Various items

Democrat who strongly opposes the Iraq war and telecom amnesty wins a seat in Congress in a bright red district. More on Carlson, Power and the media's servitude to political power. The soap opera narrative of the 2008 election.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published March 9, 2008 1:58PM (EDT)

(updated below)

(1) A special election was held in Illinois yesterday for the Congressional seat occupied forever by retiring GOP former House Speaker Denny Hastert. The district is bright red, having re-elected Hastert in 2006 with 60% and having voted for Bush's 2004 re-election by a 55-45% margin. Nonetheless, the Democrat, Bill Foster, defeated the very wealthy GOP candidate, Jim Oberweis, by a 53-47% margin.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Stoller asked Foster what his position was on telecom amnesty and the raging FISA controversy, and this is what the triumphant Democratic candidate said:

The President and his allies in Congress are playing politics with national security, and that's wrong. Nobody is above the law and telecom companies who engaged in illegal surveillance should be held accountable, not given retroactive immunity. I flatly oppose giving these companies an out for cooperating with Alberto Gonzalez on short-circuiting the FISA courts and the rule of law.

No waffling or apology. He "flatly opposes" telecom amnesty and clearly condemned the GOP attack campaign as blatant fear-mongering. Not only that, but he also just won a House seat in a red district in the midst of an intense nationwide Republican campaign -- supported by the political and media establishment -- to depict House Democrats as Helping the Terrorists because (like Foster) they oppose immunity and warrantless eavesdropping.

The lesson here is unavoidably clear. There is not, and there never has been, any substantial constituency in America clamoring for telecom amnesty or warrantless eavesdropping powers. The only factions that want that are found in the White House, the General Counsel's office of AT&T and Verizon, and the keyboards of woefully out-of-touch Beltway establishment spokesmen such as Fred Hiatt, David Ignatius and Joe Klein. If/when the Democratic Congress vests in the President vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and grants amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, it won't be because doing so is politically necessary (and see Update below).

This isn't to claim that Foster's opposition to telecom amnesty was a decisive factor in his victory. His opposition to the Iraq War was the centerpiece of his campaign (so much for the establishment's self-protective claim that the war they cheered on has lost its potency as an election issue). But what it does prove is that even in red districts, let alone in swing and Democratic districts, there is no political cost, and there may even be substantial political benefit, in standing against this deeply unpopular President, and for the rule of law and basic constitutional liberties.

(2) One of the most notable features of right-wing pundits is their tenacious loyalty to established GOP talking points. For months now, on a daily basis -- literally -- the same small set of GOP pundits mindlessly churns out the same set of factually false FISA and telecom amnesty talking points. Responding to them is like playing a Whack-a-Mole game. One day, National Review's Andy McCarthy writes from the script, followed the next day by the latest recruit for the Wall St. Journal Op-Ed Page, followed by The Weekly Standard, followed by various GOP office holders -- all with the same exact points expressed the same exact way, in an endless, fact-free loop.

Yesterday, Reason's Julian Sanchez clinically dissected the latest in this FISA propaganda genre -- this one from Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti. Sanchez takes every standard GOP claim and, one by one, demonstrates them to be not merely unpersuasive or poorly reasoned, but based on indisputably false factual premises. Sanchez's piece is also highly worth reading because it very methodically sets forth the clear, basic, easy-to-understand facts governing the FISA controversy. It can be read here.

(3) For several reasons, I find it interesting that yesterday's post on the mentality of Tucker Carlson, Tim Russert and their media comrades regarding their relationship to political power was one of the most-linked and most widely-read pieces I've written over the last month or so -- including being promoted by many venues not typically sympathetic to what is written here (to put that mildly). I thought the discussion that followed in the Comment section was superb, and this one comment in particular about how the establishment press functions and the reasons for it -- from DCLaw1 -- captures, I think, the reason why this topic resonates as much as it does.

According to various emails, it seems that Time's Ana Marie Cox was on Howie Kurtz's CNN show this morning and said that most American journalists would never have published Power's remark once she asked that it be kept off the record. Their first instinct, as always, is to protect and curry favor with members in good standing of the political establishment, above all to avoid alienating anyone who can do favors for them. That's their core mission, their overarching operating principle.

(4) Digby yesterday quoted at length from a superb column by LA Citybeat's Mick Ferren, critiquing the unbearable "saturation coverage" of the presidential campaign which, as Ferren says, "has morphed into some surreal, verging-on-fantastic soap opera, maybe closer to Twin Peaks than As the World Turns, but a soap all the same." Despite the relative importance of the process by which we choose the next President, I find that, more often than not, I am forced just to completely tune out the entire media discussion of the presidential election because it's all as vapid, melodramatic, petty and personality-based as it is inescapable.

My new book, to be released in a couple of weeks -- early April -- is (among other things) about precisely this topic, along with the topic from yesterday's post regarding the role the media plays in glorifying and protecting political power. For decades, Republicans have mastered the art of converting our elections into petty, issue-free, personality-based contests, adeptly inflating their candidates into absurd, false icons of honor, strength, masculine courage, moral probity, limited government, and deep empathy for the Regular Guy, while demonizing Democrats and liberals as morally twisted, gender-confused, weak, subversive cowards, elitists and losers. Central to this process -- indispensable in enabling it to work -- is the establishment media's reverence for these GOP personality mythologies and their eagerness to be part of it by scorning and mocking the weak and abnormal Democrats.

I began writing the book before the 2008 race was really underway and, even though it's the theme of my book, I'm still surprised by how completely the media's behavior has comported to this formula. And, since this year's GOP nominee is John McCain -- one of the most beloved and worshiped media figures in modern history -- this is the media dynamic that is going to dominate this year's election, even more than it typically does.

Promotions for the book and various events relating to it will begin on April 1:

(5) Eric Umansky at Mother Jones examines the sweepingly broad "material support" provisions of federal anti-terrorism laws, and highlights not only their potential for serious abuse, but the way in which federal prosecutors have applied those laws far beyond their intended scope.

(6) Several regular comments here, and many others, have been working diligently to raise support for a show of solidarity in the U.S. and elsewhere for Black Flag Week, so called by Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association in Pakistan, and effective head of the lawyers movement there, to demand greater democracy and adherence to the rule of law in Pakistan. For those interested, details are here.


(7) Just a few weeks ago, here is what losing GOP candidate Jim Oberweis said about FISA, telecom immunity and his victorious opponent (h/t Stoller, via email):


(BATAVIA, February 16) -- GOP nominee Jim Oberweis today criticized the Democrat-led House of Representatives for failing to take up and pass the Protect America Act, a critical piece of legislation that allows our nation's intelligence community to use the latest technology to surveil suspected terrorists, and challenged liberal Democrat Bill Foster to choose: would Foster have sided with Nancy Pelosi and the trial lawyers who provide the financial underpinnings of the Democratic Party, or with America's intelligence community and the American citizens it protects on a daily basis?

"Yesterday, the liberal Democrats who now control the House of Representatives played politics with our national security -- and today, America's security is today at greater risk," said Oberweis. . . . .

"So today I ask my opponent -- if you had been a Member of Congress this week, and you had sat in that Democratic Caucus meeting on Wednesday, how would you have voted to instruct your leaders? Would you have sided with the trial lawyers, or with America's intelligence community? Would you have voted to protect trial lawyers' wallets, or to protect America? Would you have defended the extreme, or the mainstream?"

Foster swatted away those smears and answered those questions definitively. And he won in a red district. How irrational does someone have to be to continue to fear pitiful, discredited GOP attacks like this? They don't even work in Denny Hastert's district.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn GreenwaldFOLLOW ggreenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------