Gingrich Games Surveillance Survey

The imaginary Newt Gingrich presidential campaign is an idea that just won’t die. Now that John McCain has earned enough delegates to secure the GOP nomination for 2008, Robert Novak is taking Gingrich 2012 seriously:

Newt Gingrich’s efforts to restore his standing among Republican conservatives for a possible future presidential bid have suffered a self-inflicted setback because of the former House speaker’s support for liberal Rep. Wayne Gilchrest’s unsuccessful attempt to save his seat in Congress representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore. …

But even if the prospect of Gingrich running for president is illusory, his bid to be the GOP’s futuristic guru—with a steady stream of book deals and media appearances—seems to be progressing just fine. Gingrich’s “527” advocacy group recently announced it will be opening an office in Menlo Park, California to focus on “[o]nline political technology.”

If Gingrich is hoping to make inroads in Silicon Valley, he would be well advised to cool his over-the-top rhetoric on domestic spying and telecom immunity. Gingrich has focused on the issue in his online commentaries over the last few weeks, accusing Democrats of tendering a “declaration of unilateral disarmament in the War on Terror” and of perpetrating “the most amazing anti-national security action by Congress in decades.”

In addition, Gingrich’s group, which has specialized in presenting polling data on platitudes as new political facts, released a survey showing agreement with things that are presented in the survey as being absolutely necessary to stop us from all being killed by terrorists:

Current U.S. law allows the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of certain telephone calls originating overseas to or from a person suspected of having links to terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda without obtaining a warrant as typically required by law. The success of this program relies on the cooperation of the U.S. phone companies.

Do you agree or disagree that if a company assists the United States government in tracking down terrorists it should be protected from lawsuits related to that assistance since otherwise no company could afford to help our own government stop terrorists?

So far, most people have been kind enough to ignore Gingrich’s comical polls. (Seventy-five percent agree “We must defeat America’s enemies”! “[I]nnovation and new technology,” whatever that means, is better than “more litigation and more government regulation,” etc.) But over at the Economist’s Democracy in America blog, Julian Sanchez takes a closer look, concluding that “even by the standards of this incredibly dishonest debate [over FISA reform], a new survey being touted by Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions group is simply jaw-dropping.”

The survey purports to show that Americans overwhelmingly approve of both the surveillance powers and the grant of immunity sought by the president and his allies. Yet the two central questions posed to survey respondents were premised on clear falsehoods. It is almost impressive how many different lies and misrepresentations the survey takers managed to squeeze into each sentence. …

After detailing exactly how misleading Gingrich’s poll questions are, Sanchez writes:

If you’re curious about what Americans say about warrantless wiretaps when the survey takers don’t repeatedly lie to them in the course of their inquiries, you might consult this poll commissioned by the ACLU. The civil liberties group found that 63% of Americans believe the government should “get a warrant from a court before wiretapping the conversations U.S. citizens have with people in other countries”. A solid majority also believed that courts should determine whether phone companies can be held liable for releasing customer records to the government without a court order, and that the lawsuits against them should be heard. So really, we shouldn’t blame Mr Gingrich for approving a survey jammed to the gills with lies. When you describe the wiretapping controvery to people honestly, after, all, they stubbornly refuse to give you the “right” answer. What’s an apologist for the surveillance state to do?