More FISA

MORE FISA….E.J. Dionne has a good tick-tock today about last weekend’s FISA amendment fiasco:

Several members from swing districts — including Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Patrick J. Murphy of Pennsylvania — expressed openness to having Congress stay in town to fight if important constitutional issues were at stake.

But the moment passed. Even some very liberal Democrats worried about the political costs of blocking action before the summer recess….One anxiety hovered over the debate: If a terrorist attack happened and Congress had not given Bush what he wanted, the Democrats would get blamed for a lack of vigilance.

Note the way the incentives work here. If you pass the bill, the results are ambiguous. Sure, a lot of people will be angry, but they’ll probably get over it eventually (or so the thinking goes). But if you stall the bill and a terrorist strikes, you are firmly and completely screwed. Goodbye political career. So which choice do you think a risk-averse politicians is likely to make?

This same dynamic was at work before the war, too. If you favored the war and things went south, the resulting mess would be long-term and ambiguous. There would almost certainly be a way to weasel your way out of any trouble and stay in office. But if you opposed the war and then, after the invasion went ahead over your objections, the Army discovered a serious nuclear arms program or an advanced bioweapons lab — both considered distinct possibilities at the time — you’d be out of office at the next midterm. For risk-averse politicians, the choice was obvious.

Nobody wants to risk being proved wrong in a way that’s so crystal clear there’s simply no chance of talking your way out of it. It’s this fear that gives national security hawks the upper hand in any terror-related debate. Still.

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