The Politics of FISA

by on February 12, 2008 · 2 comments

This ad from the Republican National Committee has been making the rounds inside the beltway over the last week:

The ad is chock-full of misleading, scare-mongering claims, most of which I’ve already addressed. But of course, the point of this ad isn’t education, but intimidation. The message is that Democrats who don’t fall in line behind the president’s warrantless surveillance agenda will face similar attack ads in the fall elections.

But as the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, this tactic has already been tried, and it failed miserably. In the 2006 elections, incumbent Nancy Johnson used an ad with a virtually identical message to ward off challenger Chris Murphy. The ad backfired, sparking newspapers to editorialize that it was “desperate” and a “fraud.” Murphy returned fire with an ad quoting these editorials and arguing that Johnson would say anything to stay in power.

The rule of law and judicial oversight of domestic spying are bedrock principles of our system of government. There is no reason Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) should be afraid to run on those principles in November. Capitulating to the president’s demands on this issue would not only undermine our civil liberties, but it would also miss a key opportunity to draw a clear contrast with an unpopular president.

Democrats are constantly complaining about the fact that they’re seen by voters as weak on national security issues. Perhaps their constant capitulation to the president’s demands is part of the problem. Democrats are never going to win elections by presenting themselves as being just as willing to shred the constitution. In the first place, no one will believe them, and in the second place, why would you vote for the imitation when you can vote for the original? Democrats are only going to win on national security when they’re willing to say something different from the Republicans. This, it seems to me, is a golden opportunity. It allows them to stake out a clear position: “yes to eavesdropping on terrorists, no to eavesdropping on innocent Americans, and no to allowing big telecom companies to break the law.”

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