First Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald should be everybody's go-to guy on all matters Constitutional and law-talkin'. A phenomenal legal mind, Greenwald can at times get bogged down in legal details and be a bit cumbersome to read. He also is perhaps a bit tin-eared on the politics at time as such a Constitutional purist. But when he's right, he's usually right, and he has been leading the charge on FISA. I've nodded along with everything he's had to say on this, but today he really hits it out of the park.
Greenwald argues that running to the "center" on national security is a flawed and outdated strategy—because where they're running is actually away from the center, and the Democrats have proof of that right in front of them...
In the 2006 midterm election, Karl Rove repeatedly made clear that the GOP strategy rested on making two National Security issues front and center in the midterm campaign: Democrats' opposition to warrantless eavesdropping and their opposition to "enhanced interrogation techniques" against Terrorists. Not only did the Democrats swat away those tactics, taking away control of both houses of Congress in 2006, but more unusually, not a single Democratic incumbent in either the House or Senate -- not one -- lost an election.
Not only did they not lose seats, they regained both Houses and kicked GOP incumbents to the curb in bright red districts. So what the fuck are they doing now? Read the whole thing.
Next is Digby at Hullaballoo. While Greenwald eviscerates the current strategy, the always insightful Digby starts to divine the "why." She posits that it has nothing to do with FISA or any particular issue, and agrees this isn't a move to the center—they're already right of the center—but alleges that it's really part of a larger repudiation of the liberal base.
DC Democrats, through an incestuous/symbiotic relationship with the media mistakenly treat people like Russert, Matthews and Dowd as the "Everyman/woman." And come general election-time, they all regard the party base as "elites" that the Democratic candidate needs to distance themselves from:
And that raises an important question: if these rich, pampered celebrities are spokesmen for the Everyman, then who are the elites? Well, they're us, the liberal base of the Democratic party. And that's what this "run to the center" is really all about --- putting as much distance between the politicians and us as they can. It's not about being "serious" on national security or crime or family values. It's not even about appealing to swing voters. It's about repudiating liberalism.
[...] Repudiating liberalism is a symbolic gesture required of Democrats by the political establishment to prove that they are not elitists. And it goes beyond mere posturing on gay marriage or abortion. The national security challenge is always not to appear to be "an appeaser." The way you prove that is by refusing to appease the Democratic base...The entire construct is based upon Democrats distancing themselves from their most ardent supporters (which is quite convenient for Republicans.
Exactly. For twenty-plus years the fucking dumb-ass Democrats have somehow decided that a show of "strength" is not standing up to the opposition and for what is right—but to adopt the enemy's framework and instead repudiate your die-hard supporters.
How they cannot escape this circle is beyond me. The media and the GOP are laughing all the way to the bank and into office, the Democratic base ends up kicked in the teeth again and the party as a whole ends up looking weak, indecisive and disorganized and find themselves further marginalized and out of power. The ONLY time this pattern did not occur was in 2006—as Greenwald mentioned—the year we avoided that trap and kicked ass.
They appear to have learned NOTHING from that. And as far as Pelosi, Reid, Hoyer and all the other losers I think that's correct. They cannot shake free from their Daschle/Gephartian cautiousness.
I think Obama IS aware of it, and like many of his supporters we look to him to shake the party out of this stupor. That's what makes his collapse on FISA so disappointing. First, here's Digby:
That being the case, I'm not sure it's ever been realistic to expect Barack Obama to be the guy to challenge all this. He carries with him the strongest cultural signifiers a Democrat can carry to make the political establishment freak out: he's young, he's from big city politics, he's elite educated and, of course, he's black. As much as the "Everymen" like to think of themselves as beyond something silly like race, unless a black person is a Republican like Powell or Rice, he is automatically suspect [...] Under the system as it exists today, you can hardly be surprised that the first black Democratic nominee would be reluctant to break much more new ground than he already has.
I think there is a lot to that. But I also think Obama's appeal and success is driven by his resistance to status quo, and he's giving too much ground with this—I don't think it gains him much in the wider electorate, and I KNOW it hurts the enthusiasm of his base. Sure you want to pass up that public financing, Senator?
Digby looks at at the bigger picture, and notes that Democrats are spending their political capital on a huge shift by nominating a black man, and there is a price to pay for that...
Democrats have decided to use some of their political advantage of the moment to advance something important: the full equality of African Americans. In America, with our history, the symbolism of that means something quite real. But there is a trade off involved. He has less freedom of movement than someone like a John Edwards might have had...
[...] We chose serious symbolic change that has deep cultural meaning over serious ideological change that has deep political meaning. There's nothing inherently wrong with that --- the effects of such things are far reaching and incredibly important for the advancement of our society. You can't forget that Barack himself was born at a time when Jim Crow was still enshrined in the south. This is huge. But nothing comes free and having a politically moderate president at a time when a more explicit progressivism might have gotten a boost is the price we pay. The Village will only tolerate so much change at one time. If we want real political change, it's time to change the Village.
I think that's a bit of a cop-out. Digby is right to a point, but I don't think it's that stark of a choice. Both can be had. At least on some issues, and this should be one of them. And I have to believe given his druthers, Obama agrees. He has been adept at negotiating just about every minefield thus far, and I think his rhetorical gifts would allow him to adjust the conventional wisdom on this issue in particular. But for some reason there is this abrupt reversal.
What Greenwald and Digby both fail to mention is what I believe is happening around Obama on the FISA issue. I don't think he wanted to deal with this now, nor do I think this is the position he wants to take, but he has no choice. Reid and Pelosi both had control of when this issue came up and they made it happen NOW, and both allowed the ground to shift beneath Obama's feet. Particularly in the House, which until last week, has always been the stopper on Telecom Immunity. There has to be a reason this is happening, and I suspect it is because certain Democratic leaders need the immunity as badly as the administration and the telecoms.
Obama is already tasked with piecing together the party after the bitter primary season, and he cannot run against John McCain AND the Democrats in Congress. He's screwed. There are others (Dodd, Feingold, etc) who are valiantly, but futilely fighting this, but I think Obama entered into a truce when the superdelegates stepped in to decide the nomination—and the cover his support would provide Congress was the price.
Am I absolving Obama? NO. In fact, I'm still working to change his mind, but I don't really believe it's going to work. It's the larger mindset around him that got us into this mess that needs changing.