Just as Nancy Pelosi ran to Time to justify her support for the FISA bill, Steny Hoyer yesterday spuoted his justifications to The Politico and said this:
In an interview with Politico on Monday, Hoyer called the FISA legislation a "significant victory" for the Democratic Party -- one that neutralized an issue Republicans might have been able to use against Democrats in November while still, in his view, protecting the civil liberties of American citizens.
In other words, Democrats achieved a "significant victory" because -- by giving Republicans everything they demanded
-- Republicans are no longer able to criticize Democrats on this issue. What a shrewd strategy: "if we comply with all their demands, then they can't criticize us for anything." That's the Democratic Party's plan for winning, according to Hoyer.
But that tactic isn't as innovative as Hoyer tries to suggest. That was exactly the mentality that led huge numbers of Democrats in 2002 to vote to authorize Bush's attack on Iraq: "Let's give the Republicans everything they want on national security and then they can't criticize us any more. That'll show them." Aside from being the very definition of cravenness -- "let's comply with all the GOP's orders and then they won't be mad and that will be good for us!" -- ask Max Cleland, who voted for the AUMF and then had his face morphed into Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, how well that strategy works.
Yesterday, National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru commented on the Time/Pelsoi article as follows:
Massimo Calabresi reports in Time that the deal "has drawn attacks from both sides of the political spectrum. The right is unhappy at concessions made to protect civil liberties; the left is furious that the Democrats allowed the domestic spying powers to be extended in any form." I haven't heard much unhappiness being expressed from righties.
I haven't either. Actually, I've heard literally none. As I documented
the other day, even the most extreme right-wing absolutists on spying and presidential powers are happy with the bill. The only dissatisfaction with the bill comes from Democrats and civil-liberties-defending libertarians. How can a bill that makes every Republican, including Dick Cheney, ecstatic, while infuriating huge portions of the Democratic base, possibly be "a significant victory for the Democratic Party," as Hoyer proclaimed it to be?
Regarding Pelosi's claim that the Democrats won "significant concessions" -- a claim repeated by Hoyer in the Politico article -- Ponnuru says: "If that's what they want to tell themselves, fine. It sure looks like they got rolled." It looks that way because that's what happened. Who exactly do Pelosi and Hoyer think they're fooling with these self-glorifying claims that they stood down the Republicans and extracted concessions? Dick Cheney couldn't wait to endorse the bill and GOP leaders and right-wing polemicists haven't stopped boasting about how completely Democrats capitulated on what had been one of the most scandalous aspects of the Bush administration -- the fact that he got caught breaking the law when spying on Americans. Doesn't it rather obviously compound, rather than mitigate, the Democrats' humiliation to try to pretend this was some great victory when everyone can see how absurd -- pitifully so -- that claim is?
The Politico article (which, incidentally, misquotes this post of mine completely) also says this:
Despite those efforts, liberal activists were furious at what they view as a sellout by House Democrats on FISA, particularly on the retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.
Two liberal groups, Blue America PAC and ColorofChange.org PAC, ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post spelling out their displeasure with Hoyer. But Hoyer has been targeted by the left in the past -- MoveOn.org has run radio ads against him -- but he was reelected with nearly 83 percent of the vote in 2006, and he’s never drawn less than 65 percent of the vote.
"I am aware of it," Hoyer said of the loud criticism from progressive groups of the FISA agreement. "When you try to reach a compromise, the people on one side or the other are not pleased."
Hoyer has this backwards. The nature of a "compromise" is that neither side is happy with the outcome. Where, as here, one side is ecstatic and the other side is furious, that, by definition, is not a "compromise." It is, as Russ Feingold correctly says, a full-scale "capitulation." Hoyer's bill gives the two gifts the administration most wanted -- the power to engage in "vacuum-cleaner" surveillance of communications
over U.S. telephone and email networks with no warrant requirement (and no required connection to Terrorism) and a guaranteed end to the telecom lawsuits.
It's also worth noting that Hoyer's district is very Democratic and so it is unsurprising that he wins general elections easily. The way to undermine Hoyer is with a credible primary challenge, preceded by an enduring campaign in his district to make the voting blocs on whom he depends realize how out-of-touch and indifferent he is to their political values and interests. That's the purpose of the ads and robocall campaigns that have started.
One last point: in the days before he unveiled the FISA bill to the public, both Hoyer and his office were vehemently denying reports that he had negotiated and approved a deal to provide retroactive immunity to telecoms. They were even claiming that "there's been an incredible amount of misinformation out on the internet" -- don't let those reckless bloggers "on the internet" claim that Hoyer is negotiating a deal with retroactive immunity. It's not true!
Yet now, here he is boasting to The Politico about how he "was clearly the driving force in the months of arduous discussions over the FISA rewrite" and how he "shepherded a set of FISA amendments through the House last week." They not only do all of this in total secrecy -- so that the public has no opportunity to know about or comment upon the bills they're writing -- but they overtly lie about what they're doing as they're doing it. Then, when they finally unveil a very complex bill they wrote that completely re-writes our nation's surveillance laws, they force a vote on it in less than 24 hours so that the public and even most members of Congress have no time even to understand what they've done before it's passed (though the telecoms themselves were full-fledged participants in the secret negotiations over their own immunity). That's democracy in action, delivered by the Democratic-led House.