelosi slack here, the politicians won’t reciprocate by trying harder next time. They’ll conclude they can take their base for granted and shift even further to the center. Which is why I think it’s a mistake for left-of-center writers to act as though this was a freight train that the House leadership just couldn’t have stopped (and by implication, can’t stop this fall). It’s not true, but if it’s repeated often enough as if it were, it’s likely to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. It would be far more helpful for left-of-center journalists to write articles pointing out that Pelosi sold out her principles for the sake of short-term political gain, or depicting her as a hapless Charlie Brown being suckered once again by George Bush’s Lucy.

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