A Matter of Trust

Glenn Greenwald has a very cogent follow-up on the Democrats' giving in to the White House to revise and expand the FISA act over the weekend. The biggest fear among the leadership is that by standing up to the administration and demanding that the revisions to the law don't decimate the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution or put the power to determine who gets listened in on in the hands of an incompetent hack, i.e. the Attorney General, the Republicans and their campaign juggernaut, led by Karl Rove, will run roughshod over the Democratic candidates next fall and help the GOP regain the House and Senate and keep the White House in their talons.

The problem, though, is that is precisely what the GOP did in 2006 and it didn't work.
How did that big, bad, scary "Soft-on-Terrorism" strategy work out? The Democrats crushed the Republicans in an historic election, re-taking control of both houses of Congress, protecting every single one of their incumbents, and vastly increasing their hold over governorships and states houses. Democrats won in every region of the country outside of the Deep South. Karl Rove's strategy of accusing Democrats of being "soft on terror" due to their opposition to warrantless eavesdropping, lawless detention and torture was a complete failure on every level.

Following along with Rove's scheme, numerous incumbent GOP candidates attempted to exploit Democratic opposition to warrantless eavesdropping in order to save their campaigns. Connecticut's Nancy Johnson, a 12-term incumbent, repeatedly ran an ad accusing her challenger, Chris Murphy, of being weak on terrorism because he opposed warrantless eavesdropping. After 24 years in Congress, Johnson lost by 12 points. Murphy, who proudly opposed warrantless eavesdropping, is now in the U.S. Congress.
There's a lot of excuse-making going around about why the Democrats didn't hold their ground: the bill will expire in six months and between now and then the Democrats promise to really work hard to "fix" it (I've already had my say about that); that the new bill closes a technical loophole in the old law that really did need to be closed, and that the Democrats got bamboozled by the White House when the reasonable compromise that they'd worked out with the Director of National Intelligence was torpedoed by the president. It all sounds suspicously like the dog ate the homework, and even Fred Hiatt at the Washington Post editorial board, who normally rolls over and begs for a bellyrub from the White House, isn't buying it.
To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions.
There's also a larger issue here, and that's the matter of trust. To put it plainly, the vast majority of Americans do not trust their government, and in particular this administration, to do the right thing. Whether it's conducting the so-called war on terror that even Newt Gingrich calls phony, sending our soldiers to invade a country that didn't attack us, or rebuilding a city after a hurricane, providing guidance on energy independence, or even hiring and firing the civil servants in the Department of Justice, the Bush administration has, by intent or just plain incompetence, violated the trust of the American people in everything it has touched and then found excuses, scapegoats or political fingerpointing to get away with it. The sheer audacity of the mendacity itself can boggle the mind, and what's even worse, the knee-jerk supporters of the administration accept these weak strains as their version of reality. They've lowered their standards of decency and competency in order to enable and perpetuate the fictions. Clearly it's not limited to the Republicans; we saw the same thing when Bill Clinton was busted for his affair with Monica Lewinsky and a lot of Democrats contorted themselves to make excuses as well, even if they blushed with embarrassment when they discussed it, seemingly knowing that they were pushing the envelope. (Either that or talking about a presidential blow job on CNN is hard to do without cringing.) The Republicans don't seem to be embarrassed by supporting an administration that, by any standards, makes the Harding administration look good by comparison. That tells you these shills are either really good actors or they actually do believe what they're saying.

I'm old enough to remember a time when trusting the government and the president was a matter of course. Even if we disagreed with the policy, we felt that we had elected a man who had our best interests at heart and not those of his political party. That trust was eroded when we engaged in another war that was commenced under false pretenses and escalated on deliberate deception and fearmongering by the Johnson administration. This thread was picked up by the Nixon administration; opponents of the war were demonized as unpatriotic and the fault lines between the hawks and the doves were exacerbated. Vice President Spiro Agnew drew the line very clearly: those who do not support the president are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And it was the same administration that distrusted our system of government -- of fair elections, of the rights of freedom of speech and protection from warrantless and illegal searches -- that it tried to circumvent the law.

Since then, we as a nation have had a very hard time trusting our elected leaders. The scandals and human failings are a part of it; most of us forget that the people we look to as stewards of our nation are just as human as we are, heir to the same stupidities and faults as anyone. And we have become very adept at seeking and finding the ulterior motive behind anything that is done supposedly for the greater good but smacks of cronyism or the fulfillment of an agenda for someone else. (And it's not like we haven't had good reason to be suspicious; there have been plenty of examples of cronyism and agenda-fulfillment at all levels.) And despite promises to restore trust and honor and dignity, it always comes with the caveat that we must first overcome our mistrust and elect the promise-maker. The chicken and the egg strike again.

There is that in all of us that wants us to believe what we're told by the people we put in power. We would like to believe that they have our best interest at heart and that if there are sacrifices that must be made in order to fight a war or protect us against a sworn enemy, we accept them and support them because we trust them to do what is good and right. But in this case, the trust we are asked to endow on the expanded FISA law and everything else that this administration has put forth in the name of fighting terror has not been earned by judicious and balanced administration. Instead it has been destroyed by the methods to which they have gone to obtain these powers in the first place. Trust isn't earned by demonization, by overtly bragging about breaking the law, or by using the power of the office to exact political revenge on your opponents, nor is it earned by saying "trust me and don't ask any questions."

Whoever the next president is, he or she will have a nearly insurmountable task to overcome not just the current administration's setbacks in our standing both among the citizens here and our allies abroad, but to bring back that feeling of trust in ourselves and our own ability to choose leaders who represent more than just a political party and its philosophy and who do things -- or don't do them -- just to ensure the next election is in their favor. You can go a long way in restoring trust and getting things done if you don't care about who gets the credit for it.

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus