Kathleen Parker

Hey, buddy, can you spare a towel?

Not since Cujo showed up for a blind date with Lassie has so much froth and spittle saturated the airwaves. This time, it's Big Government and Big Media circling the hydrant.

Hysteria is the only word to describe reaction from all sides to the recent New York Times revelation that the U.S. government has been monitoring international financial transactions in attempting to track terrorists.

Without defending the Times' decision to publish classified information, a reasonable person could begin to wonder whether everyone has gone barking mad. From the right, we hear charges of "treason" against the Times and other papers that ran the story, including the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.

From the left, we hear reiterations of "Bush is evil," from which, presumably, we are to infer that mining bank data is also evil. In truth, of course, if Bush were not tracking terrorist financing, they'd be even more hysterical.

The dots, man, why aren't you connecting the dadgum dots?

All of which underscores how ridiculous American political debate has become.

To be clear, I think the Times was wrong to reveal the program as long as it was still useful, as it reportedly was.

It was also apparently legal and effective - a few terrorists have been captured as a result of the program, preventing who knows what havoc and how many deaths. Several members of Congress had been briefed about the program, and safeguards were in place to protect Americans' privacy.

Only if you believe President George W. Bush is determined to rule the world's oil supply is it possible to believe that he's interested in your recent wire transfer to your Swiss mistress.

Even so, all Americans should be concerned when executive powers are expanded, especially when predicated on something as amorphous as the "war on terror," a disconcertingly fluid enterprise lacking clear boundaries or a foreseeable end.

To judge the debate thus far, there are apparently only two possible schools of thought: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are the axis of evil and therefore everything the administration does is bad and must be exposed as such.

Or, we're at war and anything the government does to protect us is justified and the media are a bunch of traitors.

Despite his obvious displeasure, Bush has been more restrained than others fogging the mirrors of America's green rooms. While Bush said the Times actions were disgraceful and reckless, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., wants to see Times Executive Editor Bill Keller strung up for treason.

Kathleen Parker

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