On Wednesday, I was invited to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to defend the war on terror. The university is such a hotbed of liberalism, arguably the most PC university in the country (take that, University of Wisconsin!), that my police security detail included two armed bodyguards. Such is the confidence in free speech on campuses today.
A number of left-wing bloggers had attempted to foment an incident. They failed on that front. But they did fill the room with students not easily inclined to agree with conservative arguments.
In an attempt to make it a constructive evening, I tried to appeal to them on their terms, rather than my own.
Fortunately, the news provided ample ammunition. Earlier this week, we learned that congressional leadership, Republicans and Democrats alike, had been informed in 2002 that the CIA had harshly interrogated high-value al-Qaida operatives, using, among other methods, waterboarding. One of the Democrats in the room: Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the House.
This is, shall we say, intriguing, since Pelosi and her party have been until recently reaching new heights of sanctimony on the issue of torture and waterboarding.
There "was no objecting, no hand-wringing," an official who was there told the Washington Post. "The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.'" Not only did Pelosi not offer a peep of protest, the Washington Post reports that at least two lawmakers (out of only a few present) pressed the administration about whether the methods were "tough enough" to get the job done.
Either Pelosi asked the question herself, or she sat quietly while one of her colleagues inquired whether the screws were being turned tightly enough.
Either way, her defenders say we need to look at the context. This was just after 9/11, and Pelosi was as angry about the attack and as eager to prevent another one as anyone.
Time magazine's liberal columnist Joe Klein writes: "There was fear that we would be attacked again by terrorists, and on a regular basis. Few were thinking clearly about the nature of the threat and how to deal with it." So, what's the big deal?
Well, it's a big deal for a lot of reasons. But the one that left-wingers should take to heart is that you can't rely on your leaders and champions when the buildings collapse, the bombs explode or the planes fall from the sky.
If it's OK for liberal Democrats to condone what they consider to be torture when they're scared and angry, then the lesson is that the only way you can count on Democrats not to be scared and angry is to prevent future 9/11s.
Recall, for example, that John Edwards, the presidential candidate who now calls the war on terror a "bumper sticker" and spits out the word "neocon" in a way only a trial lawyer can, voted for the Patriot Act. As did the Democratic nominee in 2004, John Kerry. As did Hillary Clinton. As did Ted Kennedy and every other Democrat except for Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). (Mary Landrieu was not present for the vote).
Now, I have no problem with the Patriot Act. I don't condone torture, though the waterboarding immediately after 9/11 (at least as described by the Post) doesn't really trouble me either. But we're not talking about me and my right-wing pals. We're talking about good, decent liberals. And if you're the sort of person who thinks George W. Bush and his evil henchmen have stolen our civil liberties and our souls, you need to at least consider the likelihood that in the wake of another 9/11 a President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama wouldn't do things very differently. Or, if that's too gloomy for you, comfort yourself in the fact they'd be powerless to do things very differently. In the wake of another 9/11, the voters and Congress would roll right over them.
The point is that terrorism has consequences beyond life and property. It requires a tightening of liberty no one desires. The prevention of terrorism prevents the need, real or perceived, for further tightening. The Pelosi cop-out is that if you're scared and angry, you get a free pass to do things you find morally objectionable. Well, terrorism makes people scared and angry; that's sort of why they call it "terrorism."
The left loves to snicker at Bush's assertion that the war on terror is a war for the freedom of Iraqis and Muslims abroad. However dubious that proposition may be to left, it seems that by their own standards we need to win the war on terror if we are going to better secure freedom at home.