Liberty is Not Another Word for Anti-Antiterrorism


By Joe Campbell
December 9th, 2008

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

[digg-reddit-me]The Wall Street Journal editorial page is a platform for kings and prime ministers,  presidents and scientists, thinkers and businessmen, who want to speak to the powerful and monied interests of the American elite. And then, there are the crazy right-wingers who run the board and invite their friends to write short propaganistics pieces.

Reading yesterday’s editorial board piece about the “anti-antiterror lobby,” I was tempted to throw around terms like “fascist” and “fear-mongerer” in response. I felt a strong visceral anger as the board described those who insisted laws be followed – the foundational principle of civilization itself – as in league with terrorists (who oddly seek the same freedom from law the Wall Street Journal supports). I was so angry I missed the point of the piece.

But, after a time, a walk in the cold, I was able to tame my anger – to reason with it, to analyze it, and to direct it more appropriately.

Despite the hysteric, trying-too-hard rhetoric, the Wall Street Journal might well have a point when it sided with Ray Kelly in criticizing the “unnecessarily protracted, risk-averse process” that is behind the current technological innovations. They’re probably right in stating that the FISA is flawed. Which is why it’s too bad that the Journal board used their influential platform to “boomerize1 the issue instead of actually discussing it in any meaningful way.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the Journal would politicize national security instead of acting responsibly. This is what they do. They represent the worst of Boomerdom. The actual argument they put forth has emotional resonance – touching on themes that were relevant in the 1960s. But it ignores the actual issues at stake here – the rule of law; new technologies; terrorism; checks and balances; liberty; the Constitution; public safety. The Journal doesn’t acknowledge that a balancing test must always be applied – between liberty and security. Instead, they mock those concerned with liberty as pro-terrorists (or to seem less ridiculous, “anti-antiterrorists.”)

The Journal‘s rhetoric is at worst diabolical – as they seek to place political blame on the Democrats for any future attacks because “Democrats and the left” inserted “an unelected judiciary into the wartime chain of command.” But this invocation of wartime is a sleight of hand – unless the Journal considers America itself to be under marital law. The Journal talks about how the executive branch already has “Constitutional authority” to wiretap communications that FISA was explicitly set up to regulate – neatly accepting the most extreme view of executive authority that led the mutiny of the top members of Bush’s Justice Department and almost causing John Ashcroft (Attorney General), Jack Goldsmith (Head of the OLC), James Comey (2nd in Command of the Justice Department), Robert Mueller (FBI Director), as well as scores of their subordinates – Republicans and staunch conservatives all – to nearly resign in protest. Now, these conservatives are lumped in with “Democrats and the left” as “anti-antiterrorists” because they believe in some limits to executive power, even in the field of national security.

The Journal manages to explain away why the conservative attorney general is the one who is telling Ray Kelly he’s wrong – rather than the FISA court which has rejected only a handful of the tens of thousands of applications for warrants to wiretap.  Of course, the attorney general is refusing to even submit Ray Kelly’s requests to be adjudicated – which the Journal acknowledges is a wise move because the “system” is dominated by “anti-antiterrorists.” They blame the attorney general’s actions on the liberals. The Journal insists that the famously prickly judge is just trying to please the liberals because only liberals would insist on laws to restrain the actions of the executive. Apparently, the Journal cannot understand what kind of man could stand up for American values in the face of fear and terror – so they presume he must be pragmatically compromising with liberals.

Thus, the Wall Street Journal has turned a bureacratic struggle between two conservatives into an indictment of the rule of law itself. Apparently, lawfulness is deemed in essence liberal, aka “anti-antiterroristic.” Does that leave us with monarchism? Which laws should the executive obey? What if the law is amended to address concerns? Should we get rid of the Fourth Amendment and that whole idea of “unreasonable searches”? None of these questions are answered – or even addressed. It’s really too bad that the Journal didn’t have any space to let some grown-ups write an op-ed on the issue. They were too busy trying to score clever political points.

  1. They politicized the issue along the lines of the Baby Boomer divide, using key words and paradaigms that are designed only to appeal to half of the public. []