Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Was going to leave this as a comment on Steve's post, but it seems to have spiraled out of control. Anyway, while I can't speak for Steve, my personal problem with folks like Mr. Carpenter isn't so much that they love to flaunt their cynicism in the face of everyone else's idealism (though that is annoying), or that they're shamelessly re-writing history to suit their purposes (Kerry not pandering to the base? Puh-lease!). My point is that I think they dismiss the cynical case for opposition to telecoms immunity, or rather they ignore it completely.

And it's really not a difficult point to understand. McCain sat on a telecoms oversight committee, and has generally looked pretty friendly with the telcos for a while now, and Obama's been partly running (very successfully) on a platform of bashing the disproportionate influence of lobbyists in Washington. Now obviously he's also been running on the idea of being a post-partisan uniter, but if he did vote against it, and McCain did try to come after him on it, this is stuff he could legitimately bring up. "Well John, you make a good point about security, but my feeling was that the FISA bill was more of a sop to the telecoms industry than a security bill proper. A government handout. Kind of like those earmarks which you're saying will pay for the war when you cut them. Say, who's that back there holding your briefcase?"

OK, maybe something a little more polished than that, but you get the idea. Now at this point P.M.'s probably gesturing towards those hordes of unwashed "low information voters" who'll shit themselves when the Reps say that Obama's interested in letting t'rurists sue good American companies. I don't doubt that there's a goodly number of mouth-breathers who think that any backsliding on Bush's wonderful record on terrorism will immediately result in a mushroom cloud over Des Moines, but I think the usual term for them is the McCain base. Also, if you can keep discussion focussed on what it is the telcos are actually getting granted immunity for (not, to be fair, an easy task), then we're into a wonderful, wacky X-Files world that should flick the conspiracy theory switches on even the dumbest Bible-bashers: "Well, the President just pretty much went up to these companies and said, 'You have to put all the calls in America through the government,'" or something like that.

Now I'm not claiming that this would be easy, and I don't doubt that McCain would come out all guns blazing trying to claim that it was a wonderful bill and Obama's haggling over some petty detail that no-one cares about anyway and this is irresponsible in the extreme and shows that he's not nearly enough of a flyboy bad-ass to be leading the country and Ahmedinajad'll laugh at him in the playground and all the same tired Republican bullshit that they've been throwing for the last two years.

So it becomes a question of who can frame the debate best. Can Obama steer it towards lobbying, corruption and civil liberties, or can McCain manage to keep the focus on the nasty men with beards who would blow everyone up if Bush hadn't devised the terribly effective counter-measure of listening to the telephone conversations of everyone in the USA?

Might look like an uphill struggle for Obama, but he has more funds, he's ahead in the polls, he's showed he knows how to run a campaign, and everyone has spent the past six months spunking themselves about what a great orator he is, so I don't think we have to assume it's necessarily beyond his capacity. And the rewards are big. Take away the perception that McCain's a straight-shooting guy who knows how to run a war on terror, and what does he have left to run on? Somewhere between diddly and squat.

But say I'm wrong, and it'd be a ludicrous gamble with dubious pay-offs, and Obama has regretfully made the right move. Fine. If Carpenter was to explain why that's the case, and try to convince people, I'm sure they'd bite the bullet. Instead, he's just trying to cover for the fact that the Democrats can't seem to sell their ideas on Homeland Security as well as the Republicans by sounding like a tosser.

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