Timing is critical here: Bush has just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar: He has apparently been giving the NSA (and FBI) permission to spy on American citizens in his quest for dictator-like powers of the presidency. Russ Feingold did a brilliant job on the immediate smack down. It helped set the tone for the first day’s debate, but you need a more powerful follow-up strategy before you lose traction.
First, you have to turn this into a "gate." Americans have been conditioned to only think of a political crisis when there's a “gate” attached to the allegations. Don’t worry about being seen as petty using this approach, the Republicans created a "gate" for Clinton's haircuts, for crying out loud. The fact that I remember this almost 10 years later tells you how effective "gate"ing can be.
Some ideas for naming your gate:
Privacy-Gate is my favorite of the bunch (thanks to Orin for that one). It is crucial that we get this "gate" thing into the national dialog quickly. In fact, if you don’t "gate" this one, then you're really not doing all you can do to involve the public in this critical debate over Americans' fundamental right to privacy from their government.
Second, you need to try Bush in the Court of Public Opinion. You won’t even get a trial covered by the media unless it's a "gate," but once you're there, you need to win.
Some talking points in making the case against Bush:
- This isn't Big Government, this is Intrusive Government. If you thought the Republican Party was about getting the government out of your hair, you might want to reconsider the party you support. This Republican administration has decided that it has every right to learn everything it can about any American, at any time.
- These aren't the actions of an American President, these are the actions of a Dictator. Dictators do as they want and as they say, with no oversight, always in the name of national defense and keeping the country safe.
- With all this talk about Bush's judicial appointees being strict constitutional constructionists, how is it that Bush all of a sudden wants to conveniently interpret the executive power given to the office of the President?
- How sad it is for this administration that we are now left to compare President Bush with President Nixon. Both Presidents similarly abused the benefit of the doubt – and the deep trust – that Americans give our Presidents. Our trust has been abused and misused.
- This is not just about civil liberties – this is about an administration that is just out of control with its power. I think President Bush has overreached for the last time.
Once you've "gated" the crisis, and sold your perspective on it to the media and he public, you have then set the stage to start calling for impeachment.
Warning: Do not overreach! Do not add in accusations that may or may not be illegal, and do not pepper your accusations with partisan or philosophical banter. This is clean and simple, and impeachment is about specifics, not general admonishment:
If the man broke the law, then he is impeachable based on the law he broke.
Now, if there is a list of impeachable offenses (like Representative John Conyers has compiled) that are simple and clear as that of Privacy-Gate, then by all means, pile 'em on. But, please, please do not add any color or opinion to your call for impeachment. Keep it very simple:
"If President Bush is found to have abused his office by secretly spying on American citizens, then he should be impeached. We will find out the facts, and we will determine next steps when the facts have been reviewed."
If you can't find the venom in you right now, try recalling how Republicans spent all of their time in the 1990's trying to undermine the Clinton presidency with "Whitewater-gate."