When George W. Bush defends his warrantless spying program, he turns -- inevitably -- to a line that makes an awful lot of sense at first blush: "It seems like to me that if somebody is talking to al-Qaida, we want to know why." But it's a false choice he's hoisting on the American people, and it appears that they're beginning to get it.
In a new national poll from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, a majority of Americans say that the government should indeed monitor phone calls involving suspected terrorists -- but that it should get a warrant first.
It's not a particularly complicated coupling of thoughts, and it's exactly what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires. Americans may have a hard time counting their First Amendment rights, but they seem pretty clear on this: By a margin of 54 percent to 42 percent, they say the government should get a court order before listening in on telephone calls that start or stop in the United States.
Majority support for warrants is even stronger in swing states, where 57 percent of the respondents said the government should go to the trouble of getting warrants. But even in red states, Americans are rejecting, by a 51-46 margin, the all-or-nothing argument the administration has advanced.
They're rejecting the president, too. Following on a CBS News poll that handed Bush a 34 percent approval rating earlier this week, the Quinnipiac poll shows 36 percent of the public approving of the way Bush is doing his job now, his worst showing ever in the poll. Bush is down 34-61 in blue states, 31-63 in purple states and 42-51 in red states.