From the Washington Post:

"A growing clamor among rank-and-file Democrats to halt President Bush's most controversial tactics in the fight against terrorism has exposed deep divisions within the party, with many Democrats angry that they cannot defeat even a weakened president on issues that they believe should be front and center.

The Democrats' failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party's leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies -- on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.

At the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress yesterday, panelists discussing the balance between security and freedom lashed out at Democratic leaders for not standing up to the White House. "These are matters of principle," said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the center. "You don't temporize." (...)

The terrorism issue came to a head early this month in an explosive final closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting before the August recess. Reps. Hastings, Moran, Melvin Watt (N.C.), John F. Tierney (Mass.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) pleaded with party leaders not to bring to a vote a White House bill extending the administration's authority to listen in on electronic communications from abroad without a warrant.

Conservative Democrats, including Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), argued just as vociferously that Democrats dare not leave on vacation without passing the White House bill.

"The most controversial matters are the ones that people use to form their opinions on their members of Congress," said Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), who voted for the administration's bill. "I do know within our caucus, and justifiably so, there are members who have a real distaste for some of the things the president has done. But to let that be the driving force for our actions to block the surveillance of someone and perhaps stop another attack like 9/11 would be unwise.""

Dear Rep. Davis: this is not about "distaste". Our objections to allowing the administration to listen in on us without warrants is not aesthetic. It concerns some of the most fundamental principles in our Constitution, and the freedoms we take for granted as Americans. Distaste has nothing to do with it.

"Such divisions will not be easy to bridge in the coming weeks. Republicans have said that Democrats who are trying to close the Guantanamo Bay prison want to import terrorists to Americans' back yards. And they have said that those pushing to restore habeas corpus rights want to give terrorists the legal rights of U.S. citizens.

"People say to me, 'Well, what about the 30-second spots?' " said Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to attack ads. He is pushing a bill to restore habeas corpus.

"If you just say you're standing up for civil liberties, the American people are with you, but if you say terrorism suspects should have civil liberties, it stretches Americans' tolerance," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who along with Hastings represents Congress on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a human rights monitor. "It's a tough issue for us.""

What about the 30-second spots? Dear God, Democrats: grow a spine. Figure out that if there's no principle for which you would willingly lose your office, then you don't deserve to hold it in the first place. The liberties enshrined in our Constitution matter more than your political careers.

And even if they didn't, this is not a moment when you need to be afraid. People don't like the Republicans. You are winning. Grow up and deal with it.

"If anything, the habeas corpus and Guantanamo Bay issues will be tougher. In June, nearly 150 House Democrats signed a letter by Moran urging the shuttering of the prison. But Moran said last week that he no longer thinks he could muster the votes to pass the measure, even though the move is supported by former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Republicans appear to have won the argument with their accusation that Democrats want to import terrorists.

A restoration of habeas corpus rights may have a better chance. Leahy said he will push the issue next month, and legislation co-sponsored by Conyers and Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is likely to move through their committees this fall.

But political fear still hovers over any legislation that touches on the fight against terrorism, which, for Democrats, may be the new third rail of politics.

"We can do this, but you have to keep in mind Republicans care more about catching Democrats than catching terrorists," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "They have spent years taking Roosevelt's notion that we have nothing to fear but fear itself and given us nothing but fear.""

Oh, come on. As I said above, the Republican party is not very popular these days. Moreover, it's not as though it's hard to craft a really inspiring message on these issues. We're not talking about some arcane feature of patent law that it's genuinely difficult to get people to care about; we're talking about the freedoms we all claim to cherish. Honestly, if Democrats can't figure out how to make a winning issue of keeping the government from being able to throw you in jail without having to explain themselves to anyone, or at least to prevent it from outweighing what looks to be their pretty serious electoral advantage in 2008, they must be brain dead. And if they can't be bothered to support our Constitution if there's any possibility that it might cost them politically, then their love of their country must be dead as well.

The article I've quoted makes it clear that not all the Democrats feel this way. 41 Democrats voted for the FISA bill, but 181 voted against it. Moreover, even those 41 are generally not falling all over one another in their eagerness to gut our civil liberties, as many Republican members of Congress are.

Still, the fact that there's even a debate about this in the Democratic caucus is sickening.

(Cross-posted to Obsidian Wings.)

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