Progressive political blogs are abuzz with the fallout from the vote expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to permit warrantless wiretapping on American citizens. You can read about it all over the pro-democratic blogosphere.
But Glenn Greenwald has the most persuasive argument that Dems who voted against the FISA expansion need fear no political repercussions. As Greenwald explains in his Salon post “Attention Democrats: GOP fear-mongering does not work“:
There is no vast yearning in America to allow the President the power to eavesdrop on our conversations with no warrants or oversight. There is no powerful political movement in the heartland demanding unlimited executive power. The notion is patently false that it is politically fatal to insist that eavesdropping be conducted only with warrants, or that we abide by minimal norms of civilization in how we interrogate people, or that we grants basic due process rights to people before we detain them for life.
For the Democrats in Congress and their apologists who are claiming that they had no political choice but to enact the FISA expansions, this claim is conclusively disproven again and again…We do not need to wonder or speculate about what might happen if Democrats obstruct warrantless eavesdropping legislation and Republicans are then able to make an issue of it politically. That already happened in 2006. That was Rove’s whole strategy. It failed miserably, across the board. And yet the Democratic leadership just permitted, and many Democrats supported, a wild expansion of George Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping powers based on a jittery fear of this already-failed tactic, if not based on actual support for these increased eavesdropping powers.
The only ones left who jump at the mere utterance by George Bush of the word “Terrorists” are authoritarian right-wing followers, the Beltway media, and Democratic consultants. As the 2006 election demonstrated, the rest of America stopped jumping long ago.
Greenwald sees the fear expressed by some Democrats that being accused of being ‘soft on terrorism’ could defeat them as unrealistic:
How did that big, bad, scary “Soft-on-Terrorism” strategy work out? The Democrats crushed the Republicans in an historic election, re-taking control of both houses of Congress, protecting every single one of their incumbents, and vastly increasing their hold over governorships and states houses. Democrats won in every region of the country outside of the Deep South. Karl Rove’s strategy of accusing Democrats of being “soft on terror” due to their opposition to warrantless eavesdropping, lawless detention and torture was a complete failure on every level.
Greenwald cites the examples of Russ Feingold, an ardent critic of warrantless wiretapping, who won re-election in Wisconsin and Jon Tester who won in Montana, running on a complete repeal of the Patriot Act. Also this revealing example in the House:
Connecticut’s Nancy Johnson, a 12-term incumbent, repeatedly ran an ad accusing her challenger, Chris Murphy, of being weak on terrorism because he opposed warrantless eavesdropping. After 24 years in Congress, Johnson lost by 12 points. Murphy, who proudly opposed warrantless eavesdropping, is now in the U.S. Congress….
(To read the Republican spin on the FISA vote, see the National Review‘s editorial here.)
Greenwald makes a pretty convincing case that Democrats who voted against authorizing warrantless eavesdropping have little to worry about in terms of public opinion. Less clear is whether some of the 16 Democratic Senators and 41 Dem House members who who voted for it (list here) will pay a political price.