Living out here in Montana, it has become very easy to spot storylines from the national media and Washington politicians that have positively no appreciation for the textured political views of the American public. It was John Stewart who said this week in a Daily Show interview with consummate Washington B.S. artist Fred Barnes that while people in Washington see things only in terms of Democrat vs. Republican, and "liberal" vs. "conservative" the rest of the country sees things at a much more gut level.
Take today's story by Ron Brownstein in the Los Angeles Times about President Bush's illegal behavior in ordering a domestic spying operation. Remember, I like Ron Brownstein - I think he is one of the few Beltway pundits who is nonpartisan and usually gets the storylines right. And in fairness, his story is more of a commentary on the spewers of B.S. he quotes than on his reporting. Nonetheless, his piece really ends up being a pristine example of how both the political chattering class and the media ramrod stories into the binary views they hold, but which the public does not.
Brownstein bases his piece, in part, on interviews Washington Democratic "strategists" - that class of professional election losers quoted regularly trying to prevent just about any courageous Democratic lawmakers from actually doing much of anything. Just look at yesterday's piece in Roll Call where you had this same Democratic cabal saying the party shouldn't mount an aggressive lobbying/ethics crackdown, or look back at the Iraq War where you had the Democratic strategic class saying it was good politics to just blindly follow the Bush administration's lies (incredibly, they are still preaching this kind of acquiescence on Iraq even today). These "strategists" are the Washington, D.C. parasites who are far more concerned about protecting their own tiny rackets of DCCC contracts and candidate consulting gigs than actually helping the party take back the majority.
Today, these "strategists" are publicly worrying that Democrats challenging the President's illegal behavior "could threaten the party in this year's elections." The first quote in the piece goes to an unnamed Democratic "strategist" who says "If Democrats want to be the party of people who think [the government] is too tough and the Republicans are the party of people who are tough, I don't see how that helps us."
This supposed "strategist," of course, is dishonestly spinning the situation to benefit his opponents - not exactly "strategic." The debate over the domestic surveillance is not a debate over spying on terrorists vs. not spying on terrorists, as this "strategist" - and then Brownstein - assert. Oh sure, as I documented earlier, the media has done everything it can to try to force the scandal into that frame - reporters behavior in this has been nothing short of disgusting. But that's not what this is about. This is about whether this president - or any president - can ignore the Constitution and federal laws to order any kind of spying he wants without a court order. And the fact that these "strategists" aren't even mentioning the fact that the President broke the law - even with Republican Senators admitting he did break the law - should indicate exactly why the Democratic Party today seems so rudderless and poorly run: because the "strategists" running it are morons.
And that gets us to the political question that is at the center of Brownstein's piece, and the overall media's focus: who comes out better politically in this debate?
Brownstein's piece ultimately leans toward the side of the Democratic "strategist." He notes that the White House is "eager" for this debate. Then, after a throwaway line about the public having suspicions about government overreaching in violating people's civil liberties, he states as fact that "most Americans generally say they place a higher priority on pursuing terrorists than protecting civil liberties." Thus we are led to believe the President will come out on top in the debate over his illegal actions, and the debate over the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Stating such highly subjective assertion as fact - and framing it in such charged terms - really shows how deeply-rooted the D.C. fantasy-land binary thinking really is. Because when you actually look at the facts, that assertion bears no relation to reality, both in terms of how the public actually thinks about these issues in general, and where the public actually comes down.
Here are just a few snippets of facts that the Democratic "strategists" and the Beltway media might consider before they open their yapper and spout off more of this nonsense that has distored America's political debate into Hollywood-esque fiction, and driven the Democratic Party to election loss after loss after loss after loss:
- The Associated Press reported in August of 2005 that according to a poll that month, "fewer than half of Americans know the purpose of the Patriot Act, and the more they know about it the less they like it." So in other words, the more Democrats highlight the Patriot Act's attack on people's individual rights, the more people don't like it. Yet the D.C. Establishment - unable to see past the fake "national security" vs. "anti-national security" storyline - continues to say Democrats just shouldn't talk about these issues.
- An ABC News poll in June of 2005 did show support for the Patriot Act, but did not explain what the Patriot Act was. The more important statistic in that poll, however, was when the public was asked whether it supported allowing law enforcement agencies to obtain individuals' records without a warrant. A whopping 68% of the public were opposed. This was the very thing that President Bush was actually doing in secret when this poll was taken.
- A USA Today poll in February of 2004 again showed widespread confusion over what the Patriot Act does. And when the poll delved just below the surface, it showed the public opposed to the kind of behavior President Bush illegally ordered. Specifically, the poll showed 71% of the public disapproving provisions "allowing federal agents to secretly search a U.S. citizen's home without informing the person of that search for an unspecified period of time." That is, in many ways, a lesser version of what President Bush ordered - he ordered the National Security Agency to spy on individuals' telephone conversations without telling them for an unspecified period of time - and he did so without even a court order.
- A January 2006 Associated Press poll found "A majority of Americans (56%) want the Bush administration to get court approval before eavesdropping on people inside the United States, even if those calls might involve suspected terrorists." So here we have a very recent poll saying Democrats standing up for the rule of law is actually very popular yet again, the Washington "strategic" class and the media urging Democrats to just shut up.
- A January 2006 Zogby poll found that by a margin of 52% to 43%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge's approval. Enough said.
So, in short, just a cursory glance at the actual data right below the surface tells us that Democrats, far from putting themselves in "peril," will be tapping into a widely held concern about civil liberties if they continue to have the guts to stand up and challenge President Bush on his illegal spying and his efforts to expand the Patriot Act. Yet, that simple fact is rarely - if ever - even mentioned in the political discourse that spews out of Washington.
In my upcoming book Hostile Takeover, I devote a good deal of time to exposing the political/media Establishment's Orwellian tactics of telling the public it believes one thing and will do one thing when most of the factual evidence says exactly the opposite. It is a psyche-out trick akin to hypnosis - the Establishment is waving a pocketwatch in front of our eyes saying "you are falling into a deep sleep...here is what you believe...you don't really believe what you are telling us you believe..."
Sometimes I wonder whether the Establishment does this deliberately or just reflexively. It is quite possible that reporters, politicians and "strategists" who spend most of their time in the cushy confines of Washington simply have no concept of what people out in the heartland really think. Democratic "strategists" probably can't believe, for instance, that a state like Montana strongly opposes the Patriot Act, to the point where its legislature near-unanimously passed resolutions against it. They can't believe that because all they see is the state's redness in terms of Presidential elections - they somehow label themselves political "strategists" yet are so politically tone deaf as to not realize how these civil liberties issues play in the very red states they are going to need to win to take back power. And let's be honest - even if they could understand it, they probably don't care, because places outside the Beltway are looked upon with disdain by the Establishment, as if the American heartland is merely a nuisance to the elites who are running the show.
But on this score, the Establishment is going to be sorely mistaken. Americans across the political spectrum value their personal freedoms and liberties, even if the elitists in Washington don't. And if Republicans are "eager" for a fight over these issues, then Democrats should be even more eager - because I can tell you from out here in the real world, people don't like Big Government barging into their private lives. The public doesn't like the idea of a bunch of thugs in Washington figuratively kicking down our door with absolutely no checks and balances. And the public does not like the idea of a president so arrogant and out of touch as to strut around breaking laws as if he were a king. Whether the Beltway "strategists" can appreciate that or not right now is no matter - they will learn it soon enough come election day.