Sunday, February 12, 2006

Shorter David Brooks

It’s been a while since I bothered to capsulate him, but his column for the Sunday Times is worth it because it proves — as if there was any doubt — that he is such a sanctimonious toady to the Bush administration. He also thinks it is far more important to have the illusion of bipartisanship as demonstrated by the “Gang of 14” that forestalled the “nuclear option” a year ago than it is to have the administration actually obey the law.

The Gang of 14 agreement […] was a triumph. It preserved the traditions of the Senate. It lowered the ideological temperature. Most of all, it transformed what had been an abstract ideological feud about Senate procedures into a concrete exercise in democracy.

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The Gang of 14 agreement was one of the political highlights of 2005 precisely because it punctured the ideological posturing and paved the way for a series of pragmatic judgments on a nomination-by-nomination basis.

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But now we need the Gang of 14 back again, because another issue has ossified into abstract ideological debate. This is the issue of National Security Agency wiretapping.

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Here’s how you do it. You exempt searches covered by the Bush program from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. You give the intelligence committees oversight responsibilities for those programs. You toughen the penalties for anybody who dares to leak secrets about those programs. You let committee members know that if the United States is attacked, and they opposed programs that could have prevented that attack, then it will be their name in the headlines, their name going down in historical infamy.

That kind of shared responsibility will induce a little seriousness. That will break through the abstract partisan warfare. Democratic senators know their party can’t win elections if they continually position themselves as A.C.L.U. doves in security fights. Republican senators know they weren’t elected just to serve as serfs and servants to the almighty executive.

So it’s all about appearances and “getting along,” is it? Ignore the fact that the president authorized illegal wiretapping because it’s an abstract ideological debate? Threaten the Senate with political blackmail if the Department of Homeland Security can’t do it’s job? Toughen penalties for leaking a program that was illegal in the first place? In other words, figure out a way to give the White House cover by blaming their massive incompetence, political troubles, and ideological warfare with people in their own party on those in the House and Senate who actually believe in the rule of law and demand something that is a completely foreign concept to people like Karl Rove: accountability. Yes, that’s the way to get cooperative and pragmatic bipartisanship.