My Dogma Ate Your Principles

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I oppose impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney not as a matter of principle but of practicality. Both have more than made the case that they should be thrown out of office, but it is my belief that such proceedings would be enormously distracting and time consuming. History’s judgment will be harsh enough.

I opposed approving Michael Mukasey for attorney general not as a matter of practicality but of principle. Mukasey seems to be capable of beginning to repair the damage that Alberto Gonzalez wrought, but I believed that the Senate should have taken a stand against the Bush administration’s embrace of torture and rejected the nomination because of Mukasey’s own equivocating.

With a new poll showing that only 24 percent of Americans believe their country is on the right track and another poll showing that the U.S. is widely despised by people in the pivotal countries in the battle against the global Islamic jihad, when to take a stand and when to bail is not merely a philosophical abstraction.

It is a matter of whether the heart and soul of America can survive as we approach the end of the first decade of the new millennium.

Complicating — or rather obscuring — this dire state of affairs is lazy thinking. Many politicians, including even those appalled by the excesses of the last seven years, as well as mainstream media pundits and a heck of a lot of bloggers who should know better, are pretty much giving the White House a free pass because of the dopey notion that everything will be okey-dokey with a new president.

Well, if the 2008 election was held tomorrow, in all likelihood the winner would be either Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani, and if anyone thinks that things suddenly would be better . . . then I’d like to have a puff of what they’re smoking.

As it is, we can look forward to another 12 months of gum-flapping in Washington, tut-tutting by the punditocracy and discombobulation in the blogosphere when what we need is a contemporary version of Paul Revere’s Ride.

Nowhere is this malaise more troubling than when it comes to civil liberties. Remember them?

When I read last week that a top U.S. intelligence official stated that it’s time for people to change their definition of privacy, the hair stood on my neck. But I apparently didn’t have much company judging from the underwhelming response to the Orwellian remarks of Donald Kerr, deputy director of national intelligence.

Kerr tacitly acknowledged that the Bush administration — with the eager acquiescence of Congress — has turned the rules of the game on their ear. He explained with a straight face that privacy now meant not that you and your private information would be free from government intrusion, but that the government would intrude but properly safeguard you and your private information.

Kerr’s comments came as Congress reconsiders the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act of 1978, which it hastily and dutifully changed last summer to allow Big Brother to eavesdrop on you and I without the bother of court permission so long as one end of the conversation was reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S. or something. Nobody is really sure.

Having been sold this utterly specious bill of goods — and you’d better believe that the more draconian aspects of FISA will survive the clammy grasp of Congress — the American people are again being told that the Founding Fathers had it wrong when they enshrined civil liberties and the rule of law in the Constitution.

I myself believe that it is time to draw the line. Okay?