PUNCH HARDER, DON'T...

PUNCH HARDER, DON'T RUN. Obviously, the public's initial response to the latest from the NSA hasn't been the outrage I would have hoped for, but nonetheless I think Democrats desperately need to ignore this implicit advice from Mark Blumenthal:

MP makes no predictions, but Bush can only stand to gain if the public's attention shifts from his handling of gas prices, the economy, immigration and Iraq to his administration's efforts to "investigate terrorism." The Post-ABC poll found that 51% approve (and 47% disapprove) of "the way Bush is handling Protecting Americans' privacy rights as the government investigates terrorism." That is "hardly a robust rating," as the ABC release puts it, "but one that's far better than his overall job approval, in the low 30s in recent polls."

On the contrary. If Bush had low ratings overall but high ratings on some random peculiar subject -- agriculture issues or something -- then avoiding the topic would be the way to go. But Republican handling of terrorism is destined to play a large role in the next couple of elections, and there's no way for the Democrats to avoid it. The only question is when and how that debate's going to be had. If Democrats try and duck it, they'll eventually find themselves stuck playing defense against some GOP attacks. But since the fight is inevitable, you may as well engage as soon as possible. The public isn't troubled by the administration's handling of privacy . . . yet.

But given that the public doesn't think the administration is trustworthy, competent, or on their side, how hard can it really be to convince people that all of these concerns are applicable to invasions of privacy as well? Clearly, that's not the public's thinking at this point. But the name of the game is to talk about this and try to change some minds. Given Bush's generally dismal ratings it shouldn't be all that difficult.

--Matthew Yglesias

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