The Myth the Democrats' NSA position is "out of the mainstream"
by Ben P, Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 09:29:00 PM EST
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.
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.