Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Senate Intel Postmortems, Round II of Many

(UPDATE, THURS. MARCH 9, 6:47 AM PT: For background, consider the Washington Post postmortem of the Intelligence Committee vote here. This WaPo editorial also has some insights, IF you can ignore all 372 inappropriate uses of the adjective "moderate." There ain't nothing moderate about what the Republicans are doing.)
I promised some sort of postmortem, and game plan, following yesterday's Senate Intelligence Committee vote to, once again, relieve themselves all over our liberties and cleanse themselves with the Constitution.

The one thing I'm sure of is that yesterday's vote was not in any true sense a defeat for us. I had hoped for a victory -- we're due one! -- but given the degree of control the Bush regime holds over our government, and the absolute obedience they demand of their followes, the vote was not a surprise or a defeat. If we do nothing, we'll always lose. If we work hard, we'll still lose -- at first. But then we'll eventually win one, and then another one. The losses are to be expected, and they shouldn't discourage us. We will eventually win.

A lot of options remain open to us, and a lot of work remains to be done, following yesterday's vote. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts on the issue:

1. For some superb post-game analysis, you can’t beat Glenn Greenwald’s post today. He’s exactly right; read him. Jane Hamsher at FDL also has a couple of good posts, as do Think Progress and Georgia10 at Kos (and also here). The consensus: we’re not done, not by a long shot.

2. This episode has made me think about the reality that Republicans can be Vichys, too. In the past, VichyDems has sought to clean its own house -- the Democratic Party -- by trying to identify, and then either reform or eliminate, Democrats who empower and enable the Bush administration’s gradual infringement of our civil liberties. But we cannot forget that there are Republicans who win elections by pretending to be relatively progressive but sell our liberties short when political pressure is applied; those enablers need to be identified and eliminated, too. As Jane Hamsher pithily put it: there is no such thing as a moderate Republican. There used to be, but there aren’t anymore. We’ll still focus on errant Democrats here, but we’ll save some powder for supposed “moderates” like Snowe who’ve let our nation down. We’re Americans first, and have a right to be mad.

3. Some sour grapes, and some sweet ones: While Senate Intelligence Committee hearings into the NSA surveillance program would have been tremendously helpful -- for one thing, its members have the clearance necessary to gain access to operational details that even regular Senators aren’t permitted to see -- it’s also true that Intelligence Committee hearings would have been conducted behind closed doors. They would have given helpful information to key Democratic Senators like Jay Rockefeller, and might have helped rein in the maverick White House and NSA, but they wouldn’t have resonated with the public like Judiciary Committee hearings -- carried on C-Span -- will.

And there almost certainly will be further Judiciary Committee hearings. For one thing, that Committee may be recalling the Attorney General, who said one thing to the Committee last month then said something different in “corrections” he submitted later. Those “corrections” suggest that there may, indeed, be other programs like the one we know about. Inquiring minds want to know. For another thing, the “compromise” that Frist and Roberts apparently foisted on the Intelligence Committee’s Republicans will almost certainly need to be reflected in legislation amending or complementing FISA -- and legislation of that kind will go to the Judiciary Committee and then to the floor for a vote. Again, that’s another Judiciary Committee whack at the ball, and more publicity.

4. Don’t forget the House. The House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees may choose to take a bite at this apple, and any legislation will need to go to the House floor. More chances to investigate, more publicity on C-Span.

5. Why do I keep mentioning the importance of publicity? Because the American people don’t like this NSA program, and if we keep it in the public eye, the people may exact retribution from Republicans in November and replace them with Democrats who can be trusted to monitor the White House’s shenanigans more jealously. (It doesn’t matter to me whether the specific Republicans responsible for this program, like Snowe, Hagel and Roberts, are up for re-election; voters tend to think in generalities, and if they believe that Republicans in general are covering for the White House, and that Democrats in general will keep an eye on them, Democrats will gain.)

Plus, regardless of party politics, programs like this one don’t flourish in the sunlight. And the longer issues like this remain in public view, the greater the chance that a whistleblower will muster the courage to step forward. So keeping the ball in the air -- as even this compromise is likely to do -- is a good thing.

6. The Senate Intelligence Committee vote yesterday was party-line. That means that the Committee’s Democrats stuck together -- which, sorry to say, is a victory in itself. When we fought the Alito nomination, we swayed some Democrats to the cause (Feinstein, Clinton), but others still left the fold and voted for cloture and even, in a couple of cases, for Alito himself. This time, albeit on a smaller scale, the party’s ranks held firm. That ain’t nothing.

7. This was a good early test of the Roots Project. The goal of that project has been to generate networks of “netroots” activists in each state. We’re only a few states into the project, but we did have at least rudimentary networks in place in key states: Roberts’ (Kansas), Snowe’s (Maine), and Hagel’s (Nebraska). Those networks were able to generate publicity and constituent contacts, which are infinitely more persuasive than out-of-state lobbying. And those networks remain in place to punish those senators, and support their incumbents, in the future.

8. The Republicans paid a price for this victory. We’re not sure yet what that price was, but it couldn’t have come cheap. As I reported yesterday, even as the meeting started, Senators Roberts, Hagel and DeWine (who’s not even on the Intelligence Committee, but is the White House’s point lackey on the NSA coverup) were huddled in a corridor negotiating. That suggests that Hagel was still holding out, and Roberts and DeWine were still offering carrots of some kind. That’s a HUGE step forward from where we were just a few months ago, when the White House was a juggernaut that got everything it asked for without having to pay for it. Anytime citizens activism can make a Republican initiative more costly in terms of political capital, that’s a gain for us. And I believe we accomplished that here.

SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW? Several things.

First, we need to communicate our displeasure to Senators Snowe and Hagel. That means that Maine and Nebraska residents need to write letters to the editor (Maine newspapers Nebraska newspapers) underscoring how Snowe and Hagel sold out their oath to the Constitution and proved themselves mere puppets of a criminal White House. That also means Maine and Nebraska residents need to email, telephone and fax Snowe’s and Hagel’s offices (DC and in-state) and tell them, over and over, for the next several weeks, what traitors and sellouts they are. And it means that, in the future, VichyDems will work to identify solid challengers to those senators -- whether nominally progressive Republicans in the primaries, or Democrats in the generals -- and encourage citizens to work for them instead of Snowe and Hagel.

Second, we need to keep developing the Roots Project. We have campaigns planned for Ohio (DeWine), Pennsylvania (Specter), and South Carolina (Graham), among others, and we need participation from people with roots in those states, so we can bring pressure to bear on the Judiciary Committee when this little farce moves to that stage. (If you’re a blogger or activist in those states and want to be involved on the ground floor, email us at

Third, we need the rest of our senators and congresspeople to know we’re not letting this issue disappear. Call your own representatives and let them know you’re mad as hell about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s abdication of its responsibilities, and that you STILL want real hearings, dammit! At least let them know you’re still awake out there. The Capitol Hill switchboard is 888-355-3588.

Fourth, keep informed and active. We still don’t know exactly what the Republicans’ secret deal looks like, or where it’s going next, but when we do, we’ll move fast to shed sunlight on it. So please, bookmark VichyDems or subscribe to our mailing list (put subscribe in the subject line), or bookmark Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory or Jane Hamsher and ReddHedd’s firedoglake or John Amato's Crooks and Liars, and check there regularly to see what’s up. Something WILL be up. And when it is, we’ll jump on it. Again and again and again.

Until we win.


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