Sunday, March 12, 2006

Battling partisanship

Like many other outlets, the Washington Post reports that Spartisan defensiveness is splitting the Senate Intelligence Committee:
Inter-party animosity has simmered since the 1990s, but it heated up when Republicans took steps to limit probes into President Bush's handling of the Iraq war and domestic spying. It reached a full boil Tuesday, when the committee voted along party lines to reject a proposed investigation of the administration's warrantless surveillance of Americans' international communications. It voted instead to create a White House-approved subcommittee to oversee the operation, infuriating Democrats and some civil libertarians.

Their anger has focused mainly on the committee's chairman, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas. A staunch defender of Bush administration policies, he recently said some of the panel's Democrats "believe the gravest threat we face is not Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but rather the president of the United States."

When Roberts adjourned a committee meeting last month rather than allow a vote on the proposed wiretap inquiry, Vice Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) declared the panel "basically under the control of the White House, through its chairman." …

Rockefeller declined to be interviewed for this story but said in a statement that "this condition of partisanship cannot stand. . . . People must learn to deal with each other out of concern for national security and our responsibilities on the committee. We cannot continue like this."
I'm inclined to lay this on Senator Roberts and his Republican predecessors. The article cites the 1997 rejection of President Clinton's choice for CIA director, and the way that Senator Roberts has blocked a thorough review of the way that intelligence was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. As the drums of war beat around Iran, that's an issue that matters for those who, like Senator Roberts, would "rather look forward." The White House is entitled to surround itself in secrecy, but the Senate's job should be to dig in and investigate, not to

I'm ready to admit that I'm wrong about this, and about lots of things I've said about Senator Roberts. He used to be known as one of the easiest people to work with across the aisle, and I don't want to believe that his personality is changing as he grows old.* I want a sensible explanation of his actions, but all I see is the same talking points that the White House is putting out. That makes it rather hard to credit his claims to independence.

I've tried repeatedly to get comment from his office, and to understand his perspective. Unfortunately, his staff has not returned repeated phone calls and emails. This is, of course, their prerogative. But if they want to reach out and stop the partisan nature of the debate, ignoring their constituents and leveling charges of partisanship against others hardly seems like a solution. Engagement is a better solution to partisanship than throwing stones.

Of course, Senators from both sides have been difficult to talk with. Glenn writes about his efforts to build an alliance with Democratic Senators, and posts this response from one:

there are obvious and easy -- yet quite potent -- ways for national Democrats to work with bloggers and the blogosphere to maximize the force of these efforts.

This was the response I ultimately received:

I think there is an opportunity for us to figure out a better way to work together. But, you have to understand, my ultimate goal is to help [the] Senator [] achieve his objective of real oversight on national security matters by the Intelligence Committee.

Even with the best of intentions, I’m not convinced that bloggers can help us meet that goal. In fact, I worry about it hurting our efforts given the increasingly partisan environment.
It's true that bloggers can't be controlled, but if someone tells me something off the record, I don't go and break that confidence. If a staffer talks to me on a strategic level, that helps me make them more effective. That would be true of Roberts or Reid, Frist or Feingold. If Roberts talked with me and convinced me that he was right, that any further discussion of the illegal warrantless wiretapping was just hurting whatever, I'd do my best to convince other people of the same. Whether he can do that is an open question, because he hasn't tried.

TfK strives to reach out and explain why I think something, not just amplify spin. That's what the best blogs do, and it should be the goal of Senators on all sides to take advantage of that dynamic.

*Given his frank discussion of the "memory pills" he takes, one has to wonder whether he might have Alzheimer's disease, which has symptoms of memory loss and personality change.