Let Dissent Ring
3/7/2002 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray
As great as it would be to watch Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
get tarred-and-feathered for his ham-handed critiques of the President's
foreign policy approach, leading Republicans are off the mark in
blasting the top Democrat for merely making the statements. In fact,
GOP efforts to foster dissent-free bipartisanship will ultimately harm
In mounting our continual campaign in the war on terror, the last
counterpart we need is a war on dissent. While that may sound like
overheated rhetoric, GOP Congressional leaders breathlessly condemned
the South Dakota Democrat in unnecessarily hyperbolic terms.
House Majority Whip Tom Delay simply called Dashcle's statements
"disgusting." Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott did his best political
guilt trip, bellowing, "How dare Senator Daschle criticize President
Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have
troops in the field."
Defying all bounds of logic and common sense, Rep. Thomas Davis
(R-VA), head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, had the gall to
claim Daschle's "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and
comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our
What did Daschle say to find himself the object of such scornful
indignation? He raised questions about the ongoing strategy in the war
on terror and attempted to change the expectations for defining
success. Daschle was undoubtedly laying a foundation for undermining
public confidence in President Bush's leadership on foreign policy.
Rather than hitting the Senate Majority Leader for opening his mouth,
however, Republicans should have handed Daschle more rope and had a
field day with the sheer idiocy of his comments.
If Daschle had been paying attention in the past few weeks, he
would've known what the rest of us do: we are in a phase where we are
supporting governments-in Yemen, Georgia, and the Philippines-who need
our help to vanquish terrorists within their borders. We are further
keeping a watchful eye on furtive nations developing weapons of mass
destruction, such as those in the axis of evil, and mulling over the
best possible solutions. And as the tragic events of the past few days
make painfully clear, the campaign in Afghanistan is not yet over.
Daschle's goofiest contention was that the war on terror cannot be
considered a true triumph unless we have convincing proof that Osama bin
Laden is dead or captured. Of course the American public would love to
see bin Laden's head on a stick, but no one, except for the South Dakota
Democrat, is naïve enough to think that that is a prerequisite for
success. Columnist Deroy Murdock noted that Daschle's logic would
render World War II a failure if Hitler had in fact survived, as many
conspiracy theorists have speculated.
The emerging Republican strategy is to effectively muzzle Democrats in
the foreign policy arena, giving Bush greater leeway and bolstering GOP
electoral prospects. This is a dangerous tack, however, and
conservatives will inevitably end up with the short end of the stick in
a world without debate.
To see the harm that can be caused by muting dissent, look no further
than the Patriot Act and the Aviation and Transportation Security Act,
both passed in the immediate wake of 9/11. In the true spirit of
bipartisanship, government amassed amazing new powers, robbing us of
more liberties in one fell swoop than in the last 20 years, combined.
House Republican leaders thankfully had the cojones to swim against
the tide and strip the bills of some of the worst provisions. Despite
their best efforts, though, the bills still destroyed hard-won privacy
protections, lowered the threshold for searches and seizures, and
created a back-door national ID card with the so-called trusted-traveler
The only possible result from extreme political unity is more
government, not less. Politicians dedicated to self-perpetuation will
never band together to weaken their own influence and minimize their
fiefdoms. But politicians, including solid conservatives, can join
forces to expand the size and scope of government. In molding the
Patriot Act last fall, Attorney General John Ashcroft shunned his civil
libertarian past-and his fellow conservatives.
Instead of vilifying Daschle for merely speaking out, Republican
leaders should embrace debate and shine a spotlight on the top
Democrat's clueless comments. Not only is deliberation vital for
democracy, but dissent is the best weapon in the conservative arsenal
for fighting the rising tide of government.