Friday, May 12, 2006

The American People "Get It"

...even if folks inside the Beltway don't. According to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans (63%) support the recently disclosed NSA program which collects data on phone calls made in the United States, in an effort to locate potential terrorists.

Some of the poll's findings are bound to dismay administration critics and the civil liberties crowd. Everyone from Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson to the ACLU have expressed strong misgivings about the program, which gives the NSA access to calling records from at least three of the nation's largest phone companies, Bell South, Verizon and AT&T. However, the American people apparently "get it," even if the pundit class doesn't. Some interesting results from the poll:

--Almost half of those surveyed (44%) expressed strong support for the program; the 63% figure represents the total percentage of respondents who consider the NSA program an acceptable way to investigate terrorism.

-- A slightly larger majority (66%) said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made.

-- Another solid majority (65%) said it was more important to investigate terrorism, even if it intrudes on privacy. Only 30% said it was more important to protect privacy, even if it limits our investigative efforts

-- Over half (51%) approve of the way President Bush is handling privacy matters.

-- Only 24% of the poll's respondents "strongly object" to the program.

The previously classified program was disclosed just days before CIA nominee, General Michael Hayden, is scheduled to begin his confirmation hearings. It doesn't take a political operative to see that this latest "leak" was designed to embarass General Hayden, who ran the NSA when the program was created.

This poll is encouraging in several respects. First, it demonstrates that the American people have a deeper understanding of the war on terrorism--and what needs to be done--than most politicians and pundits give them credit for. Secondly, it suggests that General Hayden may have an easier time in his confirmation hearings than first believed. Senate critics may want to review the poll before using the hearings to air their gripes on NSA's surveillance efforts. The American people clearly don't have a problem with these programs, and senators placing themselves squarely against these efforts (and General Hayden) run the risk of alienating voters, in an election year.

Finally, there's actually some good political news in the poll for President Bush. On a day when another survey places his overall approval rating at 29%, the ABC/WaPo poll proves that the American people will support President Bush, when he does the right thing. If Mr. Bush would offer viable plans for securing the borders and addressing other critical issues, he would see his poll numbers rise, not decline.

11 comments:

M.A. said...

In the words of a wiser man than I:


But one can protect against the threat of terrorism with courage, calm and resolve -- the attributes that have always defined our nation as it has confronted other threats. Hysteria and fear-mongering are the opposite of strength.

Most people know individuals in their lives who live in this type of irrational, all-consuming fear -- people who are scared, pathologically risk-averse, always hiding and exerting excess caution lest something go wrong. In its more extreme version, that sort of fear manifests as a life-destroying mental disorder

The Bush administration has been trying to reduce this country to a collective version of that affliction. And it is hard to imagine what a nation fueled by such fear can accomplish.

The administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian idea that fear is the hallmark of courage, and a rational and calm approach is a mark of cowardice. They have been aided in this effort by a frightened national media and political elite that lives in Washington and New York -- two "target-rich" cities -- and that has been so petrified of further attacks that they were easily pushed into a state of passive, uncritical compliance in exchange for promises of protection.


Assuming future polls (this one is an overnight poll with a small sampling size) show that Americans support this, it's too bad but not necessarily surprising -- many people are afraid, and the Bush administration has an interest in exaggerating the threat of terrorism (pretending, as they do, that a few nuts with box-cutters are an existential threat) to keep Americans afraid. Still, as a liberal, I believe in morality, and what Bush is doing is wrong no matter what a poll says (just as Bush supporters presumably believe that Bush is a good President no matter what the polls say).

HaloJonesFan said...
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HaloJonesFan said...

quoted:
"Most people know individuals in their lives who live in this type of irrational, all-consuming fear..."

Indeed I do. They're on the radio right now, shitting their pants because the NSA recorded non-private speech.

There's a delicious irony in someone looking at the current state of America, directly equating it to "1984", then saying that I am irrational for objecting.

m.a.:
"...the Bush administration has an interest in exaggerating the threat of terrorism (pretending, as they do, that a few nuts with box-cutters are an existential threat)..."

Some 3500 people in New York City found that threat to be quite existential indeed.

M.A. said...

Again, because the nuts got lucky five years ago is no reason for people to wet their pants with fear of the Muslamonazi Terrorizers. I think sensible people understand that, which is why New York and Washington -- the two cities most directly threatened -- have remained quite liberal in their voting patterns. There's a reason New York went for Kerry instead of Bush; New Yorkers, who actually live with the threat of terrorism, knew that Bush was exaggerating the threat for political gain. Unfortunately some Americans still live with the irrational fear that is the Bush administration's stock-in-trade.

Incidentally, one thing I notice about these polls is that they rarely factor in the question of the program's legality. That is, when you ask people whether they'd support these programs even if they're illegal (and the previously-disclosed NSA program is certainly illegal; this database program, on the other hand, may not be illegal, though it's hard to tell), support drops considerably. Americans may be okay with some invasion of privacy but they're not okay with Presidential lawbreaking, which is why the Bush administration always tries to keep these programs away from the Courts -- because they'd be declared illegal in about three seconds.

HaloJonesFan said...

"Again, because the nuts got lucky five years ago..."

Five years ago...and two years ago in London...and three years ago in Spain, and Bali...and ten years ago in THE SAME BUILDING in New York City...

Also, you say that they "got lucky". This implies that there was some sort of activity that would have normally stopped these people. What sort of activity would that be? According to you, domestic intelligence-gathering operations are a sign of political fearmongering!

"New Yorkers, who actually live with the threat of terrorism..."

But you say that the hijackers "got lucky" on September 11th, and that it was an isolated fluke event. Aren't you trying to say that there is no terrorist threat? Make up your mind!

"Incidentally, one thing I notice about these polls is that they rarely factor in the question of the program's legality."

Mostly because people don't give two shits about legality in any context. (If they did, then they wouldn't drive quite so fast, among other things.)

M.A. said...

Also, you say that they "got lucky". This implies that there was some sort of activity that would have normally stopped these people.

No, quite the opposite. I don't see any activity, short of rounding up all Muslims and throwing them in camps (the Malkinite solution) that would have guaranteed prevention of the 9/11 attack. I'll even throw a bi-partisan bone and say that if Bush hadn't ignored the PDB about Bin Laden being determined to strike in the U.S., he still probably couldn't have guaranteed that he'd have stopped Bin Laden. The American government, even armed with Aunt Millie's telephone number, is not all-powerful.

Aren't you trying to say that there is no terrorist threat?

Where did I say that? I said that the terrorist threat has been exaggerated. Of course there are Muslamonazi Jihadodhimmis out there who want to pull off a terrorist attack; it's reasonable to take precautions against that. But Bush followers seem to believe that terrorism is a threat to our very existence as a society and that we're all one attack away from being turned into subjects of the Caliphate. That's crazy John Bircher stuff.

Making The Wheels Turn said...

Just as a point, this tool (and that's really all it is, a "Tool") has been extremely useful in the drug enforcement arena, and that's been where the bulk of the usage has occurred.

And I've seen the results first hand from using this tool in the drug enforcement arena, and it works. And if you really want to see "terrorists" out there, look for your local coke and heroin dealers. If this tool provides for better analysis by developing phone number linkages on phones used by the drug dealers, then I'm all for it.

And if these wimpy civil liberitarian types have a problem with the government using this tool in law enforcement efforts, well it looks to me like they must not have a serious problem with the coke and heroin dealers pushing this poison out into our neightborhoods.

If you say the government can't use this tool against terrorists, then you've just pulled that same tool out of use in the drug enforcement arena. And that's really bad news.

Be careful what you wish for, because there are both "intended consequences" and "unintended consequences" associated with those actions.

Making The Wheels Turn said...

Just as a point, this tool (and that's really all it is, a "Tool") has been extremely useful in the drug enforcement arena, and that's been where the bulk of the usage has occurred.

And I've seen the results first hand from using this tool in the drug enforcement arena, and it works. And if you really want to see "terrorists" out there, look for your local coke and heroin dealers. If this tool provides for better analysis by developing phone number linkages on phones used by the drug dealers, then I'm all for it.

And if these wimpy civil liberitarian types have a problem with the government using this tool in law enforcement efforts, well it looks to me like they must not have a serious problem with the coke and heroin dealers pushing this poison out into our neightborhoods.

If you say the government can't use this tool against terrorists, then you've just pulled that same tool out of use in the drug enforcement arena. And that's really bad news.

Be careful what you wish for, because there are both "intended consequences" and "unintended consequences" associated with those actions.

P. Froward said...

M.A., maybe if I lived in the strange fantasy-world you inhabit, I'd feel the way you do, but I don't. Here in reality-land, we hear very little from anybody left of center aside from shrill howls about the end of democracy, the coming ice age (er, no, global warming? Oops, cooling! No, it's "climate change" this week, that's right!), concealed carry laws inspiring inanimate pieces of metal to walk around killing people, creeping theocracy, endless whimpering about how "we're not safer" (how can they tell?!) and God knows what-all else. Not to mention the fear-drenched essay you linked to.

I'm just not hearing that level of irrational, hysterical fear-mongering from anybody but the left. And most of these people are not even very far left; the real hard left thinks the Jews destroyed the WTC and the Pentagon has a weather machine that causes earthquakes. The stuff in the first paragraph isn't the extremists; that's the relatively sane ones. The fringe are out there with the Klan, hiding under the bed and gibbering.

And, let's tell the truth (the "truth" is when you say something that matches, like, actual factual information, like in the real world? Not familiar with the real world, eh? Okay, the "real world" is the one where events actually... oh, never mind, it's beyond you) about this fear of terrorism thing.

Let's just tell the truth. One of the Dem's talking points these days is, as noted above, "we're not safer". I hear that a lot: "The war hasn't made us safer". So... of course, that can't be fear-mongering, because Democrats are doing it, but... well, they're peddling fear, that's all. But in a "good way", I take it?

"Pathologically risk-averse", the man says. Who's peddling the nanny state? Who wants our troops swathed in so much armor they can't even walk? Who wants to surrender in Iraq because the very thought of the risk of failure freezes them like a rabbit in the headlights? Who demands a foreign policy composed exclusively of apologies and concessions, for fear of offending somebody, somewhere? Who's the play-it-safe party, the take-no-risks party, the part of just-give-them-whatever-they-
want-and-maybe-they-won't-hurt-us? Who's the don't-defend-yourself-you-might-get-hurt party? Who's the cradle-to-grave welfare-and-socialized-medicine party, forever in a tizzy lest some sparrow fall without getting a fat compensation check from the government? Who are the ones who think pretty much everybody on Earth is a hopelessly fragile mass of emotional wounds? Who thinks that if you discipline a kid he'll turn into a mass murderer? (Funny, though, how kids never did that until parents stopped disciplining them...)

Come on, think hard! Who's telling us we can't be trusted with guns, because they'll kill us? And on, and on.

Oh, and those "target-rich" cities, like NYC and LA? Those were the ones where people were putting pictures of themselves on websites with signs begging, begging bin Laden, back in 2004, to bomb red states instead of them. They're the ones who obey anybody who threatens them. If George Bush really did threaten them, they'd obey him instead. I've heard people in NYC say they still get freaked out when a plane flies overhead. Mind-boggling, but there it is: They're Democrats. Scared of their own shadows.


So maybe you can give me a meaningful example of GOP fear-mongering. Just one would do. The Ernie/Bert Danger Level always struck me as harmlessly goofy; maybe some people felt otherwise. You don't get to include sane recognition of the fact that 9/11 did happen, and the people behind it would like to pull a stunt like that again. Nor do you get to include airport security measures that are pretty easygoing compared to what you see in countries with long experience of terrorism, like in Europe for example. I've a friend who grew up in London in the 1980s. She's lived in the US for more than a decade, and it still bugs her when she sees open trash cans in public areas.

So... maybe you're thinking about the Administration's exaggerated concern with keeping our borders closed? Oh, right, they're actually pretty blasé about that one. And so on.

You're so full of shit you squish when you walk, kiddo. Your whole thesis ranges from bullshit to genuinely deranged fantasies.


I don't mind the NSA listening in on calls from fucking Waziristan, for God's sake, particularly if the Waziristan end is somebody they've got their eyes on. That's their job, and no competent legal authority, left right or center, thinks it's clearly outside the envelope Constitutionally. I'm a rational adult. If somebody from al Qaeda has you on speed dial, it is in fact reasonable for us to wonder what's going on.

Listening in on arbitrarily-selected domestic calls, on the other hand, is bullshit. I've written my congressmorons about it, and the WH as well, not that it'll do any good. If we dragged a few elected representatives out of their offices and hanged them in the portico of the capitol building every year or two, I think that would encourage the others to no end.

P. Froward said...

OMGF that was long. Oh, well. Paragraph 5 is pretty good, and the last one's not bad.

If you anybody does read it all: That friend from London? Helluva nice person, real good friend — but miles to the left of me.

P. Froward said...
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