The Democrats are determined to win the war and will stop at nothing to vanquish the enemy. The only problem is that they're fighting the wrong war against an imaginary foe. This week, a majority of Senate Democrats (and a tiny handful of nervous Republicans) decided to abandon the war on terror and instead wage war on what they mistakenly believe is a Bush administration assault on civil liberties. First, they threatened to filibuster the renewal of certain provisions of the Patriot Act, despite having overwhelmingly supported these same provisions when the law was enacted in 2001. Then they jumped all over news reports that the president had ordered secret surveillance in the United States by the National Security Agency (NSA), without seeking a court order to do so. The overblown rhetoric on this story makes you wonder whether the president's middle name is Millhouse and he was caught spying on a bunch of pot-smoking hippies who want to make love, not war. The whole episode would be droll if the stakes weren't so high.
Opponents of the Patriot Act can point to no single instance of serious abuse of civil liberties caused by the law in the four years since it was enacted. But that doesn't stop them from raising the specter of snooping feds pouring through library records or breaking into homes of innocent Americans for a "sneak and peek." Worse, barely a year or two ago, many of these same critics were demanding congressional and independent commissions to investigate why this administration had failed to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed 4,000 Americans.
They can't have it both ways. Either we are fighting an all-out war on an unconventional enemy that has already proved its ability to exploit our legal system and operate within our own country, or we aren't. Either we want the government to do all it can to interrupt any future attacks, or we don't. And if Democrats choose the latter course, they better make clear that they are willing to take responsibility for the loss of life that will surely follow if they turn out to be wrong.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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