I'm not going to jump to the phone and hassle my Senators over a political calculation that if the provisions expire, it'll hurt my side at the polls. I contact Senators or Representatives when I actually believe something is the right thing to do.
I am unconvinced that the reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act is the right thing to do. If it's a bad law, I'd rather it expire, whatever the short term political consequences.
I won't take conventional wisdom at face value - what I want to hear are specific, convincing arguments for why the expiring provisions should exist at all. Leahy and Sununu's letter to their colleagues - which doesn't have as its purpose justifying the importance of the expiring provisions - is unhelpful in this regard.
It may very well be that they are important powers, and that most are not offensive to civil liberties. But this case has to be made, and I just don't feel it has been. It's generally simply taken for granted that of course we need this law, trust us. I am disinclined to do so, and would like specific analyses supporting the value of this law.
Why? I need to be convinced that any of the expiring provisions need to be renewed before I start writing letters. Right now, I don't care if all 16 expiring provisions go away. Let the damn thing expire. But I'm open to being convinced otherwise.
For me, this underscores something I've been meaning to post in one of the "MyDD sponsored poll" threads. If part of the goal is to get MSM coverage, it's going to be incredibly important to be very careful about the wording of the questions. People like Morin are out there ready at a hair trigger to claim that the results aren't newsworthy because of biased wording.
So, for example, paradocs had a great suggestion, seconded with some modification by Paul Rosenberg, that began with:
President Bush has recently acknowledged that at his direction and with his approval the National Security Agency has been monitoring the communications of American citizens for some time within the United States without first obtaining a court warrant. Critics of this activity have pointed out that this violates federal law and the prohibitions against such in the United States Constitution.
But of course Bush has claimed it wasn't illegal, and even inasmuch as that might seem self-evident to us, chances are that many people believe him. I.e., it's part of the controversy. So, a more neutral way to phrase it would be something like:
[...]obtaining a court warrant. President Bush has argued that he has the legal authority to do this, and that he has carefully monitored the program to preserve civil liberties. Critics have argued that this violates federal law and prohibitions in the United States Constitution, and sidesteps the U.S. Congress.
Or some variant; then ask if people think it was illegal. This may be too long, and I'm not so much concerned with the specific example -- the point is that fine-grained edits will be incredibly important throughout the poll, to make sure they are as unimpeachably neutral as possible. Otherwise, the results will be too easily ignored by MSM editorial staff. Morin's assertion that even mentioning impeachment is biasing demonstrates what kind of a hurdle we have to jump over; squeaky-clean is going to need to be the rule.
We are not in 1984, and this is not a police state. You have not been tracked down and "disappeared" for stating this opinion. People are not routinely being locked up in gulags and tortured. You are not being watched in your home. Secret police do not routinely monitor internal domestic communications. There is no indication whatsoever that Bush plans to cancel the 2008 elections. This kind of hyperbole is not helpful to the progressive cause.
I'm not at all concerned about who is showing up on the high profile national shows; let the senior people have their "glory." This is the kind of issue that requires discussion in every local radio, TV, and newspaper market. No one is better placed than a home state Senator - except, perhaps, a local Representative - to get attention in a local media market.
If that's what the Senator is doing right now, reflected in the Peoria quote, then great! If not, then I'd like to see it happen - not just him, all of them. And over time, as more details filter out and investigations take place (or are stonewalled), progressively stronger statements on this matter are needed by Senate democrats in all their individual states.
This is not a run-of-the-mill legislative dispute; things will have to be loud, messy, and angry before the end.
I have no quarrel with Obama personally, as I've noted elsewhere in this thread. He may be doing exactly what I would like to see in Illinois; and frankly, not being from that state, it's not something I'll spend a lot of time investigating. I am reacting against treating this as just-another-dispute, business-as-normal.
It's not entirely clear to me what kind of action you have in mind.
This link provides access to his legislative record (ignore, of course, the usual meaningless list of concurrent resolutions and "sense of the Senate" resolutions). It strikes me as a bit more than an "empty suit's" record of involvement in crafting or proposing legislation.
He doesn't get a free pass for that, nor does any other senator. Division of labor is for bureaucratic purposes - it allows legislation to move through the Senate, and formal oversight responsibilities to be divided. But "it's not my job, ask them" would be a poor excuse for not taking an active role in a matter of principle and great importance for our republic. Each senator takes an oath to uphold the constitution.
He also, by the way, is one of the best prospects on the horizon to form a kind of political and oratorical bridge between this kind of rhetoric - foundational civil rights - and this kind - economic populism.
All this, too, is about potential, which is fine by me. Even if he tracked the meteoric rise of JFK, he'd not be a national nominee until 2012. IMO: ask me in 6 years or so.
There's a lot of enthusiasm for someone willing and able to articulate a unifying progressive vision. That's incredibly rare at the national level.
For my part, I think the talk of Obama as a '08 ticketmate is greatly premature. He's a young progressive with a great deal of potential and less than a year in federal office - but not yet a national leader. I'm more than happy to give him time to grow politically, and see where that leads.
But for all the buzz about Obama as a VP nominee, there are no indications whatsoever that he is angling for a nomination. Quite the contrary, he's tried to dampen his celebrity so that he can actually do his work. I respect that a great deal.
I generally ignore Bill Schneider. His segments are almost always just a repackaging of conventional wisdom. He's the classic opinion follower, rather than opinion leader, and his reading of polls tends to be very superficial - nothing that I couldn't have gone well beyond without his help.
Yes, the last few days have brought me steadily closer to that point of view. The latest story regarding FBI targeting of activist organizations with no violent history makes it even more urgent that we not look the other way. That's even if the FBI operations are entirely legal (which is most likely - it's not like the threshold is that high, despite the administration's apparent distaste for due process). As I mentioned in the update, this further illustrates the renewed focus on "the enemy within" - which, when transferred into the even more secretive world of intelligence agencies, is terribly dangerous.
So, I think this probably needs to be loud, noisy, and messy to get the American people's attention.
Still, in a way, Nelson bugs me more on this. As I noted below, Hagel, the Republican from the same state, voted to sustain the filibuster. I don't know Nebraska politics, but it seems to me like that should have provided him with sufficient cover, especially given his high approval ratings.
So, does this mean that he genuinely believes the Patriot Act is a good law, as written? Or is he hedging his bets politically, because of his coming reelection campaign, fearing a Cleland-smearing? Frankly, I'd rather it be the latter, because the former brings his judgement into serious question.
But, whatever... the important thing is that at least for now the filibuster stands in the way of this bill progressing, and with enough votes even if all Republicans were somehow brought to heel.