Saturday, May 13, 2006

Saturday potpurri

I suggested here on Thursday that most Americans might not take kindly to the idea of the National Security Agency scrutinizing their phone records, with the blessing of the phone companies who bill us every month. So when the Washington Post released a quickie poll on Friday morning, showing that 63 percent of Americans were giving the surveillance program a thumbs-up, I was quickly informed by triumphalist emailers that not only do I hate America, but I am also obviously not in touch with the average person's fear of terrorism.

And Friday was also a good day for the pro-Bush conservatives, who reveled in that poll; witness Mark Levin, a legal activist who wrote on his blog, "Once again the American people prove they are smarter than the media and political elites. They understand that we are at war, that the enemy had infiltrated our country successfully and unleashed devastating attacks against their fellow citizens, and that all this talk about an imperial presidency and violations of privacy rights is ACLU pabulum."

I advised my emailers not to get too giddy. I suggested that the first poll was probably akin to the early polls on the Iraq war, that the first reaction of most people was to assume that the government was doing the right thing, and that support for the phone-data program could wane over time as more information about its workings came to light, or as the ramifications for privacy became clearer.

Well, that didn't take long.

Newsweek has a new poll out today, after surveying twice as many people as the Post did, and it reports that 53 percent of Americans think the NSA program “goes too far in invading people’s privacy,” while 41 percent feel otherwise. (Among the independent swing voters, it's 56 percent to 41 percent.)

Moreover, the Newsweek poll posed a far more specific question. Whereas the Post only asked whether the NSA program was "acceptable" or "unacceptable," Newsweek's pollsters asked Americans to choose between "goes too far" or "it is a necessary tool to combat terrorism."

In other words, the pro-Bush conservatives are premature in thinking that the President won the PR battle at the starting gate. In his parlance, he faces "hard work" on this issue, especially with ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden facing Senate scrutiny next week on his CIA nomination.


By the way, you think there's any chance that Qwest will be flooded with prospective new customers who will beg them to come East?


I also noted the other day that Democratic chairman Howard Dean is at loggerheads with other party leaders over tactics, money, and the proper use of precious resources. And vice versa. He has already spent most of the money he has raised, spreading it around to states where Democrats are not well poised to win anything in November. That practice -- blowing all his money -- is better known in a politics as a "high burn rate," and he did the same thing when he ran for president. By the time he staggered screaming out of Iowa, in round one of the '04 primaries, most of his money was already gone.

On CNN late Thursday, I heard this shot across Dean's bow, courtesy of ex-Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is still close to Hillary and Bill Clinton:
"He's in trouble, in that campaign managers, candidates, are really angry with him. He raised $74 million and spent $64 million. He says it's a long-term strategy. But what he has spent it on, apparently, is just hiring a bunch of people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose. That's now how you build a party. You win elections. That's how you build a party."

Translation: If Hillary Clinton wins the '08 nomination, say, by clinching it in the early primaries, Howard Dean would be well advised to start scrawling "Burlington, Vermont" with magic marker on his packing boxes at the Democratic National Committee, because he will be going home.

Bush is slated to give a televised speech Monday night on the immigration issue. That fact alone is a testament to the administration's growing concern about its disaffected conservative base. Many of his followers -- or ex-followers, as the case may be -- think that he's a wimp on the immigration issue because he wants to let a lot of the illegals stay here. The base calls that "amnesty." So, in his speech, expect him to float a lot of get-tough border enforcement ideas. Then it's off to the border for a photo-op. This paean to the conservative base could be a big story early next week, unless Karl Rove gets indicted. The rumors persist.