I didn’t watch yesterday’s Senate debate over the reauthorization of the 2008 FISA Amendments, but my Twitter feed suggested that it was a grim affair. A few senators tried to introduce amendments that would have provided a tiny bit of oversight of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program—remember that?—but they were basically shouted down by my homestate senator, Dianne Feinstein, and the program was quickly reauthorized with essentially no public oversight at all. Glenn Greenwald is quite reasonably angry:
It’s hard to put into words just how extreme was Feinstein’s day-long fear-mongering tirade. “I’ve never seen a Congressional member argue so strongly against Executive Branch oversight as Sen. Feinstein did today re the FISA law,” said Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. Referring to Feinstein’s alternating denials and justifications for warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer observed: “This FISA debate reminds of the torture debate circa 2004: We don’t torture! And anyway, we have to torture, we don’t have any choice.”
….Here we find yet again a defining attribute of the Obama legacy: the transformation of what was until recently a symbol of right-wing radicalism — warrantless eavesdropping — into meekly accepted bipartisan consensus. But it’s not just the policies that are so transformed but the mentality and rhetoric that accompanies them: anyone who stands in the way of the US Government’s demands for unaccountable, secret power is helping the Terrorists. “The administration has decided the program should be classified”, decreed Feinstein, and that is that.
The worst part of all this is that nobody cares. None of our three major daily newspapers made this front-page news. Virtually none of the blogs I read highlighted it. Even my Twitter feed only mentioned it sporadically.
And of course, that includes me. I didn’t write about it either. Glenn thinks that liberals have largely given up criticizing this stuff because we now have a Democratic president in the White House rather than George W. Bush, and I suppose that’s part of it. But a bigger part, I think, is simply that it’s all become so institutionalized. Back in 2004 and 2006, we were outraged because this was all so new. Today, after fighting and losing, it’s just part of our brave new world, along with 3-ounce bottles on airplanes, unreviewable no-fly lists, and cops who demand to know what you’re up to if you start taking pictures in public places.
As a country, we’re now divided into two parts: those who aggressively support things like warrantless wiretapping because they’re consumed with fear, and those who don’t but have given up trying to fight about it. There’s hardly anyone left still willing to tilt at this particular windmill. It’s sad as hell.
UPDATE: Here’s a straight news account of yesterday’s Senate debate from Wired. Our own Adam Serwer has more coverage here, including the obvious question about opposition to the oversight amendments: “But if the program is constitutional, and the oversight is effective, what is there to be afraid of?”