Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A question about honesty

My wife used to watch MAD TV, and they had a series of skits on it about a dating service called "Lowered Expectations", where they'd have all kinds of ads for people you probably didn't want to meet.

That phrase has been going through my mind recently when I'm thinking about honesty in political campaigning.

Look, there are lies that you expect people to use in political campaigns. Bush is going to say America is safer after invading Iraq. Of course, before we invaded, we had 5,000 people stationed in Saudi Arabia to keep Saddam under wraps. Maybe we had more... let's triple it, to 15,000 troops, keeping the peace, none dying due to hostile action. We're now safer, when we need nearly ten times as many troops, and they're dying practically every day. Sure, we're safer!

But it's the kind of lie you expect. Politicians always play up their own accomplishments, and pretend that their failures were someone else's fault.

But now... well, now things are different.

Here's an example. People are opposed to how Bush is declaring he can disobey FISA, and spy on Americans without using warrants. He, and the Republicans in Congress, keep trying to pretend that it's about spying, period. Bush has said that if you're talking to a terrorist, the US government wants to know why. His Republican supporters insist that the Democrats don't want him spying on such conversations. One recent campaign commercial suggested that Democrats want the NSA to "wait until paperwork is filed" before spying.

None of that is even remotelyi true. This isn't an exaggeration; it's a flat out lie.

First off, if Bush was only spying on calls by (or to) terrorists, he could get a warrant, and he doesn't have to wait for the warrant in order to start spying. He has 72 hours to spy before he needs his warrant. Now, if there's one thing the government is good at, it's moving pieces of paper. If he can't get a warrant application to the FISA court within 72 hours, he doesn't deserve his MBA from Harvard.

But you know what? Let's say he says he needs more than three days; say he needs five, or even seven days. He could probably get that, by going to Congress and requesting it, and he'd be obeying the law.

The issue isn't spying, and it's not about delaying spying until the paperwork is filed. It's about making sure that, if he's spying on Americans, that he's doing so because we know that there's reasonable cause to suspect they are involved in something dangerous to America.

If he is, he can get the warrants; that's precisely when the warrants are supposed to be issued.

Since he refuses to get those warrants, what can we do, but assume it's because he's spying on people without probable cause?

That is the issue. That's the only issue. He knows it. The Republicans know it. So why are they pretending that it's something else?

First, because Bush knows he's operating outside the law. I mean, that's clear, the law specifically forbids anyone (including the President) from doing, or ordering what he's doing.

Second, because they don't care if they tell lies about the Democrats that make people think the Democrats are stupid, and hate America. Whether it's because they want to spread that kind of hatred, or because they don't care if they spread that kind of hatred, doesn't really matter to me.

Because this isn't lying about one's accomplishments; this isn't lying to try to make yourself look better than you truly are. This is lying to try to make your opponent look terrible. Not just "bad, compared to you", but to make your opponent look intrinsically terrible. Worse, it's not just a single candidate aiming it at a single person... it's a large portion of an entire political party, trying to aim it at its opposition.

And while it's terrible that we have to lower our expectations to the point that we can't expect anyone to make an honest admission of error, it's even worse when we have to expect this kind of hateful slander, and think that it's "politics as usual".

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