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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Overreaching With Dirty Hands

Today’s stunning Senate repudiation of the Bush administration’s demands for a permanent enactment of expiring provisions of the Patriot Act is a good example of what happens when you overreach with dirty hands. A shorter-term extension of the Patriot Act–even its most controversial provisions–would have probably won easily. But no, the administration had to go for a permanent law, fundamentally affecting U.S. civil liberties to deal with a war on terrorism that is no doubt a long-term threat, but not, we pray, a permanent feature of life. And it didn’t much help the Bushies’ case that the key vote in the Senate coincided with a New York Times report that they’ve been deliberately violating congressional procedures governing surveillance of U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency, on the direct orders of George W. Bush. You know, when you don’t much ever tell the truth, there will be moments of truth when your demands for more and more power over the lives of real people, justified by the presumption that you should be implicitly trusted, just don’t work any more. That’s basically what happened in the Senate today. And it was not simply a setback for Bush and his minions, but also a reflection of a climate in Washington, largely engineered by the White House, in which it’s tough to rationally discuss the proper balance between security and the civil liberties security defends.

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