Speaking of polls (below), here’s another test for the national Dems.

A majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.

Who wants to bet that the Dems back off, afraid that it’s a losing issue? But here’s another result from the poll: Half–51 percent–approved of the way President Bush was handling privacy matters.

That indicates a much more divided electorate. Digging more into the data, we learn that only 41% “strongly support” the NSA’s collection of call data. Twenty-two percent support the effort “somewhat.” I call them persuadable. And I call Bush’s command of this issue tenuous, at best.

And what’s missing from the data: How many of the respondents are likely voters? If you don’t care that the government is spying on you, how much do you care about the government at all. And if you don’t care, you don’t vote.

Between now and Nov. 2008 is plenty of time for true leaders to make the argument that the war on religious fundamentalism (terror is just the a tactic) is a much about selling democracy to Muslims who see our Iraq effort as a war on their religion. What are we selling? That democracy is about government collecting records of your phone calls? What’s next? Your bank account records? Your medical records? (Credit Joe Scarborough for asking these questions last night.) And what safeguards are there that this data won’t be shared, compromised or stolen?

What do we expect of our government? How do we balance protecting ourselves and protecting our privacy? Raising these questions alone is the first step Dems should take. Initiating the dialogue is what leaders do.

UPDATE: And is Bush really a leaderwith any political capital left?