John Podhoretz argues that President Bush made a brilliant, gutsy move last night by forthrightly defending the Patriot Act and that the Democrats took his bait:
Democrats running for president, particularly Kerry, have attacked the president for not doing enough to protect the homeland. And yet they have been attacking the Patriot Act – which is the key domestic component of the War on Terror – for being too draconian.
They all describe it as a frightening assault on civil liberties and so on, and act as though it simply sprang full-grown and unchecked from the brain of John Ashcroft. In fact, the Patriot Act passed the U.S. Senate by a margin of, get this, 98 to 1 – including the “yea” votes of Sens. Kerry and Edwards. And make no mistake: They have done so because the leftist Democratic base has demanded it of them.
What the Democratic Left finds appealing, the American mainstream voter may find absolutely appalling. The criticism of the Patriot Act runs the risk of reinforcing the morally unappealing image of the Democratic Party of the 1980s: the party that was both hostile to law enforcement and weak on national defense.
We now know, from Bush’s speech, that he’s going to make the Patriot Act a major issue in the campaign. He brought it up early and dedicated a long paragraph to it.
“Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the Patriot Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells and to seize their assets,” the president said. “Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens. You need to renew the Patriot Act.”
This was an unexpected and fascinating bit of political theater. Democrats have talked themselves into believing that the president will be on the defensive to some degree this year because the situation in Iraq is not yet stable and the weapons of mass destruction have not been discovered.
The column must have been written from the advance text, since there is no mention of the partisan “applause divide” that greeted that portion of the speech.
This is an interesting argument in that many of us in the libertarian wing of the GOP are rather uneasy about the Patriot Act–including, as the Ashcroft piece I linked yesterday noted, a number of related domestic measures not actually part of the act but lumped in with it in the public mind. But it’s hard to run against something with nothing. For the Democratic challenger to make hay on this issue, they’ll need to have a plausible alternative. So far, I haven’t heard it.