Tick, Tick, Tick

by on January 30, 2008 · 2 comments

A great piece by Dahlia Lithwick on the allegedly ticking terrorist time bomb:

It’s true enough that FISA requires a sober update to account for technological changes since it was drafted in 1978, but the PAA wasn’t sober and it wasn’t justified. Now we must also contend with the added insult of the president’s demand for telecom immunity for the companies that allegedly helped him illegally spy on Americans. Hmmm. Don’t punish phone companies for believing our lies almost sounds plausible, so long as the Bush administration remains on the hook for peddling those lies. But that’s not what the White House wants—it wants telecom immunity, plus more government secrecy, plus no oversight. Sens. Feinstein and Feingold, and others, are pushing for amendments that would keep us safe while preventing the Bush administration from slinking away from its surveillance activities.

Congressional Democrats are in peril of being hoodwinked again in two weeks as they were last August; not by rational argument or even by the parliamentary electric slide, but by their congenital inability to act any time the White House invokes the terrorist alarm clock. If ever there was a game of chicken Democrats can win, this is it: Let’s put the fictions of the convenient-sounding emergency-producing timers to rest. Be it the terrorist alarm clock that justifies illegal surveillance or the “ticking time bombs” that justify illegal torture, the only clock that matters now is the one counting down to a return to the rule of law.

Quite so. For seven years the Democrats have pursued a strategy that amounts to “let’s give the president everything he wants on national security and then he’ll stop picking on us.” Strangely enough, it hasn’t worked. Every Democratic retreat has emboldened the White House to push for more. Every time the Democrats try to meet the president halfway he moves the goal posts.

The president has now staked out a position that, in a sane world, be a PR disaster: “give the telcos retroactive immunity or I’ll veto vital anti-terrorism legislation.” If the Democrats won’t call that bluff, is there anything the president could demand that would cause them to say no?

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