May 18, 2004

"Skipping Off To The Gulag"

In an informative debate on the Patriot Act from FPM, Heather MacDonald of City Journal, arguing in favor of the act, points out how its critics not only assume the bad faith of the country's law enforcement community, but also remain unable to suggest how we might better combat terrorist organizations, than by pre-emptive and secret investigation.

Her debate opponent Joe Williams, who can hear the jackboot heels clicking just around the corner, calls Patriot Act supporters "...the repression apologists, who seem content skipping merrily off to the gulag." Failing to cite actual abuses of Patriot Act powers, he'd prefer the act "be viewed as a metaphor for all the civil liberties violations that are currently occurring."

I'm as much in favor of limiting the powers of government to intrude in the private lives of citizens as the next guy, but as MacDonald points out, critics like Williams haven't answered the key question:

How do you investigate terrorist planning in public? His core objections are to Patriot Act provisions that allow the government to surveil and gather information on terror suspects in secret. I remain sincerely puzzled by what he thinks the alternative is. Either Mr. Williams is unable to grasp the difference between the prosecution of a previous crime and the pre-emptive investigation of terrorist activity, or he simply rejects the idea that the United States faces an ongoing threat of destruction from Islamic madmen.

She's right that you never seem to hear Patriot Act critics even talking about the problem of Islamist terror, or acknowledging the broad bipartisan Congressional and popular support for the act. They'd rather try to scare people into believing that the government wants to monitor the library borrowing habits of soccer moms on the way to establishing a totalitarian state. There's no time for serious discussion of alternatives when there's anti-Bush fearmongering to be done.

Posted by dan at May 18, 2004 2:21 PM