Why the Progressive Movement Couldn't Stop the Bush FISA Bill

This post, written by Matt Stoller, originally appeared on Open Left

There's a wonderful discussion in the comments of the last post on why the FISA bill passed, on what motivated 57 Democrats to vote to expand Bush's executive authority. In Glenn Greenwald's interview with Chris Dodd, Dodd himself expresses astonishment at the vote. There are really two parts to this question. One is why Blue Dogs caved, and two is why there was no basically no organizing or lobbying done to stop this bill from moving.

Let's talk politicians first. Did these members betray their principles? Were they scared of Bush? It's easy to make the argument that they are afraid of Bush, that they are frightened. And in a sense, it's not an either/or. Still, we must also consider the possibility that these 57 Democrats believe in a more expansive security state and do not support civil liberties. They are not liberals, and they just don't agree with us.

It may sound silly and obvious, but we must remember that there are different politicians out there who think different stuff and have different priorities than we do. When these politicians do things that are murderously awful, it's not always out of craven fear. Sometimes, though not always, it's just because they are people who believe that a corrupt police state government governs best. We don't. And so it's our job to put candidates in office and support those candidates that are going to advocate for our values. And we're doing that.

Still, as a movement, we have only one crop of politicians in office, those elected in 2006. Pretty soon, we'll have another crop. Don't forget that every other person put in Congress on the Democratic side had their instincts, ideas and politics honed by a fiercely reactionary media and political structure. Most of them raised huge sums of money and put it into TV ads. Most of them think criticism from the right is to be feared, and that the left is fringe, though Democratic leaders are beginning to get addicted to internet money.

Given the age of our movement, it shouldn't be a surprise that the progressive caucus is weaker than it could be, or that Bush is still able to govern. It's never been about Bush, after all, it's always been about right-wing coalitions.

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