December 22, 2005
What Price Safety?
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At 10:15 a.m. on March 17, Sen. John Sununu
was on the telephone with newly installed Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales, urging changes in the anti-terrorist Patriot Act. At
3:30 p.m. on April 18, Gonzales was in Sununu's Russell Building
office to hear the same message from the senator. To no avail.
The Bush administration never took Sununu's message to heart,
leading to the current deadlock in the Senate.
a New Hampshire conservative and one of the Senate's rising Republican
stars, joined with three other right-of-center Republicans last
week to defeat cloture. They thus prevented a vote on reauthorizing
the Patriot Act. These conservatives contend that the bill's final
version, while it is aimed at terrorists, actually threatens civil
liberties of law-abiding citizens. But President Bush until now
has rejected a three-month extension of the government's anti-terrorist
powers while negotiations begin on an amended statute.
of affairs reflects a general failing and a specific misunderstanding
by the Bush administration. Generally, it has ignored concern
that the war against terror threatens the lives of ordinary Americans,
as reflected currently in the revelation of the government's telephone
tapping. Specifically, it has accepted faulty Democratic interpretation
of a critical Senate contest in 2002.
past three years, the Democratic mantra has been that Democrat
Max Cleland lost his Senate seat in Georgia because he was attacked
for voting against Bush's homeland security provisions. Accepting
that thesis, the president's strategists were unable to imagine
any but the most left-wing lawmakers opposing any kind of anti-terrorist
legislation. Actually, Cleland lost because he was too liberal
for an increasingly conservative Georgia electorate and because
his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss, was an excellent candidate.
was not listening when he talked to Sununu, the message should
have come over loud and clear on Nov. 14. Sununu was joined by
two other Republicans -- Larry Craig of Idaho and Lisa Murkowski
of Alaska -- and three Democrats to protest the final version
of a Senate-House conference. These senators wanted to require
some connection with a suspected terrorist or spy in order to
obtain sensitive personal information, thereby avoiding fishing
protested the provision making it a crime punishable by up to
a year in prison for revealing receipt of a "national security
letter" seeking personal records. The change would require
the government to show that the recipient of the letter intended
to obstruct justice. It would safeguard against spying on law-abiding
citizens via the Internet and e-mails. The letter also called
for an end to the Patriot Act's current provision making an act
of civil disobedience illegal.
conference committee made no changes in the bill, the senators
wrote to colleagues taking the same positions, with the addition
of another Republican signatory: Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. These
four GOP dissenters are far from being members of the party's
slender liberal wing. Lifetime records as measured by the American
Conservative Union are Sununu, 95 percent; Craig, 94 percent;
Hagel, 85 percent; and Murkowski, 74 percent.
who reflexively oppose anything Bush supports are overjoyed to
welcome four apostates, but in fact they represent doctrinal Republican
belief in individual rights against governmental power. That sums
up the ingrained philosophy of Craig, who at age 60 has held public
office since he was 29 years old and has been one of the Senate's
unyielding champions of gun rights.
was Larry Craig doing consorting with the likes of John Kerry
and Dick Durbin as co-sponsors of his amended Patriot Act? Craig
told the Senate on Dec. 15 that he knew he faced "an uphill
battle" when he got involved in this fight: "I knew
it would be an uphill battle because Americans have grown to be
frightened. But now they have grown to be emboldened when they
recognized that some of their freedoms were and are at risk."
with his colleagues to show "sensitivity to the fundamental
civil liberties of our country." Moments later, Sununu took
the floor to quote Benjamin Franklin. In 1759, well before this
county was born, Franklin said, "They that can give up essential
liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty
2005 Creators Syndicate