E.J. Dionne has an odd column about “why the Democrats caved” on the surveillance bill passed by Congress last week. Though often wrong, Dionne is rarely in doubt. This time, however, he fails to take a firm position on whether Democrats should have voted for the president’s bill once the only alternative was recessing without doing anything to fix FISA legislation that even Nancy Pelosi’s spokesperson Brendan Daly agreed “needed to be fixed.” Dionne clearly believes there were better ways to fix the FISA process, but he acknowledges that none of these approaches remained on the table as the clock ticked down last weekend.
While Dionne can’t quite bring himself to condemn outright the Democrats (including some liberals) who voted to give the president what he said he needed, he has no such qualms when it comes to Republicans. They are to blame for “politicizing” the issue, an act Dionne deems “disgraceful” since “an issue of such import should not be debated in a political pressure cooker.”
But information about what terrorists are up to is central to our efforts to prevent deadly attacks on Americans. Thus, opposition to legislation that makes it easier to obtain such information will, and should be, highly controversial. Complaints about such controversy are best viewed as an effort to preempt one side of the debate on this matter, the side Dionne disagrees with. This tactic is standard fare for Dionne.
It might also be noted that this issue became “politicized” only after word of the NSA intercept program was leaked to the New York Times. Prior to that time, the program apparently was not controversial among those who knew about it, including key Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle, Jane Harmon, and Jay Rockefeller. If anyone politicized the issue, it was the Democrats once the leak occurred.
However, there’s little point in rehearsing this history or in alleging bad faith on the part of those who raise important concerns about our civil liberties. The focus should instead be on the merits. And on this score, despite his purported interest in high-minded debate, Dionne offers his readers virtually nothing.
JOHN adds: I think it’s worth noting, too, that the administration’s proposal has been on the table since April. If, in the end, it was being debated in a “political pressure cooker,” it was only because the Democratic leadership stalled until the last possible moment before addressing it, probably because they hoped they could kill the legislation without ever having to vote on it.
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