To short-circuit this, Democrats need to invoke the ghost of Richard Nixon.
If they don't, even Pete Hoekstra's new revelations that there are even more as-yet-unreported secret spying programs that Bush has been hiding from Congress will be used by Rove to say to average voters, "See? We're really looking out for you!"
The Bush administration doesn't deny it has been spying on Americans - they brag about it. They're listening to our phone calls, reading our emails, and looking at our bank transactions. They're gathering databases about our medical records, what we charge on our credit cards, and where we travel.
When Democrats point out that this is illegal without a court order, Rove simply floods the airwaves with Republicans who say, "We're doing it to protect you!"
The average American doesn't think this all the way through, and the Rovian frame may sound commonsensical. In fact, it's at the heart of the right-wing's subversion of democracy.
For example, when some unfortunate and nearly illiterate idiots talked about attacking New York last week, the Bushies and the corporate press trumpeted the sting operation that led to these clueless wannabees' arrest as a "triumph in the war on terror!" Limbaugh intoned sternly that liberals would have prevented the United States from discovering such criminals, and all over America dittoheads nodded in agreement.
What's been entirely lost in the discussion about Bush administration spying is why so much of what Bush is doing is illegal.
And that takes us back to Richard Nixon, the last Republican to have an active domestic spying program without judicial or bipartisan congressional oversight. The one whose Bush-like abuses led to the FISA and other, similar laws.
Nixon said he was spying on Americans to keep us safe from communists. We were in the middle of a war, after all. The Soviets were out to get us (and armed with real weapons of mass destruction), and the North Vietnamese weren't far behind. He had to spy on Americans, he said, to protect the liberties of Americans.
Problem was, he had turned the tool of domestic surveillance against his political enemies (and those who weren't, like journalist Daniel Schorr, but whom he believed were). Nixon was spying on Democrats, and trying to cover it with the fig leaf of "national security."
Set aside all the highbrow talk about separation of powers and intent of the Founders, and this is what the FISA and other, similar, laws boil down to - stopping the president from spying on his political opponents. To prevent political abuse, he has to check in with a judge or a congressional committee before using our super-spies.
Imagine if Bill Clinton had been found to have a domestic spying program going on - even after the bombing of Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center hit. Republicans would have been foaming at the mouth. "What's he hiding?! It must be that he's spying on us!!"
Yet Democrats seem unwilling to even raise the possibility of Bush administration political espionage, and the compliant corporate press hasn't raised a peep. Even though there's a precedent for Republicans - and, more recently, Bush Republicans - spying on Democrats.
Remember November of 2003? Using naked political espionage, Bush Republicans used intelligence gained in an illegal spying operation to outflank Democrats.
Republicans in the Senate - including a staffer for Republican Senator Orrin Hatch - hacked into the computers of several Senate Democrats, including Ted Kennedy and Dick Durbin. Reading Kennedy's and Durbin's correspondence, the Republican operatives discovered the strategy the Democrats intended to use to attack Republican high court nominees. They leaked fifteen bits of Kennedy's discussions to The Wall Street Journal and other Republican-friendly sources, who used the information to successfully trash and thwart the Democratic plans.