perfect example of why this administration and its slavish right-wing supporters are so frustratingly impossible to deal with.
The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they're calling and why.... Ed, I can say that if somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why. (Bush, San Antonio, January 1 2005)
And it seems like to me that if somebody is talking to Al Qaeda, we want to know why. (Bush, Lousiville KY, Jan 11 2006)
And so, as the president said if someone in the United States, if you're an American citizen and you're talking to al Qaeda, we want to know why. I think it's very, very important that we know about communications that are occurring within the United States to folks outside the United States that may be affiliated with al Qaeda. (Gonzales, Larry King Live, CNN, January 16 2006)
If there is an al Qaeda person operating inside the United States and talking to someone outside the United States, you bet we want to know what they're saying. (Scott McClellan, White House Briefing, January 25 2006)
If there are people inside our country who are talkin' with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again. (Bush, SOTU address, Jan 31 2006)
Let me put it to you in Texan: If al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know. (Bush, Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, February 1 2006)
As the President has said, if you're talking with al Qaeda, we want to know what you're saying. (Gonzales, Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, February 6 2006)
NEW:But the president has also been very clear. If you're talking to al Qaeda, even if you're an American citizen, we want to know why. (Gonzales, The Charlie Rose Show, PBS, February 8 2006)
On Face the Nation this Sunday, David "BoBo" Brooks called (PDF 98K) this "a killer line." If he means that it kills off any further discussion or debate he's absolutely right.
In terms of argumentative logic, of course, it's utterly fallacious and a classic example of the red herring. That we should be spying on those who wish to commit acts of terrorism against us is utterly beyond dispute. It is a position that rightly meets with near universal approval in this country, and thus anyone who takes this position can likewise expect to win such approval.
As a defense of a secret domestic surveillance program of highly dubious legality, however, Bush's "killer line" fails utterly. To embrace the practice of spying on our enemies in general completely dodges the question of whether the manner in which this president does it is legal or not. It is a perfectly designed non-refutation masquerading as a refutation.
And it is repeated over and over and over and over again by this president and his uniform chorus of accomplices. Watch the red herring be repeated and spun, over and over and over [my emphases]:
What about this new technology called data mining, where they go out -- I don't even know this world, but I know it's out there -- they can look at the world of email and they can look -- throw out a big fish net and say let's look at everybody who's used the phrase Lincoln Tunnel or Empire State Building or Sears Tower. Anybody between here and that al Qaeda land over there, those Arab countries, is using words like that on the phone, we want to know who they are. Can you go to a FISA court and say went to lasso everybody who's used the word Lincoln Tunnel in the past three weeks? (Chris Matthews to Former FISA Court Counsel Kenneth Bass, Hardball, MSNBC, January 16 2006) What a rambling lunatic: "that al Qaeda land over there?" Whoozamajig? al-Whatsit?
Americans get it. We were reminded last week that Usama still wants to kill us in the country we live in, and we understand that he claims to have people already in our country plotting our demise. So when you say, as Bush is saying, if Al Qaeda is calling someone in America, we want to know what they're saying on that call, Americans say, "Yes, we sure do want to know." If Democrats are going to argue against that position by saying, "You're not obeying the 1978 FISA law, which requires a warrant every time you listen to an Al Qaeda call," they've lost the argument before it even begins. (John Gibson, The Big Story, Fox News, January 24 2006) Ah yes, nothing like a little faux patriotism rilled up with a little fear. No debate, no hearings necessary: just lather, rinse, repeat.
[NBC’s Brian] WILLIAMS: And, David Gregory, the quote was "If there are people inside our country who are talking with al-Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again." How high is confidence at the White House that they are on the right, winning side of this issue as it's debated?
GREGORY: I--I think that quote says it all about how the White House views this. Not as a controversy and our own polling bears this out; it's much more a debate inside Washington than it is around the country. The president thinks that this is something that can be used to his advantage, to his party's advantage in this midterm election year. I think you're going to hear that line, "We are not going to sit back and wait to be hit again," over and over again as this debate plays out. I think this is the central defining aspect of how the president views his presidency, that he simply totally changed by 9/11, and that he had to use tactics necessary to save American lives. (NBC Coverage of the SOTU address, January 31 2006) Williams' question already stacks the deck in favor of the Bushies. Gregory alludes to opinion polls but of course doesn't cite them, tho he at least gets it right about over and over again even as he willingly partakes in this self-fulfilling prophecy.
[Fox's Sean] HANNITY: There were certain key moments though, Senator, where your Democratic colleagues chose to sit down. For example, when the president said, "If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we're not going to sit back and be hit again," similarly on the Patriot Act, similarly on the issue of taxes, when he said that we need to make the tax cuts permanent. What did that tell the American people about the Democrats' response when they sat down at those moments?
[Senator George] ALLEN [R-VA]: I think it was very telling, Sean. I noticed that, as well, particularly on making sure that we find out what Al Qaeda, our enemies, are conspiring to do. Why wouldn't we want to know? (Hannity & Co., Fox News, January 31 2006) Classic "blame the Democrats first" move from Hannity. Divert, duck and distract. And another spoon-fed question, which Allen gobbles up with the stupified relish.
BUSH: It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again. (END VIDEO CLIP)
[MSNBC's Chris] MATTHEWS: I think that was the best line of the night, Pat.
BUCHANAN: I think it was not only the best line, but the president's most under attack on that issue, and he came out hardest, most direct, totally unapologetic, I'm going to do it, we're not going to let them hit us again. I think -- again, I think he's winning the issue because the Democrats won't get up and say, Stop this! Cut off those antennas! Stop listening! They won't do it!
MATTHEWS: They thought they had him on the run, Tucker...
MATTHEWS: ... for about two days, and then they -- then he -- they cornered him, he said, OK, let me check the numbers here. Oh, I’ll win here. (Hardball, MSNBC, February 1 2006) Oh will the machismo ever go unabated? Bow-tied and blow-dried Tucker, throw in the towel!
But I think that for him to be able to go out and talk about, in particular, the NSA program, which has become a big political issue, I think he does himself good because he gets a huge platform, huge audience for it, people are now paying attention and he gets to go out and say things like if al Qaeda is calling, we want to know, implying that his critics or people who raise questions about the program, don't. Which I actually think is not true. But I think in that sense, the more he can say that probably, the more he can frame the issue his way. He did not lay out a bold domestic agenda for his party to follow this year, that is for sure. (Mara Liasson, Fox News Special Report, February 1 2006) Chiming in from the "liberal media" peanut gallery, NPR's Liasson is so preoccupied with spinning the SOTU that she can barely put a word in edgewise on what she herself thinks is the truth.
"If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again." Now that is precisely the kind of posture that you would want the president of the United States to take. (Senator Jon Kyl, Press Conference, U.S. Capitol, February 2 2006) Yeah, a president propped up by red herrings: great posture.
I agree with E.J. [Dionne] I think politically this is winner for the president. The president had a line in the State of the Union you're going to be hearing that if somebody from al-Qaeda is calling from the U.S., we want to know about it. That's a good applause line. (David Brooks, All Things Considered, NPR, February 3 2005) Speaks for itself. And why let good punditry go unreleated? (See below.)
BUSH: Using this surveillance to find out the intention of the enemy is a fundamental incident of war to protect the American people. Let me put it to you in Texan. If al Qaeda is calling in to the United States, we want to know.
BARNES: You know, I think the president's going to be, I think the president is going to be OK legally on this. But the one thing for sure is, this is a slam-dunk issue for him politically. Democrats ought to just drop even any mention of it.
KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, the Democrats wonder why the public doesn't trust them on national security and terrorism. I mean, look in the mirror, for heaven’s sake. Their first reaction to the word that Bush was, had ordered, quote unquote, "domestic spying," which it's not, it's really what, what the Bush administration says it is, terrorist surveillance, was, was, was, you know, he broke the law... (The Beltway Boys, Fox News, February 4, 2006) No debate, no hearings necessary: just lather, rinse, repeat. Lies and all. (Um, yes it very much is "domestic spying" no matter how many times you try to rename it "terrorist surveillance." And yes, by most readings of the law the Dems are right, Bush did break the law.)
BUSH: The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
[Paul GIGOT: My reading of that is that Karl Rove is saying, "Democrats come on in and let's debate this was here to November."
[Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan] HENNINGER: Yes, absolutely. And that is a perfectly valid strategy. The question is whether the Republicans in Congress will pick up on it. (WSJ Editorial Report, Fox News, February 4, 2006). Valid political strategy, sure; bogus argumentative reasoning too. And oh, debate it or don't bother? (See above.)
The president's line in the State of the Union was: 'If al-Qaeda's making a phone call here, I want to listen in.' That's just a killer line. And there are two issues here. Is it legal and is it good? And these hearings are going to give me a big toothache because they're going to be about is it legal and who said what to who [sic] a year ago, and there's going to be a whole bunch of 'gotcha' games. But I want them to talk about how we going [sic] to make this legal so everybody agrees it's legal. (David Brooks, Face the Nation, CBS, February 5 2006) Oh, Bobo. Is da widdle pundeet gawn and have himsewlf a widdle tooph achie over da big baaad awful law men? You mean the kinda gotcha games where you manipulate a president into lying under oath about a disgraceful but utterly personal matter with no national security ramifications whatsoever? Got an easy way to make this legal for ya, pal: DON'T BREAK THE LAW. And if you do: IMPEACH!
I think right now - I would say up until now, that the president who has had the bully pulpit and who has been pretty relentless in describing the program as that if al-Qaeda is talking to somebody we want to know about it, you don't support this program or if you raise questions you don't want to hear about it. I would say that he has had the advantage and Democrats have been on the defensive. (Mara Liasson, Fox News Special Report, February 6 2006) AGAIN calling it for Bush from the "liberal media" peanut gallery.
NOTE: This short list does not include all the times the red herring line is repeated in video and audio sound bites, with or without a reporter or anchor's commentary characterizing it as a "defense."