Thursday, March 16, 2006


It seems obvious to me that, political calculations aside, Feingold is right on the NSA wiretapping. (text of the resolution) The President clearly broke the law. It remains to be seen whether he'll get away with it, and whether the legal gymnastics routines of Gonzales and Yoo will continue to impress the judges. I think to win this argument, however, not just on the facts but in the sense of bringing more voters out for the Democratic Party on November 7 and retaking Congress, Democrats need to win the other argument, the one about September 11.

Democratic strategery apparently involves continuing to grin about putting the kibosh on the Dubai ports deal, and continuing to hope that public opinion of Bush stays low. It's pretty clear that much of the outrage over the ports deal was driven by good old fashioned xenophobia, and as much as I enjoyed seeing Bush undone in part by the xenophobia he and the Republicans helped stoke, Democrats should be better than that. Feingold has given them a chance to be better than that, given them what I think is a way to go on the attack, and they are not taking it out of concern over censure being used as a rallying point for conservatives. Feh.

Since 9/11, Bush and the Republicans have been much, much better at saying what 9/11 is and what it means, and Democrats have been unwilling to seriously contest those definitions. That needs to end. Conservatives have effectively used September 11 as a political weapon, good for beating almost any boneheaded legislation through Congress, good for beating up anyone who suggests that the reasons for September 11 might go deeper than people hating our freedom. They must be relieved of that weapon. The criminality of Bush's wiretaps needs to be folded into a greater argument about his reckless conduct in the war on terror, and Democrats need to offer a clear alternative, one which recognizes a number of important things that Republicans do not (I just happen to have a list here):
-America's greatest weapon is the influence it wields as a free democratic republic, when it acts like a free democratic republic. There's a fine line between being a leader and a bully, and in the eyes of too many the United States has crossed that line.

-Although many people in this world would like the political rights Americans have, they don't want the particular cultural baggage that often comes with it.

-Americans are participants in a precarious political experiment, not subjects of an Empire. It's extremely important that the rest of the world know that we know this.

Disgust at Bush and the Republicans is a wonderful thing, but I don't think it will be enough to bring a Democratic takeover of Congress. No matter what issue the Democrats land on, no matter what Republican scandal blows up between now and Election Day, Bush is always going to come back with "We're at war." And it will work, as it has worked over the past five years to justify Bush's arrogance and distract from his incompetence, until Democrats finally challenge not only Bush's methods of fighting the war, but begin to chip away at his representation of the war and his characterization of its causes.

For simplicity and mook appeal it's difficult to beat "They suck! We Rule! Let's kick ass!" as a motivating ideology, but I think a significant portion of voters are ready and waiting for a national security policy that, while being no less determined and robust in preventing terrorism and tracking down perpetrators, presents a competing view of the world that is more complex and conciliatory.

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