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Avoiding Distraction From the Warrantless Wiretaps

by RonChusid

One problem with the echo chamber of the liberal blogosphere is that minor ideas get overly amplified. Bloggers pick a position and then the echo chamber convinces them this is the only sensible course. They fail to realize that the consensus reached in the liberal blogosphere represent the views of only a tiny percentage of voters. All too often, variation from this consensus is branded as moving toward the center or failing to take on the enemy, failing to see that poor strategy reduces the chance for success, and rephrasing the message is not the same as changing the underlying principles.

We’ve seen this with the IWR vote, as some bloggers confused this with support of the war, weakening the anti-war movement by falsely labeling some opponents of the war as pro-war. We are seeing a repeat of this wasted effort and conflict over Russ Feingold’s proposal to censure Bush.

Virtually nobody in the liberal blogosphere believes that George Bush does not deserve to be censored, and most would prefer impeachment. There is also agreement in the blogosphere that warrantless wiretaps of Americans should be stopped. A majority of voters agree with the second (opposition to the warrantless wiretaps) but less support censure. Undoubtedly support for censure would increase should full hearings be held on the wiretaps. The party which supports privacy rights and rule of law can win in November. The party which screams for censure will be more loved by the blogosphere, but reduces its chances for victory.

It would seem to make the most sense to concentrate on demanding hearings on the wiretaps. This, not censure, is the actual issue. This is where we have the support of the voters. All the talk of censure is just noise which is distracting from the main goal and would be more appropriate after all the evidence against Bush is laid out.

Matt Yglesias wrote in support of censure, asking “So how about a column by someone — anyone — trying to explain why the president does not, in fact, deserve to be censured for his lawbreaking ways?” The point is that virtually no liberals disagree that Bush deserves censure but some do question the strategy. As Kevin Drum responded:

I agree with Matt that Feingold’s censure motion probably isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but his post also highlights my biggest problem with the whole affair: it’s not increasing public awareness of the NSA’s domestic spying program. All it’s doing is increasing awareness of Russ Feingold’s censure motion.

I’m sure someone can point to an exception somewhere, but so far every single column or news story I’ve read on the subject has been about (a) Feingold the maverick and whether this helps his presidential chances, (b) the disarray his motion has caused in the Democratic party, (c) whether the censure motion was politically smart, or (d) Republican glee that Feingold has shifted attention away from all the things that were hurting them.

Is this really helping convince the public that Bush deliberately and repeatedly violated the law when he approved the NSA program? I’m not seeing it. Political theater is only useful if it actually shines the spotlight into the dark corner where we want it shined, and Feingold’s censure motion doesn’t really seem to have done that. Instead of pinning our hopes on yet another bright and shiny silver bullet, maybe there’s a place for all those boring hearings and investigations after all.

It doesn’t really matter if blogs devote space to censure as space in the blogosphere is virtually unlimited and such discussion doesn’t prevent discussion of the underlying issue. Space in the mainstream media is more precious. The media will ignore stories of consequence for the political horse race every chance they get. By turning the story into one of Russ Feingold’s political prospects, George Bush is getting a break he does not deserve.

15 Responses to “Avoiding Distraction From the Warrantless Wiretaps”

  1. The problem is that, at this point, it is not even about Feingold’s presidential prospect.

    It is about making sure that Feingold stays alone, or with a court that is as small as possible. The lastest stupidity from some of his supporters is to blast everybody who does not co-sponsor the resolution, whether they have blasted Feingold or are supportive of his move.

    Even if the blogosphere has an infinite place, there are only 24 hours a day. For those of us who blogs, it becomes very difficult not to fall in the trap (including the one of attacking Feingold) when some of his supporters are going after all potential presidential candidates who has not co-sponsored the bill (sometimes even if they could not because they are not senators).

    I have tried to avoid these threads on DU, but it is quite a dilemna to know whether to let people attack Kerry on a rumor or spend time asking for sources of the rummor.

  2. I can see I am getting tired. Sorry for the spelling errors and typos. Time to call it a day.

  3. Mass

    Get some rest – I’m glad I was able to help earlier today with the speeches and what not.

  4. Ron writes: “By turning the story into one of Russ Feingold’s political prospects, George Bush is getting a break he does not deserve.”

    Normally I’d agree, but this has less to do with Feingold and ’08 and more to do with the Dems and ’06. You don’t win elections trying to censure or impeach the other side/guy. When the Republicans ran and swept the congress in ’94, it wasn’t on “let’s impeach Bill Clinton”. Only after they won on the “Contract” nonsense that they turned their focus on him.

    The Dems have to run on a pro-active agenda that spells out what they are going to do for the country. Once they win back the House and Senate, they can (and should) investigate/censure/impeach till the cows come home.

    But at this point, it’s not that Bush is getting away with anything…it’s that the Dems don’t have the power to look like anything more than obstructionist. And that *loses* elections. As Durbin and Kerry have already said, now’s not the right time.

    But next January…

  5. Todd,

    “Normally I’d agree. . .”

    I don’t really see where you are disagreeing with my posts on this issue. The bottom line is that this is the wrong time to make censure the main issue. That needs to wait until after the 2006 elections and after investigations. In the meantime, we’d have better chances of success if Feingold stuck to outlining how Bush violated the law and demanding full investigations. If he wants to mention that such investigations may lead to censure or worse if they verify Bush broke the law, that’s fine, but don’t make them the centerpiece of the Democratic 2006 campaign.

  6. Mass,

    I can see where time (as opposed to space) is finite for bloggers. I prefer to ignore most of the on line debates on this in the hopes it will blow over. I’ve just stuck to a few posts when things of consequence occured, such as Feingold’s initial call for censure, Drubin’s interview, and the post quoted above.

    The big question is whether this will blow over, or whether this will turn into some sort of new litmus test like the IWR vote for support in the blogosphere. In the worst case scenario, we saw that the support of the blogosphere means little in the caucuses and primaries.

    As with the 2004 campaign, the real problem might not be the candidate but his on-line supporters.

  7. Ron,
    Could we repost that first paragraph on every liberal blog?
    Maybe expand it a little for those who really need to learn it.

    I don’t see this as the same as Kerry’s call for a fillibuster. The action there was a matter of stopping the final vote if at all possible. And the Democrats have been accused of being spineless in the face of the GOP majority as much as the “No plan” attack.

    The Dems do need to refocus the attention on the Bush
    administration and the rubber stamp congress. My problem is there is so much shtuff out there, a lot of people are tuning out. Maybe the plan needs to include an announced “moratorium” – May and June – so the voters can have some thinking room before the campaigns start swinging. Too radical, the GOP would fill it with their propaganda.

  8. The Kerry filibuster was quite a bit different.

    First of all, Kerry was fulfilling a promise he made during the campaign to lead the filibuster against any Supreme Court nominee who would repeal Row v. Wade. I wouldn’t have been very excited about someone else doing this as it was doomed to failure, but it made sense for Kerry to keep his promise.

    Kerry consulted with other Democrats–he didn’t just announce this on TV one morning.

    A filibuster was a logical plan under the circumstance with a specific action to block.

    The timing also made more sense for Kerry. Bush can be censured any time. It can wait until after the midterm elections, and after the evidence is established to show it is warranted. Kerry could not wait to filibuster Alito–it was then or never.

  9. Ron,

    Exactly. So why do we get comments like this?

    ” His censure proposal looks like a stunt, “the equivalent of calling for a filibuster from Davos,” says Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council”

    I don’t get the big deal about calling from Davos. He didn’t have to be here to vote or sign anything. Is it just old politicians who can’t give up on the in-your-face style of getting people to agree with you?

  10. Look at the bright side. Having Marshall Wittmann attack Kerry might shut up some of the attacks claiming he’s still DLC.

    The only problem I see is that Davos sounds an awful lot like Davros:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davros

  11. Ron,

    That would be a good picture of W in 25 years 🙂 You may be right on the name confusion, except it all went along with “He’s in Switzerland skiing” and no mention of the international conference he was attending.

    Good point on the DLC. I think Pamela’ post on the Diebold machines brings up a really important part of the plan to get voters to fire their incumbents.

  12. Ginny

    Nice to see Marshall Whitman channel Rove isn’t it? We can only hope that is Ron is right by the effects of Whitman’s statement.

  13. Ginny

    “Could we repost that first paragraph on every liberal blog?”

    You could post it in the comments on all the blogs! 😉

    We’d probably be fighting off attacks from those who don’t get it though.

  14. Ron, I believe I mis-read the rest of your post. I thought you were suggesting that by making the issue about Feingold and ’08, Bush was somehow getting a pass on the wiretap issue. But after re-reading it, I see now we agree.

    FWIW, the Times has an interesting piece up by a history prof on why Censure isn’t the right road to pursue right now…good reading.

  15. Todd,

    I think Bush is getting a pass (hopefully temporarily) in the sense that talk is being diverted to more to Feingold than to the actual issue, but that is just one aspect of my posts on this. (It is also more the argument from Kevin Drum. While I include his argument, my comments on the censure have gone far beyond this.)

    Bush will really get too much of a pass if this winds up hurting Democratic chances this fall.