How to explain the

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How to explain the Democrats getting knocked back on their heels by Arlen Specter’s FISA proposal? I don’t have a complete explanation, but here’s what I think is a significant part of the answer.

After public outcry over domestic spying and other secret, extra-constitutional programs and a Supreme Court decision squarely against the Administration, many of us—myself included—at a deep and perhaps unconscious level presume that the Administration will have to cede some ground, compromise, reign itself it in.

The louder you argue, the more humble you should be when proved wrong, right? Argue loudly and wrongly enough times, and you start to lose credibility, right? By the unwritten Queensbury rules many of us live by, admission of error, of defeat, of poor judgment is the right and noble thing to do.

Democrats seem to have a highly evolved (and perhaps misplaced) sense of sportsmanship: magnanimous in victory; chastened in defeat. Whereas Dems will rise to a political fight when they deem circumstances warrant, Republicans consider politics nothing but a fight, with peace the exception, not the rule.

And so it is that many Democrats are unprepared to face an adversary who has a fallback position situated just inches behind the frontline, and a fallback position just inches behind that, and so on indefinitely.

When the Dems overrun a Republican position, they celebrate like drunken Hessians, only to sober up and realize they have gained very little ground at all and that the Republicans are still fighting.

I think Republicans have the more accurate view of politics. It is an ongoing battle. Power is a moving target, hard to seize, harder still to hold on to.

So rather than viewing Hamdan as a sweeping victory to be relished as a vindication of principle, Dems need to see it, as Republicans do, as a starting point for negotiations. Negotiation, like diplomacy, is war by other means.

The Republicans have opened negotiations with a demand, in the form of Arlen Specter’s proposal, which is as much as they can hope to achieve, in an effort to tilt the range of possible outcomes in their favor.

Specter’s proposal dramatically expands presidential power at the very moment that many Dems and most commentators mistakenly perceive expansive executive power to be on the wane.

There is a lesson here, and a fight to be fought, if the Democrats will sober up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.
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