Funny, I don't remember a "fierce national debate," I remember the blogs quickly shooting down all the legalistic arguments that the Bush Administration brought up and I remember the traditional media just giving the whole issue a yawn and a pass. It would have been a debate had the Bush Administration ever been able to muster any real arguments for their side, but aside from those early legalistic arguments, they just relied on fearmongering and on throwing money at the Blue Dog Democrats to split the Democratic vote. At no point did they ever convincingly show that America had to surrender its civil liberties in order to be safe from the terrorists. As Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) pointed out:
Which doesn't sound to me as thought members of Congress were fully briefed and informed. In fact:
Only a handful in Congress have been briefed, and given this Administration's pervasive lying, we have no reason to trust that even these few were told the truth. Most in Congress remain blissfully ignorant of what these programs involve, and their attempts to explain their support for the revisions reveal they have no clue what they’re approving.
Back on 5 May, when the bill was still just an awful rumor, FDL pointed out that:
There is no public outcry to "free Dick Cheney." There is no constituency ready to storm the halls of Congress unless the telecoms are given immunity, just a lot of K Street money pouring into the coffers of the Blue Dogs.
I guess the most utterly pathetic statement had to come from Speaker Pelosi:
Democrats pointed to some concessions they had won. The final bill includes a reaffirmation that the FISA law is the “exclusive” means of conducting intelligence wiretaps — a provision that Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, and other Democrats insisted would prevent Mr. Bush or any future president from evading court scrutiny in the way they say that the N.S.A. program did.
But keep in mind that FISA was already the "exclusive" means for the American government to spy on the American people. The Bush Administration never found any legal way to get around that provision. They simply ignored it in a procedure known as "breaking the law."
To brag that Democrats got the bill to reaffirm a law that everyone knew should be followed is hardly a victory to crow about. Will Bush continue to break the law? Seems doubtful as the bill allows him more or less unlimited freedom to act as he sees fit. Kinda like saying "The thieves were having trouble removing the statues from my garden, so I knocked down a section of the wall so they could simply carry the statues out to the street" and then bragging that you've prevented the thieves from tracking mud from the garden into the house.