Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Decrepit Beltway Punditocracy:Joe Klein - Both factually false and stuck in the 1980s

Despite the Democrats regaining legislative majorities, the filibuster and the Bush veto pen has thwarted their efforts at capturing control of the legislative process. Beyond the obvious obstcles, however, is the tendency for the Beltway to whip the party into subservience. More damaging, is the apparent unwillingness to grow a spine or exhibit, as Bill Maher has remarked, even One cajone! Here, Glenn Greenwald rightly excoraites Joe Klein for blathering about how the Dems must be Republican-lite, and demands the media hold Klein to task for his idiotic and self-inflated opinions, which more than a soapbox, is serving as a tinderbox for self-immolation. - MS

The Time pundit spouts pro-capitulation advice to Democrats that is as obsolete as it is grounded in falsehoods.
Glenn Greenwald
Nov. 21, 2007
For the sake of its own credibility, Time Magazine needs immediately to prohibit Joe Klein from uttering another word about the eavesdropping and FISA controversy. He simply doesn't know what he's talking about and he publishes demonstrably false statements.
Klein's latest article in Time does nothing more than what Klein and most Beltway "liberal" pundits always do and have been doing for the last twenty years -- namely, warn Democrats that they will lose elections unless they renounce their beliefs and act as much as possible like Republicans on national security issues. The article is entitled "Still Stumbling on National Security" and contains every 1980-2003 cliche about how Democrats better not oppose the big, mean, tough George Bush on war issues or else Rush Limbaugh will attack them and they'll lose. More on that in a moment.
Klein's main complaint is that "Democrats in Congress [] are being foolishly partisan on two key issues: continued funding for the war in Iraq and updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)." On FISA, he claims:
Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that -- Limbaugh is salivating -- would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid."Well beyond stupid" is a good description for what Klein wrote here. "Factually false" is even better. First, from its inception, FISA did not "protect the rights of U.S. citizens only." Its warrant requirements apply to all "U.S. persons" (see 1801(f)), which includes not only U.S. citizens but also "an alien lawfully admitted [in the U.S.] for permanent residence" (see 1801(i)). From 1978 on, FISA extended its warrant protections to resident aliens.
But Klein's far more pernicious "error" is his Limbaugh-copying claim that the House bill "require[s] the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court." It just does not.
The only reason why Congress began considering amendments to FISA in the first place was because a FISA court earlier this year ruled that a warrant was required for foreign-to-foreign calls incidentally routed through the U.S. via fiber optics. Everyone -- from Russ Feingold to the ACLU -- agreed that FISA never intended to require warrants for foreign-to-foreign calls that have nothing to do with U.S. citizens, and thus, none of the bills being considered -- including the bill passed by the House -- requires warrants for such foreign-to-foreign calls. Here is Rep. Rush Holt, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the key architects of the House bill, explaining what the House bill actually does:
* Ensure that the government must have an individualized, particularized court-approved warrant based on probable cause in order to read or listen to the communications of an American citizen. . . .
The RESTORE Act now makes clear that it is the courts -- and not an executive branch political appointee -- who decide whether or not the communications of an American can be seized and searched, and that such seizures and searches must be done pursuant to a court order.Under the House bill, individualized warrants are required if the U.S. Government wants to eavesdrop on the communications of Americans. Warrants are not required -- as Klein falsely claimed -- for "every foreign-terrorist target's calls."
While the government (in order to prevent abuse) must demonstrate to the FISA court that it is applying its surveillance standards faithfully, the warrant requirement is confined to the class Rep. Holt described. Klein's shrill condemnation of the House FISA bill rests on a complete falsehood (that's not surprising; the last time Klein wrote about FISA, he said that "no actual eavesdropping on conversations should be permitted without a FISA court ruling" and then proceeded to defend a FISA bill which, unbeknownst to him, allowed exactly that).
* * * * *
Klein's broader point is even more odious. Along with most of the "liberal" punditocracy, Klein has been singing the same song for years and years and years now. The salvation for Democrats lies in following Republicans on national security issues. He's been warning Democrats from the very beginning of the NSA scandal that they had better stop condemning Bush's illegal spying on Americans or else they will justly suffer the consequences, and he issues similar lip-quivering warnings about Iraq: Democrats better stop opposing the Leader's War or else they will lose.
Klein is not unique in this regard. This view that Democrats had better act like Republicans on national security issues is the central religious principle of the Democratic Beltway Establishment. Compare that fear-driven, self-hating politics with how Karl Rove thinks, as evidenced by the 2008 advice he gave to the GOP in his first Newsweek column this week:
Say in authentic terms what you believe. The GOP nominee must highlight his core convictions to help people understand who he is and to set up a natural contrast with Clinton, both on style and substance. Don't be afraid to say something controversial. The American people want their president to be authentic. And against a Democrat who calculates almost everything, including her accent and laugh, being seen as someone who says what he believes in a direct way will help.Leave aside the cliches about Hillary Clinton. It is true that Republicans are willing -- and have been willing for some time -- to aggressively and unapologetically pursue policies even when they are unpopular. They know how to read polls as well as anyone else. They knew that most Americans were vigorously opposed to Clinton's impeachment, but they pursued it to the bitter end anyway. And they know that the Iraq War is deeply unpopular with Americans, and that George Bush is even more unpopular, but they stand by both of them anyway.
They don't have hordes of frightened Joe Kleins constantly fretting in their ears that they better not take any unpopular positions otherwise liberal activists will say mean things about them and they will lose. Republicans have calculated -- correctly -- that Americans have greater respect for a political party that is perceived to stand steadfastly for its convictions (even when unpopular) than to be perceived as politically afraid to state what it is that it even believes.
In 2004, the Republicans -- knowing that Bush and Iraq were already unpopular -- based their entire re-election strategy on this premise. This was Bush's defining line from his RNC acceptance speech:
In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand.As has been pointed out so many times, to little avail thus far, the central fallacy of the Beltway Democratic establishment is that they think they will look "strong" by constantly capitulating, when actually such capitulation looks (and is) pitiful and weak.
What makes this Klein-ist, Fear-Driven Advice all the more bizarre is that, now, he's not even advising Democrats to run away from unpopular positions. That would be bad enough. But here, he and his fellow Beltway Democrats are now insisting that Democrats even run away from popular positions -- i.e., efforts to stop Bush's war and impose oversight on his powers. They are just hopelessly mired in the decades-old belief that Republicans are better on national security and Democrats must submit or else lose.
So many of these pundits who succeed in their profession in a certain time-frame get stuck in that era. Pundits of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, who formed their views in the wake of George McGovern's defeat and Jimmy Carter's banishment by the Ronald Reagan Right (and Clinton's early difficulties with the Limbaugh Right), have ossified and are frozen forever in that obsolete "wisdom." That's why people like Klein, Mickey Kaus, David Broder, Eleanor Clift and so much of our establishment punditocracy endlessly fight phantoms that haven't existed for years, even decades.
Polls conclusively demonstrate that Congressional Democrats are so unpopular almost exclusively because their supporters are so dispirited by their refusal to take a stand against this President. Yet the liberal punditocracy and Democratic consulting class drone on with the only theme they know: Democrats are being "foolishly partisan" by opposing Bush's national security demands and must capitulate still further if they know what's good for them.UPDATE: Time is the 11th most-read magazine in the country and the most-read political magazine, with more than 4 million in circulation. Here's Time's caption accompanying Klein's story:So the Democrats are "still stumbling on national security" and are "tone deaf on how to strike a balance" -- this, from the person who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq and then out of embarrassment falsely denied having done so, and then went on national television and openly toyed with the monstrosity of a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran.
Here's what Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks said in his online "chat" yesterday:
Princeton, N.J.: Obviously not everyone in the media should resign, but it is annoying to having The Post (and others) regularly publish articles by those who were wrong, wrong, wrong, but those who were right about Iraq (e.g. Feingold) still get short shrift.
Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, I agree with you. There are a few people out there who should have the decency to follow the advice of the king of Spain.The advice which Ricks recommended for war advocates in his link was from the episode where "the king of Spain told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to 'shut up.'"UPDATE II: Joe Klein responds without acknowledging that he's doing so and, worse (though quite predictably), without the decency to admit his errors. He contrives a convoluted explanation to claim now that the House bill "obliquely gives foreign terrorists the same procedures as American citizens, if not the same rights." The outright falsity in his reasoning is self-evident, sad, and not worth responding to, though for those interested, his swarm of outraged commenters do more than an adequate job, as always, of exposing every inaccuracy in what he wrote.
But there is one comment Klein made that I just have to highlight. In explaining why he favors telecom amnesty, he said of the FISA bill that he likes:
It would also have taken a middle path on immunity for telecoms -- no blanket immunity (as is currently provided in the Senate draft), but selective immunity to those telecoms who can provide written proof that they were acting in response to a direct order from the government. That seems fair to me.Seriously, in what country does Joe Klein live? Can someone please explain to him that in the United States, the President doesn't have the power to give "direct orders" to violate the law? And what kind of person who isn't in the military runs around talking about "direct orders" from the American President at all? That isn't how our country works. Presidents obviously don't have the power to give "direct orders" to anyone to break the law, let alone civilians and private companies. Why does that even need to be explained?UPDATE III: Here's an email I received today from former Texas Congressman John Bryant (he's not running for anything now and hasn't run for anything in 10 years; he's a private citizen):
You hit the nail on the head regarding Joe Klein and the wobblies in congress that listen to him. I was a Dem congressman for 14 years representing Dallas and eight rural counties in North Texas, hardly a liberal consitituency. I had only one close race (1994) in seven congressional elections, in spite of votes against Reagan's Central American war, GWH Bush's first Gulf War, and all the Repub social demagoguery, and was never defeated for reelection. My experience was that a majority of voters prefer a candidate with strong stand on the issues to one who is in exact agreement witth their own views.
Thanks for saying what needed to be said about Klein and the others like him.It's amazing how few Beltway Democrats can comprehend this extremely clear point.
Also: Wired's Ryan Singel, as knowledgable as anyone around on FISA and eavesdropping issues, has some rather harsh words for the assertions both in Klein's column and his "response" today: "Time ought to stop Klein from writing about any substantive topic, especially FISA. Because when it comes to these topics, Klein is well beyond stupid. He's dangerous." Singel's piece is worth reading in its entirety.
-- Glenn Greenwald

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