Every time Democrats and progressives speak out about George W. Bush's spying on Americans without mentioning that he may also be spying on Democrats, they're playing into Karl Rove's "National Security Frame" and actually strengthening Republican electoral chances in November. To short-circuit this, Democrats need to invoke the ghost of Richard Nixon.
Published on Monday, July 10, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Every time Democrats and progressives speak out about George W. Bush's spying on Americans without mentioning that he may also be spying on Democrats, they're playing into Karl Rove's "National Security Frame" and actually strengthening Republican electoral chances in November.
To short-circuit this, Democrats need to invoke the ghost of Richard Nixon.
If they don't, even Pete Hoekstra's new revelations that there are even more as-yet-unreported secret spying programs that Bush has been hiding from Congress will be used by Rove to say to average voters, "See? We're really looking out for you!"
The Bush administration doesn't deny it has been spying on Americans - they brag about it. They're listening to our phone calls, reading our emails, and looking at our bank transactions. They're gathering databases about our medical records, what we charge on our credit cards, and where we travel.
When Democrats point out that this is illegal without a court order, Rove simply floods the airwaves with Republicans who say, "We're doing it to protect you!"
The average American doesn't think this all the way through, and the Rovian frame seems like pretty commonsensical. In fact, it's at the heart of the right-wing rant.
For example, when some unfortunate and nearly illiterate idiots talked about attacking New York last week, the Bushies and the corporate press trumpeted the sting operation that led to these clueless wannabees' arrest as a "triumph in the war on terror!" Limbaugh intoned sternly that liberals would have prevented the United States from discovering such criminals, and all over America dittoheads nodded in agreement.
What's been entirely lost in the discussion about Bush administration spying is why so much of what Bush is doing is illegal.
And that takes us back to Richard Nixon, the last Republican to have an active domestic spying program without judicial or bipartisan congressional oversight. The one whose Bush-like abuses led to the FISA and other, similar laws.
Nixon said he was spying on Americans to keep us safe from communists. We were in the middle of a war, after all. The Soviets were out to get us (and armed with real weapons of mass destruction), and the North Vietnamese weren't far behind. He had to spy on Americans, he said, to protect the liberties of Americans.
Problem was, he had turned the tool of domestic surveillance against his political enemies (and those who weren't, like journalist Daniel Schorr, but whom he believed were). Nixon was spying on Democrats, and trying to cover it with the fig leaf of "national security."
Set aside all the highbrow talk about separation of powers and intent of the Founders, and this is what the FISA and other, similar, laws boil down to - stopping the president from spying on his political opponents. To prevent political abuse, he has to check in with a judge or a congressional committee before using our super-spies.
Imagine if Bill Clinton had been found to have a domestic spying program going on - even after the bombing of Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center hit. Republicans would have been foaming at the mouth. "What's he hiding?! It must be that he's spying on us!!"
Yet Democrats seem unwilling to even raise the possibility of Bush administration political espionage, and the compliant corporate press hasn't raised a peep. Even though there's a precedent for Republicans - and, more recently, Bush Republicans - spying on Democrats.
Remember November of 2003? Using naked political espionage, Bush Republicans used intelligence gained in an illegal spying operation to outflank Democrats.
Republicans in the Senate - including a staffer for Republican Senator Orrin Hatch - hacked into the computers of several Senate Democrats, including Ted Kennedy and Dick Durbin. Reading Kennedy's and Durbin's correspondence, the Republican operatives discovered the strategy the Democrats intended to use to attack Republican high court nominees. They leaked fifteen bits of Kennedy's discussions to The Wall Street Journal and other Republican-friendly sources, who used the information to successfully trash and thwart the Democratic plans.
As the story began to unfold several months later, the headline from The New York Times on February 10, 2004, read: "Democrats Suggest Inquiry Points to Wider Spying by G.O.P."
But it stopped there, because Republicans control the Senate. Despite loud Democratic objections, Bill Frist has never allowed a serious investigation by the Senate's members into the data theft - even though these Republican burglars were actually more competent than those busted at Watergate.
Americans should demand that the Bush administration follow the law and gain court orders and/or serious congressional oversight for their domestic spying, because we don't want America to become a gulag-nation where average citizens are afraid to speak out about political issues, or where opposition politicians are routinely neutralized by such spying.
And the easy way for Democrats to drive that point home - and to snatch from the hands of Rove the "we're protecting you" torch he bears every time another Bush spy scheme is unveiled - is to start yelling: "I want to know why Bush, Gonzales, and Negroponte are spying on Democrats!?!"
When Democrats stop giving Bush a pass on this and start pointing out that Republicans from Nixon in 1972 to Orrin Hatch in 2003 have been caught spying on Democrats, the average American will get the reason for congressional and judicial oversight.
Inside-the-Beltway Democratic strategists wrongly take it for granted that Americans understand the potential consequences of unrestrained presidential spying activities. Unfortunately, most Americans don't give it a second thought.
But they will when Democrats begin to demand - loudly - to know which Democrats, Democratic Party donors, and people who vote for Democrats have been spied on.
When did Bush use the voter databases that Republican politicians like Jeb Bush and Ken Blackwell have compiled to compare the bank accounts, phone records, and doctor's records of people who vote as Democrats?
When did Bush use his illegal NSA wiretaps to listen in on Democratic Party political strategy sessions?
When did Bush begin snooping into the private lives of average people who committed the crime of registering as Democrats?
What information has he gathered by reading our emails? What is he doing with it? Who's on his "enemies list"?
Not only is this the only way to neutralize Rove's "we're doing it to protect you" frame, there's also a reasonable possibility that Bush actually is using his illegal domestic spying programs to target everybody from elected Democrats to average voters.
His administration and party have already been busted by the BBC for targeting Democratic voters in Florida and Ohio to strip them of their right to vote; have already been convicted in Federal Court of jamming Democratic phone banks on election day; have already been outed for targeting groups like the Raging Grannies and The League of Women Voters for "terrorist" surveillance.
Who was spied on first? Probably every Democratic politician in America. (We know they got Kennedy and Durban!)
Who was spied on after that? Probably every journalist and liberal author, columnist, and progressive talk show host in America.
Who will be spied on next? Probably you.
Pass it on and raise some hell. Why is Bush spying on Democrats?