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.
Claiming that the Times violated anti-espionage laws, King has called for an investigation and possible criminal prosecution of Keller, as well as Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and the reporters and editors who worked on the story.
King's outrage is doubtless shared by many Americans who simply hate the Times for its perceived elitist, left-leaning coverage of the war and other issues. But treason? Are we really quite ready for our government to put reporters and editors to death for revealing government activities that pre-9/11 would have been beyond unacceptable?
Perhaps we could behead them for state-sponsored television audiences.
Breathing deeply, we might ask ourselves: Is it possible that no one is evil or treacherous, but that both the White House and Times are right - and by degrees wrong - in their own way? That both, in doing their jobs, are trespassing on sacred turf?
We're all on unfamiliar territory these days - at war with a phantom enemy that stalks our national psyche like some lunatic poltergeist. Bush, whose misfortune it was to become president at the moment when those nebulous forces organized themselves into a lethal instrument, has used every tool at his disposal to thwart another attack.
It would seem he has done his job.
But the media also have a job to protect the public interest against unchecked government power. Balancing that interest against broader security concerns is not a scientific process, but a subjective decision guided by long-held principles that in today's paranoid environment seem to many outdated or irrelevant.
Critics of the Times say that Keller and Co. have put America at greater risk, while equally strident Bush critics insist the administration's expansion of executive powers endangers the freedoms we seek to protect.
Each side is both partly right and partly wrong. But the greatest risk to our country is us, as Pogo would put it. Our increasingly polarized and draconian nature weakens us as it strengthens our enemies, who have no quarrel with the gallows for a free press.