January 25, 2006


Patriot Act Talks Hit Roadblock On Privacy Issue (Charles Babington, January 25, 2006, Washington Post)

Efforts to resolve House and Senate differences over a revised USA Patriot Act have reached a stalemate, a key committee chairman said yesterday. That means the current version of the law is likely to remain in place through next month or longer unless Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans drop their demands for greater privacy safeguards in a proposed renewal, the chairman said.

Democrats can't afford politically to kill the Act entirely so they'll be stuck extending it "temporarily" every few months -- and reviving it as a campaign issue. Smart leadership they have, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2006 8:41 AM

When Bush makes this a major part of the State of the Union Speech, the Democrats' efforts to explain their objections during their response isn't going to help them any, either.

Posted by: John at January 25, 2006 9:55 AM

John, if that plays out I hope it's Reid and Pelosi, or perhaps Gore and Dean who do the explaining.

Posted by: Genecis at January 25, 2006 10:29 AM

Like hunting turtles with a shotgun.

Posted by: Luciferous at January 25, 2006 2:28 PM


I'm not sure it's really about lack of "smarts" on the part of the Democrats. Any choice they make will look stupid, because from their perspective, the options range from reasonably crappy to gawdawful:

* Keep renewing it and running for cover every few months.

* Kill or revise it and give the GOP a golden issue for 2006, not to mention lending further support to their well-deserved image as a weak party on national-defense issues.

* Give up all opposition to it, and watch their leftist base -- which, partly due to McCain-Feingold, now exercises disproportionate influence in the party -- go berserk (just imagine every liberal columnist in the country running regular self-absorbed screeds like Molly Ivins did the other day).

Like you've asked before: "Need help reloading that gun?"

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 25, 2006 11:46 PM


It's easy. You insist on one purely cosmetic change and then declare bipartisan victory. W will be only too glad to share credit.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2006 7:48 AM


What possible cosmetic feature of this bill could they focus on without inciting the wrath of their base for caving in to Republican fascist hegemony?

(I'm starting to enjoy listening to leftist mental imagery -- I say we start adopting it just to drive them nuts.)

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 26, 2006 8:13 PM


What I mean to say is: The Democratic party's base will want substantially more than a cosmetic change, and I think they'll be enraged if the party deserts them. They'll know a cave-in when they see one.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 26, 2006 8:17 PM

Yes, but their base is psychotic. Cosmetic changes are enough for them to claim they achieved something with normal Americans, the way Clinton folded on Welfare but shared credit.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2006 8:55 PM


I'm sure it's enough for the politicians to claim they did something, I just doubt it's enough for their base to leave them alone about it (although perhaps it would be the least-bad option). However, I'll admit that they're completely bonkers and it's tough to predict what their reaction would be.

I still wonder what cosmetic change would be enough to convince them that something substantial had been done when it hadn't.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 27, 2006 4:15 AM


None. The activists have gone crazy enough that they want the whole thing repealed.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2006 7:30 AM


Yep, that's the point: the base will be very upset with cosmetic changes -- even "bipartisan" ones -- because they want the Patriot Act completely repealed.

Again, I don't think the Democrats have any good options available.

(Speaking of an unhinged Democratic base, I recently saw an ad in The Nation magazine urging the Senate to reject Samuel Alito because otherwise the Supreme Court will be run by Catholics. I guess The Nation must be celebrating its anniversary with one of those Blast From The Past layout specials.)

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 27, 2006 8:16 AM

The base doesn't matter--they need to get right with America and they can do it by insisting on a meaningless change and declaring victory.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2006 8:34 AM


Plenty of stuff you've posted here indicates quite strongly that left-wing activists have taken greater control of the party in the wake of McCain-Feingold -- you yourself once asked, after an article about how MoveOn.org was taking over, whether the Democratic party had any adult supervision.

You've also noted before the possibility of a third-party resurgence, and I don't have to tell you what would happen to the Democrats if even five or ten percent of their voters split off. These tend to be self-absorbed people who think "making a statement" is worth tearing the party to pieces over: they will leave for the Greens or somebody else if they believe that continuing alliance with the Democrats is getting them nowhere. Read that Molly Ivins column again. Many of them are truly convinced that their ideas are popular but just inexpertly presented -- in other words, they're delusional. Proffering some cosmetic changes while making peace with the rest of the evil neocon Bushco Patriot Act will disgust these people to no end.

I think the Democrats are in quite a bind.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 27, 2006 11:04 AM


Yes, but if they had any adult supervision they'd know they need to get out from under the issues that are killing them--like this one--and throw the whackos some different bones. Insist on an up or down vote to join Kyoto--the environment plays well and even though they'd lose the activists would consider it bold.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2006 11:41 AM


That's a good point except I don't think emphasizing Kyoto would be smart -- too much possible public backlash once the economic impact (or projected economic impact) becomes clear. Huge majorities of Americans, in their rush to get pollsters off their phones during dinner, may say that improving the environment is "worth any cost" -- but complaints over things like high gas prices definitely throws some doubt on that assertion.

That leaves us with...what, exactly? What other hugely popular issues do these guys have?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 27, 2006 11:56 AM

It wouldn't pass--the impact would never become clear. They just need to make gestures to keep the fanatics on board, but the gestures ought to be ones that don't hurt them with normal people.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2006 12:19 PM


Conservative and business groups would run big, scary ads about what Kyoto would do to our economy. Perhaps you can hush up that kind of stuff in Europe, but not here -- there's too much of a conservative counter-media, and it manages to spread the word far beyond the limited number of bloggers and the larger number of talk-radio listeners.

Even if the Kyoto proposal worked as an issue, I can't think of anything else that would. And the Democrats would have to become a whole new party for Republican attacks regarding national security to cease being effective.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 27, 2006 12:27 PM

We've been scaring folks about Kyoto for a decade and they still support it:


Posted by: oj at January 27, 2006 12:33 PM


Entirely theoretical -- just wait until they're seriously talking about instituting it.

People say all sorts of things they don't mean. Elderly war veterans will tell you WWII was great fun after a couple of beers.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 28, 2006 4:51 AM


That's the beauty of it as a political issue for Democrats--it will never be more than theoretical.

Posted by: oj at January 28, 2006 7:18 AM


Of course, you and I know they'll never be able to pass it, but in order to make it a serious issue they'll have to pretend like they're serious and conservative groups will respond with advertising that likewise takes it seriously. If the public thinks we're actually talking about signing on to this treaty their enthusiasm will wane fast.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 28, 2006 2:46 PM

What silly environmental idea has ever faded fast?

Posted by: oj at January 28, 2006 4:32 PM


Public enthusiasm for doing anything, not the idea itself. The concept of communism lasted a long time, but you'll note the American public never gave a damn for it.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at January 28, 2006 6:52 PM