Thursday, March 6, 2008

Political Horse Trading and FISA (JM)

As frequent readers of AOTG may know FISA and telecom immunity is something of deep irritation of mine. I deplore the Dems who chose to stand by in the Senate and let the GOP dictate the terms of the deal, all the while threatening to monger fear in their direction should they not pass a new FISA bill.

Now, as it transpires, House Democrats seem like they're about to back down on telecom immunity. Why? So that they can get "exclusivity". What is "exclusivity" you ask? It is the guarantee that FISA is the only means by which the government wiretaps and collects foreign intelligence. In other words, it is a guarantee that the government doesn't keep a secret wiretapping program going along side FISA. This is just so completely insane that I am at a loss for words.

I get that horse trading is part of the political process. It is often necessary to make some concessions in order to get broader support on larger policies. However, the problem is (and always has been for that matter) that the Republican positions are so extreme, so far away from anything resembling moderate compromise, that in order to negotiate the Democrats often have to accept wretchedly horrible policies. FISA is the ideal example. House Democrats are willing to give in to one of the GOP's absurdist policies, telecom immunity, in order to guarantee that they get "exclusivity", something they absolutely ought to have been guaranteed in the first place.

Perhaps, it is time for the party to be slightly less reasonable. The Republicans are the ones who are totally unwilling to sign an extension of FISA in the first place. Basically, they are willing to go nuclear and paint the Dems as soft on security unless the Democrats are willing to accept a false compromise in the first place. It's really time for the Democrats to stand up and say, "This is totally absurd, there is no way we are bargaining telecom immunity to guarantee that this is the only method of surveillance. The American people expect and deserve both and we're going to give it to them." It's unfortunate when we live in a world where compromise is impossible, but when you're facing a party that uses compromise as an opportunity to, for all intents and purposes, hold a gun to your head, you have to push back.

Despite my tirades to the otherwise we can pretty much bet this compromise will happen. These types of compromises will continue and we will watch our rights slowly, but surely, get eroded until we recognize that Republicans will fight to the death and the only way to beat them is to do the same. I've, for the first time in my life, sent e-mails to my congressman and Senators (because I am pretty sure Hillary has a lot of free time to read my e-mails right now) and I encourage you to do the same. This is a battle worth winning, as is any battle at this point. Trading is part of the political world, but when one side makes absurd demands and expects you to choose between them, sometimes it's worth standing up and walking away.

One further quick note on this. It is a larger problem that the stubborn party is the one the eschews most forms of regulation to begin with. This is especially an issue with the confirmation of Bush administration appointees. Bush would love to see his nominees appointed by the Senate, but he seems equally okay with organizations like the FEC and several industry regulatory commission just not doing anything. Thus, we are left with the unenviable and false choice between appointing someone who will do nothing or simply doing nothing. These are large problems, that take complex political skills, but the first step in the battle is to get out in front and let the public know what the GOP is doing. That is a job that has been poorly done by the Democratic congress, and it shows in their approval ratings. It's time for real action on the part of the Senate, and my only hope is that either candidate who fails to get the nomination will go back to the Senate and be a real leader in the fight against the GOP, because even if we pick up my congressional seats, nothing changes unless we change our willingness to fight.

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