Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, a few of the A-list lefty bloggers were talking among themselves, and they began to devise a plan: they would urge liberals in six states to write letters to the editor and phone radio talk shows in order to pressure Republican senators to call for a full investigation of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.

It was a particularly opportune moment, they said, in part because other events had begun making the administration and its supporters particularly vulnerable. Jane Hamsher at firedoglake wrote:

Cheney (and by extension) BushCo. are heavily damaged after Cheney got away with shooting an old man in the face...

Anyway, the upshot -- several GOP are in critical positions with regard to these investigations, and they are also extremely susceptible to pressure in their own back yards right now.

Glenn Greenwald wrote:

NSA scandal and Portgate - a perfect match

... the serious split between the Administration and their formerly compliant Congressional allies is, for many reasons, the perfect framework in which to press for real Congressional investigations into the NSA scandal. The emergence of this sharp wedge between the Congress and White House, as well as the distrust of the White House which the port controversy is generating, create the ideal groundwork for agitating for Congressional investigations.....

Oh well -- so much for that:

Moving to tamp down Democratic calls for an investigation of the administration's domestic eavesdropping program, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that they had reached agreement with the White House on proposed bills to impose new oversight but allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.

The agreement, hashed out in weeks of negotiations between Vice President Dick Cheney and Republicans critical of the program, dashes Democratic hopes of starting a full committee investigation because the proposal won the support of [moderate Republican] Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine....

Democrats called the deal an abdication of the special bipartisan committee's role as a watchdog, saying the Republicans had in effect blessed the program before learning how it worked or what it entailed.

"The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House," said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is vice chairman of the panel....


Look, I'm not an A-list lefty blogger. I'm a C-lister who can read polls, and who knows that politicians can also read polls. Bush is unpopular, and it's prudent for even Republican members of Congress to defy him once in a great while. They're doing that on Dubai.

But most Republicans are going to defy the president only when public opinion is overwhelming -- that is, when public anger threatens their job security -- and when bucking the president can be portrayed as consistent with being Republican.

Dubai fits those criteria. Warrantless spying doesn't. Public opinion on that issue is split -- and, given the GOP's vast superiority at media management, a split is as good as a win. Opposing warrantless spying also looks like a pro-"weakness" position.

On Iraq, of course, Bush seems vulnerable -- but the issue just isn't simple. Here's an ABC report by George Stephanopoulos on the recent Washington Post/ABC poll:

About half the public [52 percent] wants a withdrawal of American troops. But they're split. Fewer than one in five say bring the troops home right now [17 percent]. About a third [35 percent] say bring them home gradually over time. Another third says have the troop levels stay exactly the same [34 percent]. And then you've got about ten percent, actually 11 percent, of the country says increase troops now. So you've got a chaotic situation in Iraq which has left the public confused.

So there's no monolithic opposition to leaving troop levels high in the near term; very few people want an immediate withdrawal. With numbers like that, Republicans in Congress know they don't have to abandon the president to save their jobs. Even if the war is increasingly unpopular, sticking with Bush won't lose them too many votes, and they'll continue to look "tough."

The problem with many people on the left is that we get to the first base camp and think we've already climbed the mountain. Bush is in the 30s or low 40s in the polls -- so we think the new liberal dawn is just about to arrive, requiring little more than a nudge from us.

The fact is, a few letters to the editor aren't going to change the fact that a huge percentage of the public still endorses the essential GOP approach to Iraq and terrorism, despite significant skepticism about the specifics. The right-wing explanation of how the world works still holds sway with the American public.

I think Bush is vulnerable -- on issues like Katrina and economic insecurity. But I think we need to do a lot more storytelling before we'll get the public to believe that Bushism is bad for our national security, and national security is what the '06 midterm elections are going to be about, as was the case in '02 and '04.

People's gut sense is that withdrawing from a war -- any war -- is a sign of weakness; they still think the Iraq War is part of the war on terrorism; they think Democrats are visceral peaceniks who hate all use of force; et cetera, et cetera. We are not offering enough rebuttals to these ideas. Until we do -- until the GOP narrative of recent events is being greeted with skepticism by a majority of the public -- Bushism will continue to reign, and congressional Republicans will stick with Bush on nearly every issue.

No comments: