Frist's long-range diagnosis of NSA spying and Cheney shooting: all's well, legal, rosy.....

Sunday, February 19, 2006 at 04:45 PM

For a man with pretensions to presidential power, some serious education, and presumably lots of experience in dealing with the public in his role as a surgeon, Senate leader Bill Frist comes across as surprisingly doctrinaire and partisan.

Witness his performance on today's Face the Nation program.

First, amidst the contradictory signals being offered up by House and Senate Republicans on whether they plan to do anything about President Bush's warrantless NSA domestic spying program, the fearless leader of the Senate performed another public diagnosis and concluded that Bush didn't need court approval when he authorized the NSA surveillance program, and FISA doesn't need to be changed to accommodate the program.

And the eloquence!  Silver tongue and scalpel, I'd say:

Sen. Frist: I am one of those eight people, half-Democrat, half-Republican,
who have been thoroughly reviewed with this program, discussed with this
program. I believe the program--I know the program is constitutional, that it
is legal.

Asked whether the NSA program "needs to be brought under the control of the court," Frist responded:

Bob, there are two issues that we're looking at, one of them that Senator Roberts mentioned is the overall oversight. And the question our eight people, half-Democrat, half-Republican, sufficient in terms of giving
oversight, being briefed on this program, and we're going to continue to discuss that, as we talked about at the end of last week. And then the second is new legislation required, that also is going to be discussed. Do we need to update the FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? Do we need to update that 1978 act today in this 21st century of technology? And it's a
question we are asking and will ask....Does it have to be thrown over the courts, going back to your question, I don't think so, I personally don't think so.

The good doctor is not, of course, a lawyer or Constitutional scholar.  Let's hope he at least bothered to talk to somebody other than Al ("What Bush said") Gonzalez.

Frist also ducked some questions on the Cheney shooting of his friend, especially the point that Time magazine is reporting, that Bush had to literally make Cheney go public and say he was sorry and devastated.  Frist simply resorted to the old standard of "A lot of other important business of the nation is being set aside, and I'm going to be focusing on that."  Was that also what he was thinking when he got so personally and erroneously involved in the Terry Schiavo case?

To the question whether Cheney has now become a liability to the White House, Frist gave this odd answer:

You know, absolutely not. Absolutely not. He is a bold leader, he understands, works very closely with the division of the president of the United States in securing America's future to a safer, stronger country. That means he has to be both a leader, as well as a participant, and I think he does it very, very well.

Well I never thought about it that way before.  I can see where being "both a leader, as well as a participant" would require just the kind of ornery strength that Dick Cheney seems so full of.

And if you think he learned his lesson on long range diagnosis from the flak he took over the Schiavo affair, read this exchange:

Elisabeth Bumiller: Let me just, as a heart surgeon, one last question. This is a
man who has a BB embedded in his heart, how can he--can he live a healthy life
like that?

Sen. Frist: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It--we leave pellets, bullets, in people all the time. In fact, very clear indications. And I think, just looking at him the other day, that he looks like he is in great shape.

If you really want to make yourself crazy, read over the Face the Nation transcript, playing close attention to the quality and understandability of the statements.  Barbara Boxer was also on and she managed to speak in complete sentences that actually conveyed some meaning.  And the host, Bob Schieffer, having the advantage of preparation time, approached eloquence on the issue of whether the press should be repressing its coverage of things like Abu Ghraib:'s where I believe [Rumsfeld's] wrong: He thinks the press, for instance, makes too much of horrible events such as Abu Ghraib. I don't.

A democracy, by definition, means openness. The founding fathers knew enough about human nature to know that government would always cover up its mistakes if it operated in secret. Bringing mistakes to the fore is a strength, not a weakness. When America outlawed segregation, it acknowledged 200 years of wrongs far worse than Abu Ghraib. Would anyone argue that publicly correcting those wrongs made us weaker? To the contrary, it made us stronger. It showed the world that we live by the values we preach, and that those values work.

This administration has been secretive when there was no point to it, has paid reporters to take the government line, and has left the impression that bad news exists only in the minds of reporters. That's no way to win a PR war; it
is a sure way to lose it.

Our strength comes from emphasizing in every word and action the values that separate us from those who oppose us, not from adopting their methods.