Sunday, February 19, 2006

When they divide, we conquer.

From a Newsweek piece on Dick Cheney's possibly-waning influence:

It was possible to dimly discern Cheney's shakier footing last week in the ongoing dispute with Capitol Hill over warrant-less eavesdropping. Uneasy about the administration's disregard for the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court warrants to eavesdrop on communications into the United States, three Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee were agitating for greater oversight. Cheney, who has been the most aggressive defender of the administration's power to wage war (including spying) without congressional approval, went up to the Hill to quell the rebellion. For several hours on Tuesday, he met behind closed doors in the intelligence committee's secret hearing room with the senators. Two days later intelligence committee chairman Pat Roberts, a staunch Bush ally, was able to put off a vote on whether to open an investigation.

It appeared that Cheney, though pale and obviously distressed by his hunting accident, was still capable of quietly exerting influence. But then Roberts began showing some restlessness. He began suggesting that perhaps the wiretapping program should be brought under FISA after all. His remarks came after the White House seemed to soften a little and suggest that it would be willing to disclose more information about the program and talk to senators about changing the law. Suddenly, Cheney no longer seemed so all-powerful, so sure of getting his way.

One thing the Republicans excel at is exploiting any fissures that appear in the Democratic ranks. That is one reason it is so important to keep wayward Democrats on the reservation right now: we don't have the luxury of being a wide-open, always-conscience-voting party when we're in the minority and faced with an enemy that systematically and even viciously will exploit any divisions we show. (Let's gain a substantial majority of both Houses of Congress, and of the electorate, and of the appellate bench, and THEN we may have that luxury, which I would love.)

We need to learn from the Rs on this. When one of their leaders starts looking shaky, and divisions appear in their unity, we need to be there with a wedge and a big mallet (or, as here, with a lot of little mallets; same effect).

Which, ultimately, is why we keep making those stupid damned phone calls.

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