The most intensely fought civil liberties battle of 2008 -- the one waged over FISA and telecom immunity -- ended the way most similar battles of the last eight years have: with total defeat for civil libertarians. Even before Democrats were handed control of Congress at the beginning of 2007, the Bush administration had been demanding legislation to legalize its illegal warrantless NSA eavesdropping program and to retroactively immunize the telecom industry for its participation in those programs. Yet even with Bill Frist and Denny Hastert in control of the Congress, the administration couldn't get its way.
Not even the most cynical political observer would have believed that it was the ascension of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi that would be the necessary catalyst for satisfying Bush's most audacious demands, concerning his most brazenly illegal actions. If anything, hopes were high that Democratic control of Congress would entail a legislative halt to warrantless eavesdropping or, at the very least, some meaningful investigation and disclosure -- what we once charmingly called "oversight" -- regarding what Bush's domestic spying had really entailed. After all, the NSA program was the purified embodiment of the most radical attributes of a radical regime -- pure lawlessness, absolute secrecy, a Stasi-like fixation on domestic surveillance. It was widely assumed, even among embittered cynics, that the new Democratic leadership in Congress would not use their newfound control to protect and endorse these abuses.
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