Yesterday’s dramatic vote, in which the Senate failed to extend the Patriot Act, was a huge defeat for the GOP leadership and the ever weakening Bush administration. But though it is tempting to dwell on the inside politics, that would only serve to distract from the crucial issue at hand… whether the very basic human liberties we are supposedly defending against terrorists can survive our so-called “War on Terror.”
The Patriot Act had been hastily passed during the understandable hysteria that followed 9/11, with few legislators actually having the time to read the actual bill. But recognizing the importance of protecting the civil liberties that have made our nation the envy of all others, Congress wisely set an expiration date on the Act, so that it’s provisions could be more carefully reconsidered at a later time. Unable to get more protections into the reauthorization, Senate Democrats, along with several key conservative Republican Senators, threatened filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist needed 60 votes to close debate, but could only garner 52.
WA Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell both voted against cloture. Sen. Cantwell, who rushed back from observing the elections in Iraq to cast her vote, had this to say about her reasoning:
“The federal government has a responsibility to protect our nation from those who may bring terror into our homes. It also has a responsibility to respect our rights and honor our privacy. These principles are not mutually exclusive: we can and must achieve both.”
That is the type of balance we desperately need to maintain if we are really going to protect our freedom. And that is the type of balance we risk losing should we replace Sen. Cantwell and provide President Bush with another reliable Republican vote in the Senate.
Ken gave a link to this article in the comment threads, and I thought it was worth adding it to the post.
A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”
The student had requested the book via an inter-library loan; he was told by agents that the book was on a “watch list” and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered an investigation. So what’s the harm, you righties might ask?
Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored.
“My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think,” he said.
Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.
“I shudder to think of all the students I’ve had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that,” he said. “Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless.”
Of course, I suppose there are some on the right who might view this chilling effect as a happy little bonus.