Kathleen Parker

I've been trying for several days now to get upset about the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program. No, wait, make that President George W. Bush's illegal, warrantless, domestic spying scandal.

That sounds more darkly nefarious, more richly conspiratorial and, most important, more impeachable. But is it true? Is Bush spying illegally on Americans? As usual, it depends on whose head is talking and how one spins the yarn.

"The president has authorized a domestic spying program without court approval" sounds like Big Brother is breathing down all our necks. "The president has authorized national security agents to wiretap suspected terrorists" sounds like common sense.

Thus, try as I might, I can't muster outrage over what appears to be a reasonable action in the wake of 9/11. As a rule, I'm as averse as anyone to having people "spying" on me. I'm also as devoted to protecting civil liberties as any other American.

But the privilege of debating our constitutional rights requires first that we be alive. If federal agents want to listen in on suspected terrorists as they plot their next mass murder, please allow me to turn up the volume.

Meanwhile, unless I start placing calls to Peshawar using phrases such as "I want my 72 virgins now," then I figure I'm safe to make my next hair appointment without fear of exposure. OK, fine, so I highlight.

I'm not making light of legitimate concerns about government power over private lives - vigilance is critical and debate worthwhile, but this seems like a manufactured controversy. It also reminds us yet again that America's decency may be her greatest weakness.

It is our nature to project onto others the principles, values and qualities we hold dear. But it is our enemies' nature - and their strategy - to take advantage of those same principles. If not for our open-heartedness toward diversity and our generous spirit in welcoming all comers to these shores, Sept. 11, 2001, might never have happened.

Instead, 19 terrorists traveled freely and lived among us undetected because we were too fat, dumb and happy to imagine that anyone would want to kill us. We were innocent then, but no more. Now we look for dots and try to connect them. We use sophisticated technology to track calls, collate data, and match suspicious-sounding words with names and numbers to create a mosaic of potentially murderous intent.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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