WaPo: Senate Rejects Wiretapping Probe

Friday, February 17, 2006 at 01:28 PM

As reported by the Washington Post, Bush administration stonewalling and Republican senators' bootlicking/ass-covering may have put the kabosh on a thorough investigation into the administration's warrantless and thus illegal domestic spying program. As politics, this may turn out to be a success for the GOP. As governance, it's an unambiguous disaster for the republic.

Politically, a wiretapping probe would have been dangerous not just for the administration but for all Republican candidates seeking election or reelection in November. The press has been jumping with constitutional scholars decrying the criminality of spying on domestic communications without a warrant, as demanded by FISA. Fervent "lower case" republicans have warned of the threat to civil liberties, the constitutional balance of powers, and the survival of the republic itself. With the case made thus far in the press and in congressional testimony, little reasonable doubt remains as to the fact that Bush administration officials have overstepped constitutional boundaries and committed high crimes that call for impeachment. A thorough public investigation of these crimes would be disastrous for the GOP's already tenuous and scandal-plagued hold on majority rule not to mention the administration's grip on the reigns of power.

A refusal to investigate -- based on a party line vote-- combined with vague and no doubt insincere commitments from the executive branch provides a little ass coverage for the Republicans but no real chance for restoring governmental balance or strengthening the weakened foundations of democracy.

Perhaps the worst precedent set by the decision's blatantly partisan tenor and its timing is the bolstering of the idea that politics trumps governance in the new era of the permanent campaign. An administration that has spent $1.4 billion on spin and propaganda, often crossing the lines of legality in its interactions with an ever more complacent mainstream media, has established that marketing strategies can offset policy weakness and criminal malfeasance in office. Congressional Republicans, taking their cue from Bush and Rove-style campaigning, have learned that any legitimate call for oversight or accountability (so vital to democratic governance) can be dismissed with claims of partisanship.

After all, the only people who would want to investigate criminal activity on the part of our dear leader are shrill lefty partisans, the same shrill lefty partisans who burn the flag and kill babies and euthanize the "disabled" and make war on Christmas and hate G-d and endanger our troops and cry for the enemy and go soft on terrorists. With this reasoning, differing viewpoints (also vital to democratic governance) need never be considered. As "partisan pandering," they're automatically illegitimate. Instead of investigating the truth value of any accusation or call for investigation, we simply need to ferret out the political motives for them. In an election year, the "motive" is ready made: it's all about the campaign and the opposition's "insidious" agenda.

With the speed of a sound byte, the media coverage -- in the age of balancing "messages" rather than ferreting out facts -- turns to what a scandal means politically for each party rather than what it means for the governance of our country. Electoral gains/losses steal the spotlight from the weight of governmental successes/failures. So, when tyranny comes calling shrouded in silence and darkness, it'll be a big surprise for all but the most astute and/or cynical of political observers. After all, if you didn't see it on TV, it's not important enough to notice or worry about, is it?