The Myth the Democrats' NSA position is "out of the mainstream"

I write this in response to an egregrious Joe Klein piece - which is part of a larger, although somewhat undefined phenomenon - which suggests that the Democratic position standing against unchecked executive power and in favor of civil liberties, even when the sensitive issue of terrorism is involved, is a sure-fire political loser. Klein's position - bolstered by not much more than his own gut, as was Marshall Wittman's several weeks ago - is just simply wrong. As the most recent polling suggests, which I will summarize below:

While the Democratic position is not the slamdunk majority position on every question, even a fairly negative reading of the evidence - which I take from CBS news wonderful, very detailed polling (from 1/10/06) on the issue - would tend to suggest the Democratic position is if anything a net positive, and certainly not a political loser.

For example, the only question where George Bush's position polls more favorably - and here, it is only by one point - is on the following (and pay careful attention to the wording, which puts Bush's position in a favorable light):

"After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of the President doing this?"

To this, 49% approve and 48% disapprove. I think it is safe to say that puts Bush's argument in a favorable light, framing the controversy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, without any reference to the longer question of executive power and checks and balances. And even so, Bush's position is even with the Democrats.

And this is as good as it gets for Bush.

"How concerned are you about losing some of your civil liberties as a result of the measures enacted by the Bush Administration to fight terrorism? Are you very concerned, somewhat concerned, not very concerned, or not at all concerned?"

29% answer "very concerned," 33% "somewhat concerned," 22% "not very concerned," and 16% "not at all concerned" While I wouldn't necessarily interpret this data as representing overwhelming support for the Democrats, I think this data also clearly shows that there is a high level of skepticism about Bush's motivations and his respect for the Constitution.

Next, on the question:

"Do you think that in order to fight terrorism, the federal government should have more authority to use wiretaps, or would this violate Americans' constitutional rights?"

40% favor the "more authority" option, and 53% "consitutional rights" option. Noted without comment.

Then, on the question:

"In general, how much confidence do you have that government agencies are able to correctly tell whose phone calls and e-mails should be monitored and whose should not? Do you have a great deal of confidence, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?"

10% express a "great deal of confidence," 45% express a "fair amount of confidence," 30% express "not too much," and 13% express "none at all." On the surface, this may seem to more clearly vindicate Bush's position, but I would argue that if only 10% have "a great deal of confidence," while 43% express little or no confidence, the situation is considerably more murky. At least, it suggests that the Democrats have little to fear from being "out of the mainstream" or facing some kind of "backlash."

Moving onwards, on the question:

"Which concerns you more right now -- that the government will fail to enact strong anti-terrorism laws, or that the government will enact new anti-terrorism laws which excessively restrict the average person's civil liberties?"

38% express concern about laws not being strong enough, while 46% express more concern about civil liberties violations, with 12% being unsure. Again, while the polling here is somewhat murky, one can say that,again, the claims of folks like Klein are unfounded, and quite strongly so.

Now getting closer to the heart of the matter, on the question,

"During wartime, some presidents have either received or assumed special war powers, which give the president more authority to act independently when he feels it is necessary. In the current campaign against terrorism, is it a good idea or a bad idea for the president to have the authority to make changes in the rights usually guaranteed by the Constitution?"

36% agrees this is a good idea, while 57% think this is a bad idea, with 7% unsure. Noted without comment . . . unless, Joe Klein, you have something to say . . .

Now on the penultimate question, as the security/civil liberties question relates specifically to the political parties -

"Do you think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party can do a better job of writing laws which help the government find terrorists without violating the average person's rights?"

33% pick the Republican Party, 42% pick the Democratic Party, 5% say "both," 7% say "neither," and 20% are "unsure." Now, again, as I have noted above, I don't think the response to this question indicates the Democratic Party is a "slam dunk" winner on the issue. But I think even more clearly, the Republican Party isn't. And more to the point, this poll suggests the "specter" of a "backlash" exists only in the mind of folks like Joe Klein - because quite clearly the Democrats are not and will not pay a political price on the issue.

To conclude, I think - and I say this without being flippant - that is soft neoconservatives (Joe Klein) and corporatist Christian Democrats (in the European sense of Christian Democrats) (Marshall Wittman) who are out of the mainstream on the issue and do not properly understand the American psyche as well as the nation's history.

Just because beltway "centrists" identify themselves as "centrists" does not mean that "centrists" and even "conservatives" in the nation as a whole share a similar ideological dispostion or worldview. While Wittman and Klein are right to realize that centrists and moderate conservatives tend to be pugilistic and instinctly hawkish when under attack (ie in the immediate aftermath of 9/11), America and these swing voters also tend to be anti-government and libertarian. American is not a corporatist, statist society by disposition, as is Europe. - although centrists and conservatives in the New York-Washington axis do tend to me: they are more like European conservatives in this sense than the average Ross Perot voter in Montana or Missouri.

All the Democrats need to do is maintain the principled stand as has best been articulated by Russ Feingold: ie that terrorism is a serious threat, that wiretapping to catch the bad guys is legitimate and necessary, that we have laws on the books that enable this to occur (NSA, NISA), if we need the law to revised there are consitutional channels to do so,  and that George Bush has also overstepped the bounds of legitimate executive authority and his behavior shows that he cannot be fully trusted to act in a way that guarantees and safeguards our consititutional and civil libertarian heritage. Now thats a mainstream position.

Tags: Misc (all tags)



It's The Criminal Presidency, Stupid!
So, once again we are reminded, in excruciating detail, that "centrists" of the political class--always hell-bent on demonizing liberals as out-of-touch extremists--are themselves profoundly out of touch with where the American people are at.  

But Don't Stop There!

All of this is figting on GOP-defined turf.  The real issue here is not about how to balance security vs. civil liberties.  The issue is Presidential law-breaking.  

If the NSA wiretaps were necessary, then the President could simply have asked for them to be made legal.  He had an approval rating close to 90% at the time he started them.  He should have been able to get Congress to go along with numbers like that.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-01-10 09:43PM | 0 recs
Re: It's The Criminal Presidency, Stupid!
Exactly. The issue is legality, not the content of the wiretapping program itself.  

The decision to go forward with this program appears to have been illegal. I agree with those who have concluded that it was illegal, although it's not crazy to conclude otherwise (as several prominent mainstream legal academics have done).

What IS 100% certain is that Bush and his advisors don't particularly care if they broke statutory law or not, because under their view the President can make up his own laws. There's a name for that system of policymaking, and it's neither republican nor democratic.

Bush has a lot in common with fellow LBJ in the areas of secrecy and his theory on executive power. That's not a good thing.  

by TomGilpin 2006-01-11 04:38AM | 0 recs
and the myth that Democrats appear weak
on National Defense, EXPLODED with the first plane that hit the world trade center on Sept 11, 2001.
by maximus7 2006-01-10 10:25PM | 0 recs
This poll bothers me
How can we have so many stupid people in this country? It all goes back to what I'd said in my last post: We've ceded power over the government without knowing it even while the government tewlls us that we still have it, which is the biggest bag-over-the-head hoax that the GOP has pulled off since Reagan made Gorbachev blink over Star Wars.
by jurassicpork 2006-01-11 02:04AM | 0 recs
It's already legal!
The worst thing by a mile is that it is already legal to tap a line without a warrant.

The problem is that the Bushies can't even be bothered to turn around and ask the FISA secret court to rubber stamp the decision.

It's an unnecessary overextension of powers where everything that is need to act is in fact already legal.

by jcjcjc 2006-01-11 02:40AM | 0 recs
Not Necessarily
Latest IPSOS-Reid Poll contradicts Rasmussen. Americans want warrants for spying:

by Boilermaker 2006-01-11 03:09AM | 0 recs
This poll is stupid.
I think we should spend 16 thousand dollars to ask the same questions worded slightly differently...
by NCDem 2006-01-11 03:27AM | 0 recs
Here is a 16,000 dollar question
"a difficult task since only three of the remaining 11 GOP Senators up for re-election in 2006--Sens. Conrad Burns in Montana, Jon Kyl in Arizona and Jim Talent in Missouri--appear to be even remotely vulnerable."

The 16,000 dollar question today is for Charlie Cook...does he still think that despite scandals and poll showing to the contrary that Burns (and Talent) are remotely vulnerable? I still can see some Montana morons swinging towards Burns when GW raises the terrorism issue. It would be interesting if Chaffey survives but DeWine, Santorum, Talent and Burns loose, whether the GOP would go after Specter and Chaffee and risk loosing the majority...would be even better if Specter holds the balance of power. m

by Boilermaker 2006-01-11 03:33AM | 0 recs
Everything we do is a "loser"
Consistently those who simplisticly but usefully can be typed as "DLCers" have been lecturing people who have been pushing back at Bush from the beginning as being out of the mainstream. Which kind of ignores the fact that on issue after issue the mainstream is beginning to flow in the channels we dug.

Democratic losses in 2002 were the direct result of leadership deciding that Bush-Lite was the only way to go. And much to most of the anti-Dean sentiment stemmed from the same "you don't oppose a popular war-time President" sentiments.

Well the way you knock numbers off is to state your opposition forthrightly and be proven right on the facts. A strategy of standing up and claiming "We are here to represent the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" is demonstrably working. Bush's numbers are down and that has nothing to do with Marshall Whittman types cowering in the corner whimpering "Wouldn't be prudent".

Unleash your inner FDR.

by Bruce Webb 2006-01-11 05:14AM | 0 recs
More education needed
I think the public just doesn't know what's going on with this story. What percentage of Americans know that the government can conduct searches without a warrant for up to 72 hours? I bet it's very low. That's why the polls are all over the map. The WaPo and AP polls are completely contradictory. And when that happens, people tend to revert to the partisan side. In fact, the differing wording in the questions may account for the difference (as Zogby pointed out). Fortunately, top Republican Senators like Specter and even Brownback have voiced concerns about this program and have pledged hearings. If more Republicans come out and criticize the program, I bet you'll see support for the program drop.
by elrod 2006-01-11 05:38AM | 0 recs
"After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of the President doing this?"

... I think it is safe to say that puts Bush's argument in a favorable light, framing the controversy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11....

In fact, as I understand FISA, warrantless wiretaps are legal (maybe not constitutional, but at least not illegal) for fifteen days after a major event like 9/11. The question shouldn't be whether it was OK for Bush to wiretap some phones "after 9/11," it should be whether it was OK for him to continue to do so for the next four years without asking Congress (even after the 2002 elections, which strengthened his hand) to legalize it, and without even disclosing he had done so until the NYT forced his hand!

by Mathwiz 2006-01-11 12:38PM | 0 recs


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