January 04, 2006

Remember What It's About

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As Bush tries to divert attention by using fear in a new offensive against Congressional Democrats, the media seems to be buying into it, giving Bush good press and riffing on his themes. CNN ran a recent TV-headline titled "Bush's Staunch Defense," and failed completely to point out a number of facts completely contradicting Bush's claims.

But one item I think is worth noting is how this all got started in the first place. By now, most Americans have probably bought into Bush's recasting this as the Democrats trying to kill the Patriot Act--which is far from the truth. The politically-named act is complex and has many provisions. Many are needed, but some are controversial, and Democrats hold that those controversial provisions threaten Americans' civil liberties. One example of this is Section 215, which allows the government to look at the personal records of Americans, such as financial, medical, phone, internet, student or library records, without probable cause, in conflict with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Already, some sections of the act have been ruled as too vague or outright unconstitutional by courts.

The current mess came up when Democrats and some Republicans refused to agree to make many of these controversial provisions permanent, instead insisting on sunset clauses that would allow renewal of the provisions upon future review.

Let's make sure we understand that. The Democrats (plus some Republicans) were not trying to shut down the act. They were not even trying to shut down those provisions. They were only trying to make it so that the most controversial provisions would have to be renewed every few years. That's all. That's it.

So, why did the act almost expire? Because Republicans decided they would rather see the act expire than to agree to the sunset clauses on those few provisions. Because they saw they could make a political play--act like the Democrats were trying to kill the law, frighten people into thinking it would expire, and then blame the Democrats for everything.

Even as the Democrats were offering a temporary extension so debate could continue, Bush and the Republicans were screaming at everyone who would listen that the Democrats were trying to kill the act. When, in fact, the Democrats were ready to approve the full act for a number of years, and the Republicans were the ones refusing to accept these extensions.

Essentially, Bush and the GOP want everything or nothing: give us 100% of what we want, or we let the act die and blame the Democrats.

While I am sure they really want the provisions which threaten our civil liberties to become permanent, I am convinced that this is more about simple opportunism: the GOP is in bad shape for the 2006 elections, and Bush is in huge trouble with his domestic spying program, so they are fabricating a non-existent issue in hopes of eliciting fear among the American people. That's their way of gaining popularity, after all: frightening people. As Aaron Sorkin once wrote for the title role in The American President,

He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.
Sorkin got the Republican playbook down to a tee, didn't he? Because that's exactly what Bush and the GOP are trying to do here: make you afraid, and tell you who's to blame.

Posted by Luis at January 4, 2006 07:13 PM

This theme, that Bush wins elections through fear, runs through Al Franken's book "The Truth (with jokes)". It's an excellent theme and really makes sense when you read the book.

Basically, Bush's 2004 election theme was "vote for me or terrorists will kill you and your family."

The present push, to label Democrats as unpatriotic, to label whoever leaked the NSA spying as a traitor, and so forth is right up this alley.

What the Democrats SO desperately need is a strong figure to come forward and take charge; to say flat out that it is unAmerican to be in favor of torture, that it is unAmerican to be in favor of the government snooping through our health records, that it is unAmerican to be spying on our citizens without a warrant, without probable cause, without any justification or review by a court.

The Dems need to start picturing Bush with Richard Nixon, spying on Americans, spying on peace groups, torturing people, sending them to secret prisons in Eastern Europe, doing "renditions" to send guys off to nations that will torture them for us...

Where is the charismatic leader that can take hold? Frankly, the only guy even CLOSE to having that kind of charisma was Bill Clinton; the only guy with a future in politics with it is Barack Obama. Hilary doesn't have it; Kerry doesn't have it; Leiberman doesn't have it.

But man, this nation needs it.

Seattle, WA

Posted by: Paul at January 5, 2006 04:50 AM