Domestic spying is once again front and center, with the Hayden confirmation and now the fresh revelation that the NSA has been trolling Americans' phone records.
Democrats totally failed to make anything of domestic spying the first time around. And there are indications that this will be an issue that actually hurts Democrats in the 2006 elections if they continue to bungle it. Smart Republicans will use it as a way to keep Dems sounding like people who would rather second guess bold action and obsess over technicalities than stop terrorist attacks.
Now Dems have a second chance. And here's how they need to approach domestic spying this time. There are two simple points that need to be made aggressively and stubbornly every time any Democrat speaks on this.
1) "Bush ALREADY HAD the freedom to spy on anyone he wanted - he just had to tell a secret intelligence judge AFTERWARDS, a judge who was sworn to secrecy. So what was he trying to hide from that judge?"
Say that over and over. Whenever the interviewer or Republican who you're up against goes back to "our intelligence gatherers have to be able to act fast," don't let that stand. Stop them. Stop them and make them take it back. Ask them, "Is there something you don't understand about this? Bush already had the freedom to spy on anyone at anytime - with no delays, no delays at all. All he had to do was AFTERWARDS tell a special, secret, terrorist-fighting judge who he spied on."
I know from the last time, you feel like you did say that. But you didn't really. You'd throw it out there with some confusing words about a FISA Court, and 72 hours. And when they ignored you on that point, you let it stand and moved on to the next point of argument: usually something about "civil liberties" and how we need to defend them even if means everyone getting blown up by terrorists.
This time around, keep it simple, and make them acknowledge the simple fact that Bush could always spy on anyone with no delays at all.
2) "WHO WERE THEY SPYING ON? We need to see a list."
Democrats in Congress must demand to see a list (and keep it secret of course), of every person and organization who the Republican administration eavesdropped on, and every person and organization whose phone records they checked.
Was Karl Rove making up lists of political opponents to listen in on? Did this have something to do with the 2004 elections? Were they listening in on the people who were investigating the White House? Were they spying on Churches? On corporate competitors of Halliburton and other favorites? The reason the president has to tell a secret intelligence judge who he spied on is to prevent those kinds of abuses.
Hang on a second. If you're an esteemed Senator or Congressperson, then you don't want to go into that kind of detail, do you? Others need to raise those specifics. Bloggers. Pundits. James Carville. And who knows, maybe DNC Chair Howard Dean will get in trouble one Sunday morning for saying exactly those things.
But imagine if Dean did hit one out of the park like that. What would you do? Run in the opposite direction from him like you usually do? Or take a nice gentle jog across home plate by saying, "Well, there are serious questions - just who could they have been spying on that they would want to hide it from a special intelligence judge who is sworn to secrecy? I do think it's important to make sure that no patriotic American organizations were spied on for political purposes."
And that's it! That's all you have to do! It's just that simple. Just stick to those two easy points. Say them over and over. Keep demanding the list of everyone who was spied upon - the press can't keep it going if they don't have a question in the air needing to be resolved: Will Bush hand over the list or won't he?
Don't use complicated names of things people have never heard of before like FISA (it sounds like a tax for crying out loud). Don't talk about breaking the law. Don't talk about civil liberties. Don't talk about personal privacy. Don't talk about the Patriot Act. Don't talk about investigations or hearings or special task forces. And for goodness sakes, don't talk about "warrantless wiretaps." Warrants and the bureaucracy that goes with them are what prevent Eddie Murphy from getting the villain in Beverly Hills Cop, or Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, or - should I go on? Do you really want to run in 2006 as that old, depressed, coughing Sergeant who stands in the way of justice for the sake of rules and regulations?
Just keep asking those two questions above over and over - and never stop demanding that list. Fight with reporters to make them accept the legitimacy of your questions and acknowledge the points that you're making. You'll have to fight just to be heard.
Fight, Democrats, Fight!