Tuesday, December 27, 2005


There’s been a decent amount of posting about how the Democrats, by even getting angry at the FISA scandal, are taking Republican bait ( Ross, PPI, etc). The idea is that to the public you can never be viewed as “too extreme on National Security”. If there was graft or stupidity sure, but simply breaking some civil liberties in order to find Osama bin Laden will always… well not be appreciated, but at least won’t hurt you in the long run. It’s the theory of costly signals – you say something that appears harmful to you (such as illegal wiretaps), but when people wonder what side you are on, there is never any doubt. It simply means that when the next election comes around, people will still think of Republicans as the party of more national security, any attempts to make equivalence on the issue by Democrats will be ruined, and since people always want more national security, they’ll vote Republican. This isn’t to say the whole scandal is a Republican ploy, but just rather that people on both the right and left are saying Democrats (for their sake) should shut up.

The presumption here lies in thinking National Security is always the trump suit. Running explicitly on dove-ishness doesn’t win elections, no, but if the American people always valued strong national security over everything else, then we’d already be an authoritarian state. Americans know the important of moderation, and they also value civil liberties. It is the responsibility of our leaders to demonstrate when there is a cost-benefit calculation that needs to be made. If the public wishes, the President could start doing constitutionally questionable activities without asking the authorization of Congress or informing the public, because our enemy is just that dangerous. Or the public could wish otherwise. The important thing for Democrats and their media-representatives to do is present the costs and benefits of this situation, and allow the public’s wish for civil liberties and checks and balances to assert itself.

In short: as the landscape stands, this scandal isn't helpful to the Democrats, but the point of this scandal is to change the landscape.


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