We've got an uphill battle on our hands here, folks. Public Policy Polling came out with the results of a poll conducted Tuesday about Bush's wiretap program. By a significant margin, North Carolinians feel that Clinton's offense—lying under oath about fun with Monica—was more impeachable than circumventing FISA to wiretap Americans. (50% felt this way; 33% said the wiretapping was worse; 17% wasn't sure.)
So yeah, that's upsetting. Jimmy Carter, who signed FISA into law, says Bush's actions are illegal. Shoot, checking government's search and siezure power made the first Congress's top-ten list of things to add to the Constitution. I imagine that most readers of this blog agree with me that Bush is so in flagrante delicto that a zombie Johnny Cochran couldn't save him.
But when you're done being upset, you've gotta listen to these numbers. 51% of those surveyed approved of the Administration's wiretapping policy. Those people aren't stupid or evil. They're listening to arguments and making up their minds. These numbers show that we are not doing a very good job making our argument.
Here's my take on what these numbers mean. I need to keep in mind that when most people are asked whether the wiretaps are illegal, they're really answering the question "do you approve?" (Look at questions one and two below.) I mean, most of us aren't constitutional scholars; we know we aren't, and we don't really want to be. The legality question is, for most of us, the wrong focus. We ought to be making the argument that what Bush is doing is unnecessarily creepy and bad policy.
Because people aren't constitutional scholars, these should be easier cases to make. The wiretapping is creepy because the FISA courts are so yielding and so quick, that you've got to ask yourself why Bush can't use them. If FISA is like a doorway into your private home, then why is Bush going through the window? And isn't a guy trying to get into your window a lot creepier than someone at the door?
The wiretapping is bad policy unless you want to live in a police state. Congress and the courts have important roles to play in checking the executive, just as the executive has the power to check the other branches. Here we have the Chief Executive saying that, for an indefinite and possibly very long time in the future, the President can do whatever the President decides is in the best interest of the country. Now I understand that for a lot of people, their trust in Bush is reason enough to allow it. To those people I say what if it's President Biden? President H.R. Clinton? Because it may soon be.
Bush doesn't need the power he's claiming, but allowing him to keep it will change the balance of powers in America's government. Isn't this reason enough to be against it? Because if people are against it, then impeachment can begin and then we can get to the legality question.
Here's the raw poll data courtesy of Public Policy Polling. Anybody know enough about polling to read anything into the demograph answers?
Q1 Since 1978 Presidents have been required to
get a court order from a special court in order
to wiretap telephone calls between American
citizens and suspected terrorists. President
Bush says he can legally wiretap calls between
Americans and suspected terrorists without a
court order and has been doing so since 2002.
In your opinion if a President wiretaps
Americans without a court order is he breaking
the law? If you think that is breaking the law,
press 1. If it is not breaking the law, press 2. If
you don’t know, press 3
Is Breaking the Law: 39%
Is Not Breaking the Law53%
Don't Know: 8%
Q2 Do you approve or disapprove of the Bush
Administration’s wiretapping policy? If you
approve, press 1. If you disapprove, press 2.
If you don’t know, press 3.
Don't Know: 8%
Q3 How concerned are you that the Bush
administration’s use of these kinds of wiretaps
could be misused to violate people’s privacy?
If you are very concerned, press 1. If you are
fairly concerned, press 2. If you are concerned
very little, press 3. If you are not at all
concerned, press 4. If you don’t know, press 5.
Very Concerned: 33%
Fairly Concerned: 19%
Little Concerned: 29%
Not Concerned: 15%
Don't Know: 3%
Q4 Which alleged offense do you think is more
impeachable; lying under oath about
inappropriate relations with an intern or
wiretapping American citizens without getting a
court order? If you think lying under oath about
relations with an intern is more impeachable,
press 1. If you think authorizing wiretaps
without getting a court order is more
impeachable, press 2. If you don’t know, press
3. at this time, press 3 now.
Lying about Relations with Intern: 50%
Authorizing Warrentless Wiretaps: 33%
Don't Know: 17%
Q5 If you are a woman, press 1, if a man, press 2.
Q6 If you are a Democrat, press 1. A Republican,
press 2. If other, press 3.
Q7 If you are white, press one now. If you are
African-American, press two now. If other,