Peter Beinart is Making Sense on Censure

Peter Beinart writes a good analysis of the situation. Yes, I did just write that.

So Democrats should only eschew censure if, by so doing, they can make censure and impeachment what they historically have been: constitutional weapons wielded in only the rarest, gravest of circumstances. And that depends on the GOP. Prominent Republicans don't talk much about Clinton's impeachment today; it doesn't quite square with their more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger fretting about Bush hatred. But I don't know of a single major Republican politician or conservative pundit who has admitted the obvious: that impeaching Clinton was a farce and a disgrace, the likes of which we should pray never to see again. The Republican strategy on Feingold's censure effort is to keep calling it absurd without engaging it on the merits. But, on the merits, Feingold's case is much stronger. As former Reagan-era Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein has put it, Bush's actions are "more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath, because it [Bush's claim of nearly unlimited executive authority] jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages." If Republicans want to keep suggesting that censure (let alone impeachment) is a singularly extreme act to be taken only when our constitutional system is in peril, then they need to apologize for what happened in 1999. I'm not holding my breath.

But what about question number two: Is censure good for the Democrats? The conventional wisdom is that, by making Democrats look radical, Feingold has shot his party in the foot, if not the head. But some radicalism is politically useful, particularly in the long run. Liberal bloggers often make this point, and they're right: Occasionally you need to stake a position beyond what is mainstream in Washington--and take some hits--in the hope that you eventually redefine what "mainstream" is. Social Security privatization has always been a political loser for the GOP, and yet, by sticking with it for decades, they have made it politically respectable and shifted the terms of debate. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Massachusetts Supreme Court created a huge backlash when they pushed gay marriage, but, by putting it on the political agenda, they made civil unions--once a radical position itself--the centrist alternative.

So there's a value for Democrats in having Russ Feingold inject censure into the political debate. (In fact, a Newsweek poll found that 42 percent of Americans support the idea--more than backed the president's Social Security plan.) With censure as the extreme position, a full, tough investigation of the surveillance program now looks sober and reasonable, whereas, not long ago, that too might have seemed beyond the pale.

The challenge for Democrats, as The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne has pointed out, is to let some people push the bounds of acceptable opinion while others use the specter of radicalism to make modest, incremental progress. The press fetishizes party unity, but, in a way, what the Democrats need is creative disunity: different kinds of politicians who pursue different tactics but agree on a broader goal. Washington Democrats may not like Russ Feingold very much these days, but they--and the country--need him all the same.

This is exactly right.  Conservatives and Republicans have mastered the art of political theater.  Watch the charade of Republicans talking about how the last five years of massive spending growth under conservative Republican governance isn't conservative or Republican in nature.  

Censure has put investigations on the map.  It has moved Bush's legitimacy squarely into the realm of political discourse, and as such, is an important step forward.  If for no other reason, Democrats should be grateful to Feingold even as they sadly discuss the premature nature of his gesture.  After all, the Senate hasn't yet had investigated the President's actions.  When they do, we will know what the appropriate remedy is.

Tags: Peter Beinart (all tags)

Comments

24 Comments

Gore's speech played a very important role

With censure as the extreme position, a full, tough investigation of the surveillance program now looks sober and reasonable, whereas, not long ago, that too might have seemed beyond the pale.

Well, investigations were reasonable and non-partisan even earlier, if asked and pressed for using the right arguments.

Censure has put investigations on the map. It has moved Bush's legitimacy squarely into the realm of political discouse, and as such, is an important step forward.

You were there at Gore's speech (Video). I think that put the investigations on the course (although the speech was shut out of public debate by the MSM). Let us recall Gore's "indictment":

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.

The Democrats were pushing in various ways for investigations into the matter partly before, but more concertedly after the speech, as one can see for the wiki page on the controversy but here is what happened at some point.

Once things started steamrolling, with even some Republicans speaking against Bush's actions, Rove stepped in early Feb, and started spinning the wheels; he worked to align republicans with Bush. Next they tried to cover-up using future oversight as the trick to ignore past actions.

If for no other reason, Democrats should be grateful to Feingold even as they sadly discuss the premature nature of his gesture.

If the issue was his primary concern, Feingold would have and should have talked to his colleagues first. He could have rebelled afterwards, if they didn't cooperate.

After all, the Senate hasn't yet had investigated the President's actions.  When they do, we will know what the appropriate remedy is.

Yes, the proper course of action was already laid out by Gore in his speech which you bore witness to. It contained almost all ingredients needed to make a "full, tough" investigation into the matter.

I studied the developments before and after the speech and came away with one aspect not covered in his speech, namely security clearances. The whitehouse and GOP have been using them as the main tool for blocking investigation (as well as to justify the way they went about with the wiretaps program).

Then there was that signing statement by Bush on patriot act reauthorization, where he went ahead and declared effectively dictatorial powers to himself.

Based on all of these, I have hammered out a plan, attributable to Gore and a few other opinions. Here is that plan:


A Comprehensive Plan
for Holding the Administration Accountable

  1. Demand a special counsel investigation into warrantless wiretaps, with suitable clearances being granted for the investigation, and operating in the FISA court, if necessary

  2. Form a congressional panel to look into the classification requirements being claimed by the administration on wiretaps.

  3. Establish whistleblower protections.

  4. Demand telephone companies to cease and desist complicity with wiretaps and other forms of surveillance outside the purview of existing laws including FISA.

  5. Filibuster any bills that attempt to retroactively justify the circumvention of the law by the administration.

  6. Conduct congressional inquiries into the wiretaps (e.g. Sen. Byrd's S. 2362) as well as various other matters of administrative dysfunction (as in Rep. Conyers' HR 635).

  7. Dem leaders should make extensive media appearances informing the public about the excesses of the administrations and its attempts to sidestep the constitution, and soundly argue for taking appropriate actions to remedy the situation

  8. If the Whitehouse and the Rubberstamping GOP stonewall and shut out getting to the bottom of the NSA wiretaps, then censure Bush for doing that.
  9. Optionally, Draft articles of impeachment on Bush's declared dictatorial intent, claims of "unitary executive" privileges, which are instantiated by the arrogation of power on warrantless wiretaps.

All in all, special counsel investigation is the key, and coupled with a conrgessional panel, one could have a full and thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the matter.

by NeuvoLiberal 2006-04-02 08:24PM | 0 recs
Price for valor

Not to mention, as a payback for Gore's valiant speech, Rove seems to have arranged to hammer Gore down hard for his remarks at Jeddah, which were no different from what he had said in various speeches before then.

Given Rove's history of Machiavellian designs, one can even imagine him having planted the quetions posed at the forum to Gore, with the idea to quickly followup with a massive attack. Rovian tit for tat? Perhaps.

by NeuvoLiberal 2006-04-02 08:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Gore's speech played a very important role

Very interesting "Comprehensive Plan"

I would like to propose that a comprehensive plan include pushing for a speedy court review.

Whether or not you support Schumer's plan to seek a review of the spying by the Supreme Court or a review by the Special court, I believe that any comprehensive plan should include involvement by the Judicial branch of government.

It is only by work through 2 branches that any resolution is likely to be reached.  "Rule of law" needs to be a consistent theme.

This is not just a partisan political issue, and emphasis on the courts help illustrate that.

Most Americans are unsure whether or not Bush's actions are legal or not.  Many see it as a political fight and would like a definitive resolution.  Part of any comprehensive plan should be getting it to the Supreme Court as soon as possible to review.

by Catch 22 2006-04-03 05:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Gore's speech played a very important role

Good comment.

Part of any comprehensive plan should be getting it to the Supreme Court as soon as possible to review.

I concur.

But it appears that Sen. Schumer's resolution S. 2468 would be a measure for regular folk to file charges if they suspect that they're being spied upon, and have them put on a fast track to the SCOTUS. According to Kagro X at daily Kos:

If the bill were enacted and enforced as written, anyone who claims to have refrained from engaging in some communications for fear of being monitored could sue.

What I'd like to see in addition is a way to get the issue of the appropriateness of the already committed actions the Bush admin (the circumvention of FISA being the main charge) get argued in the Supreme Court, without much delay.

The extent to which a such a case would probe into fact finding and discovery would depend on how it is cast, but we certainly want to understand if the program is actually (secretly) far broader than what NYT reported. That's where a special counsel with clearnace would be very useful. It is better than a congressional investigation because politics will be taken out, if the case is being handled by someone like Fitzgerald.

by NeuvoLiberal 2006-04-03 07:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Peter Beinart is Making Sense on Censure

You know you've entered the twilight zone as a nation when a very sober Senator from a midwestern state is portrayed as a "radical" for thinking that the President should uphold his Constitutional obligations and follow the law as Congress has defined it.  

by global yokel 2006-04-02 08:25PM | 0 recs
Beinart is Wrong

I understand the point that you and Beinart are making.  But, you guys, and most in the blogosphere are just wrong on this issue.  At least in regard to the politics of censure.

Here is why.  Is there ANY issue, really any issue, that the Republicans would rather run on then whether the government should be  wiretapping the phones of potential terrorists, with or without probable cause.  Maybe gay marriage, but there is certainly no substantive issue in which it would be better for the Republicans to have dominate the 2006 election then this.  

Yeah, I know that there have been a myriad of polls on this, some showing that there is a modest plurality for the proposition that the Government should have probable cause before conducting wiretaps.  Well, there are three reasons why this does not change my position.  First, this argument is extremely easy for the Republicans to distort our position.  They can make the issue appear to be that the Dems are defending the rights of Arabs to make long distance calls to their terrorist friends without a wiretap. Second, these polls dont measure intensity.  I doubt if the average voter really cares about this.  I certainly never seen this rate at all when voters are asked the issues that they care about.  I surmise that the great majority who say they favor the Dems position will not cast their vote based on this issue. But even more importantly, even if we could get our very nuanced position to be understood by the public, and there is more intensity of regarding this position that I think there is, the polls show only a modest plurality support our position.

So, here is my point.  Why center so much of the 2006 campaign around the one issue where Bush is at least competitive.  The margins that oppose Bush on Iraq, on the economy, on healthcare, on trade, on the minimum wage, or pure competency dwarf the several times the small plurality that may support our position on illegal wiretaps.

Now, you may say, but no one is suggesting making 2006 campaign centered around illegal wiretaps.  But that is exactly what Finegold and the blogosphere is doing by its near obsession with this issue.  Compare the amount of blogs on this site and on DailyKos devoted to the wire-tapping/FISA/Censure issue versus any other issue.  Very very rarely do the lead bloggers talk about issues that matter to voters. . . healthcare, education, trade, very low wages, etc.  Feingold and the blogosphere are sucking the oxygen out of these issues.

What makes this whole approach so maddening to me is that censure wont even stop Bush from doing what he is doing.  Does Feingold really want Bush to stop?  Take him to court.  That is the only way he will actually stop.

Meanwhile, let's not participate in making the election of 2006 turn on the one substantive issue where Republicans are at least in the game.  Let's focus on the issues domestic and security issues that the people do care about. . . the ones I have mentioned here.  

by Andy Katz 2006-04-02 08:29PM | 0 recs
well...

what's nuanced about saying that noone, not even the president, gets to break the law?  What's nuanced about saying that this is an outright power grab--that the government had all the information needed before september 11th, and was unable to process the information properly, and thus, the claim that super-legal governmental powers are needed to gather more information is total bullshit?

If Dems were willing to call the republicans on their bullshit rebuttals to all this, using phrases like "I believe that the senator from __ is missing the point on this one..." or "this has nothing to do with terrorists and everything to do with democracy and seperation of powers...", you know, the type of phrases that indicate to the audience that the republican response is 100% distraction, then I think that the public would not be so confused on this issue.

If it got distilled down to "The president broke the law, and I believe that noone gets to break the law," then I think the numbers would get significantly shifted.  The public doesn't need to hear every nuance of the FISA law to understand that point.

by Valatan 2006-04-02 09:36PM | 0 recs
Re: well...

I completely agree.  A trained monkey should be able to cut through the painfully obvious smoke-and-mirrors act put on by Bush's apologists.

After 4 1/2 long years of the Bush presidency, are we really still mired in "but Republicans will say..."?

by space 2006-04-02 09:54PM | 0 recs
Re: well...

I agree that we should ignore what Republicans say, EXCEPT when what they say could hurt us polically.

Neither you nore anyone else has really answered why we should concentrate on an issue that is, relative to the whole issue universe, one of Bush's strongest.

by Andy Katz 2006-04-03 10:15AM | 0 recs
Re: well...

Here's a problem with your idea to boil our position on this issue to "he broke the law; no one is above the law."  Our position IS more nuanced then that.

For examle, let's say a congressional candidate in a winnable district against an incumbent Republican is reading this site.  How would you suggest he/she answer this in a debate: My opponent says that his/her only concern is that the President is violating the law.  First, he/she is wrong, under the President's Constitutional war making power the President has exactly the authority he is excercising.  Im afraid the Constitution trumps any act passed by Congress.  Second, I TRUST THAT MY WORTHY OPPONENT TO JOINS ME IN URGING CONGRESS TO AMEND THE FISA LAW, PASSED BEFORE 911 AND PART OF THE PRE 911 MINDSET SO MANY DEMOCRATS HAVE, TO CLARIFY THAT THE PRESIDENT HAS THE POWER TO ORDER THESE ANTI TERRORIST ACTIVITIES.

What would you advise the congressional candidate to say?  If the issue is one of legality, then the issue is primarily removed once the law is changed.  And on what basis would the Democrats have to oppose altering the law if the President's violation of the law is the only issue?

Yet, most Democrats do and have opposed granting the President this authority.  Apparently, this issue is more complex then you state.

All this aside, it still makes no sense to center the '06 campaign on the one issue that Bush has at a least respectable amount of support.  

by Andy Katz 2006-04-03 11:21AM | 0 recs
Re: well...

To the first point, I would tell her/him to say that the constitition gives noone the power to trump the 4th amendment.  He does not have the power that he claims to have.  Warrantless searches are unconstitutional.  period.

To the second point, I would instruct them to remind the audience that the United States of America are an idea--an idea built upon the freedoms of the people against government encroachment.  If the republicans want to run on an anti-freedom anti-constitution platform, trying to scare people, I would advise our hypothetical candidate to go the route of simply saying 'give me liberty, or give me death' or 'those who trade their liberty for security deserve neither.'  

I really don't see the nuance.  We oppose warrantless searches.  The Bush administration supports them.  Should this be the only thing the dems run on?  of course not.  But it should certainly be one of the themes of the campaign--the republicans don't believe in the rules.  They don't believe in a fair shake for everyone.  The progressives believe that we are all in this together, for better or worse.  

by Valatan 2006-04-03 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: well...

Honestly, you make a good point.  I have never seen it said anywhere that FISA can not be amended to allow wireless searches, but that seems to be true, at least not amended in a way compatible with the Constitution.

I still dont think giving prominence to the issue of "he broke the law," which is what my earlier post was in reply to, is a winner.  Some voters we could otherwise get to support us will succumb to the Republican attack that we are more interested in protecting the civil liberties of terrorists then we are in protecting the safety of Americans.  Moreover, many other voters we could get to support us will just dismiss the whole thing as a "Democrat says/Republican says" type argument as the Rs will just counter by saying, "the Constitution gives the President this power."

And, again, it makes no sense to fight this out on what is relatively speaking the President's strongest issue.

One last comment:  I want to clarify that I am not in favor of the timid, DCCC type campaign.  I am in favor of the party taking bold, progressive stands on issues; in making a clear distinction of where we stand versus where they do.  I just think we should concentrate on the progressive issues that poll better both in popularity and in voter salience.

by Andy Katz 2006-04-03 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: well...

fair enough.  And I agree on a level, especially with your original point--this needs to be a part of a much bigger theme--in isolation, this issue is probably a loser for the reasons you cite, but in terms of an overall theme of "we're all in this together, and the Republicans disagree," I think this can be a very powerful issue

by Valatan 2006-04-03 09:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Beinart is Wrong

It's pretty simple, Andy.  If Democrats aren't going to oppose the President now, they won't oppose him in the majority either.  And all those nice issues you speak of will be irrelevant.

by Matt Stoller 2006-04-02 09:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Beinart is Wrong

Matt, how does what you say make sense at all?  How exactly does the Democrats doing as I am suggesting-laying off this issue and concentrating on issues where the public support is much more overwelming then it is for the one your defending and more important to THEM make the "nice issues" I "speak of" irrelevant?

You're a good blogger Matt, but that makes no sense.

by Andy Katz 2006-04-03 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Beinart is Wrong

We need to present a contrast.  Doing so requires some principled stands, as well as a bunch of focus on 80/20 issues.  

by Matt Stoller 2006-04-03 10:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Beinart is Wrong

Im not sure I understand what you are saying here.  Im not trying to be snarky, I really am not sure what you mean.  Maybe Im just dense or we're not on the same wave length.

To "parse out" what you wrote: "We need to present a contrast."  I agree.  But why not make the contrast on our stronger issues rather then our weaker ones.

"Doing so requires some principled stands."  Amen, again I agree completely.  But what is "unprincipled" about making the election focus on issues in which our position is more popular and more salient to the voters, i.e. getting out of Iraq, ecomonic justice and opportunity, improving the availability while controlling the cost of health care. Economic justice is my highest political principal and I believe I am as good of a progressive as you.

What you seem to be saying, taking the whole sentence togeter, is that we have to "prove" our principles by running on issues that are less popular.  In effect, run on issues because they are less popular in order to prove that we have principles.  I am not sure you are saying that, but if you are that seems like an ironic way to try to win elections.

by Andy Katz 2006-04-03 04:09PM | 0 recs
GOP Response

Playing devil's advocate, here's how I'd respond to anyone who said that the President broke the law:

"Wait a minute. He's allowed to kill terrorists, but he can't spy on them?"

Remember; the response doesn't have to be a point-by-point refutation in order to be effective. And in order to be effective, all it has to do is muddy up the ground.

by Arkhangel 2006-04-02 10:58PM | 0 recs
Re: GOP Response

The President's allowed to "kill terrorists"?

So, he's allowed to tell us who the terrorists are, and allowed to kill them.  Sounds like you've just given him the divine right to rule the country without opposition.

Here's your rebuttal.  UNDER FISA, THE PRESIDENT WAS ALREADY ALLOWED TO SPY ON TERRORISTS!

The President broke the law because the NSA program goes well beyond spying on terrorists.  For all we know, the President is eavesdropping on converstions between political opponents of his.  And before we go giving him the benefit of the doubt:

a) that's exactly what JFK, LBJ and Nixon did before FISA became law

and

b) all three of them are, generally speaking, way ahead of Bush on the honesty scale.  Bush has combined the worst features of LBJ (lying to start a war) and Nixon (where do I start?)

The path taken whereby we all turn a blind eye to the lawbreaking can only lead to worse things.  Once the precedent is set that the President can pick and choose which laws he can ignore, where do we go from here?  How will that undermine the concept of "rule of law" 10 years from now?  20 years from now?  

Unchecked, this is the path of transformation from republic to dictatorship.  This is a very serious issue and it's sad to see so many people squeamish about the fight.

(You know, most people are smarter than you give them credit for being, and the public in general really wants the President to obey the law.  Show me a poll that asks the question:  "Should the President obey the law?" and numbers that say "no")

by RickD 2006-04-03 06:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Beinart is Wrong

The way Rove wins elections is by attacking the strongest trait of the opposition candidate, and then deconstructing it to make the candidate look weaker.  The way the Democrats lose elections is by shying away from the strongest trait of the opposition candidate, and thereby making the opposition candidate look stronger.

Look, the idea that the nation is stronger because the President is willing to break the law is ludicrous.  This point needs to be hammered home repeatedly until the public accepts it.  There are a lot of people in the cult of Bush who will have a knee-jerk negative reaction to any kind of criticism of him.  And yet, to beat them man, he has to be taken down.  

For the long-term health of the Democratic party, it is vitally important that we do not continue to repeatedly cede the issue of national security to the Republicans.  While they claim to be licking their chops at the prospect of having this be the battleground, what really gets their ships sailing is the prospect of yet another Democratic wimp-out.  

Or, to put it another way, how can the American public trust a Democratic president to hold the Chinese, Russians, Arabs, Koreans, Indians, Pakistanis, etc. accountable if he is unwilling to even stand up to a domestic political rival?  The image of weakness is killing the party, and shying away from battles like this only serves to undermine our position.  

(BTW links to TNR articles are not all that useful to me...so I have no idea what Beinart wrote.)

by RickD 2006-04-03 05:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Peter Beinart is Making Sense on Censure

"The conventional wisdom is that, by making Democrats look radical, Feingold has shot his party in the foot, if not the head."

No one except someone who believes the daily lies and spin of the corporate mass deception media could believe that censuring this lying, election stealing, war-mongering, graft-loving, incompetent dunce is a radical political response.

Conventional wisdom is not the root of the problem, Stocholm syndrom within the "conventional" wing of the democratic party is the problem.

It must smell pretty bad when your head is stuck so far up your butt and been there so long you can't even remember what daylight looks like and what real common sense among non-cowards would have you do.

by leschwartz 2006-04-03 04:07AM | 0 recs
The only way Bush will actually stop

Does Feingold really want Bush to stop?  Take him to court.  That is the only way he will actually stop.

This is harder to do than it sounds. To sue, you must have standing  (you must be personally injured). Thus you need a plaintiff who has been the vicitim of illegal wiretapping.

The thing is, the administration isn't telling who they have spied upon with  illegal wiretapping- they are just admitting that they are wiretapping without court order.

I only know of one possible plaintiff so far- a defense lawyer in a terrorism case.

What will happen (and has happened) is that defense lawyers in terrorism cases will motions to exclude the government's evidence in their cases as illegally obtained.

by molly bloom 2006-04-03 04:08AM | 0 recs
Re: The only way Bush will actually stop

I have some understanding of standing.  While not an expert, my understanding, or perhapes misunderstanding, is that organizations, such as the ACLU, can gain standing by standing in the place of the citizenry as a whole.  

Seriously, I know this is commonly done in environmental cases anyways.

by Andy Katz 2006-04-03 10:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The only way Bush will actually stop

Organizatonal standing is a remote possibilty, I suppose. I have only seen it done in enviromental cases and didn't consider it here.

I suspect this court won't enlarge the standing requirement for this case, BUT I could be wrong. Scalia, Thomas and Alito would certainly oppose it. Roberts probably would as well, leaves it up to Kennedy.

by molly bloom 2006-04-04 03:56AM | 0 recs

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