There's a wonderful discussion in the comments of the last post on why the FISA bill passed, on what motivated 57 Democrats to vote to expand Bush's executive authority. In Glenn Greenwald's interview with Chris Dodd, Dodd himself expresses astonishment at the vote. There are really two parts to this question. One is why Blue Dogs caved, and two is why there was no basically no organizing or lobbying done to stop this bill from moving.
Let's talk politicians first. Did these members betray their principles? Were they scared of Bush? It's easy to make the argument that they are afraid of Bush, that they are frightened. And in a sense, it's not an either/or. Still, we must also consider the possibility that these 57 Democrats believe in a more expansive security state and do not support civil liberties. They are not liberals, and they just don't agree with us.
It may sound silly and obvious, but we must remember that there are different politicians out there who think different stuff and have different priorities than we do. When these politicians do things that are murderously awful, it's not always out of craven fear. Sometimes, though not always, it's just because they are people who believe that a corrupt police state government governs best. We don't. And so it's our job to put candidates in office and support those candidates that are going to advocate for our values. And we're doing that.
Still, as a movement, we have only one crop of politicians in office, those elected in 2006. Pretty soon, we'll have another crop. Don't forget that every other person put in Congress on the Democratic side had their instincts, ideas and politics honed by a fiercely reactionary media and political structure. Most of them raised huge sums of money and put it into TV ads. Most of them think criticism from the right is to be feared, and that the left is fringe, though Democratic leaders are beginning to get addicted to internet money.
Given the age of our movement, it shouldn't be a surprise that the progressive caucus is weaker than it could be, or that Bush is still able to govern. It's never been about Bush, after all, it's always been about right-wing coalitions.
And this brings me to the second point. Why did this bill happen suddenly this week, with little warning? Why did it create a situation where activists had basically no time to act? Where was the communications breakdown? I've hinted before at the rank incompetence of Anthony Romero's ACLU. For instance, the group has the worst and most insulting messaging I've ever seen on a political action item, with their 'Find Habeas' campaign done by PR shop Edelman (which also counts Walmart as a client). The ACLU considers this campaign a success, since it brought a lot of signups and donations, though it did not in fact restore habeas. In other words, the ACLU is designed to fail.
We saw that their narrow legalistic strategy failed here (as it often does). The ACLU should have been coordinating with the liberal House leadership on bills like this, giving outsiders weeks of notice so organizing can actually happen. We may not have been able to stop the bill, but at least we as a movement could have fought the fight. That this did not happen suggests an immense and unforgivable incompetence at the ACLU.
We have to get our house in order if we are to restore civil liberties. That means telling the truth about our liberal groups and their complicity in massive strategic and moral errors like this. Anthony Romero has a lot to answer for. In six months, when this bill comes up again, the ACLU has another shot. Let's hope Romero acknowledges error and works to take corrective action.