Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson attacked Sen. Rand Paul, my brother, Rush, and my good friend Mark Levin in a recent column for their various comments concerning the National Security Agency's surveillance data collection operation and other administration activities.
I find it noteworthy that Gerson -- who holds himself out as measured and reasonable, as one who abhors sloppy thinking and expression, and as one who decries the politics of personal destruction -- has gone out of his way to personally attack Limbaugh and Levin. He challenged their conservatism, patriotism, integrity and honor instead of simply registering his disagreement with their opinions. To make his case, he conflated and distorted their statements.
Gerson "stipulate(s)" that "IRS targeting of tea party groups is deeply disturbing" and that "Eric Holder's Justice Department is politicized, swaggering and incompetent." But, he says, "asserting that U.S. intelligence agencies are part of a conspiracy that somehow includes a national gun registry, drone surveillance and Lois Lerner crosses a line."
Did Limbaugh or Levin say anything about a conspiracy? I don't purport to speak for either of them, but I believe it's more accurate to say their position is that Obama has created a climate conducive to government abuses, which is manifesting itself in scandalous behavior throughout the administration. Who is crossing a line here?
Gerson challenges Limbaugh's and Levin's conservatism because "traditional conservatism recognizes the balancing of principles -- in this case, security and privacy -- rather than elevating a single idea into an absolute."
Gerson has erected a particularly flimsy and dishonest straw man here. You will not find a scintilla of evidence that either Limbaugh or Levin is an absolutist in the context of the liberty/security argument or elsewhere. They have never contended anything other than that a responsible balance must be achieved between our liberties and our national security interests. That they may draw the line at a different place than Gerson does or call into question the potential for governmental abuses of power in the name of security does not make them absolutists.
Limbaugh and Levin have not opposed the NSA surveillance program per se, but they have expressed strong skepticism that in passing the Patriot Act and other enabling legislation, Congress contemplated the types and breadth of surveillance and potential sweeping encroachments on privacy that some have suggested are occurring under this administration.