Monday, February 11, 2008

Klein and Gaffney: Twins Separated at Birth

Joe Klein vs. Frank Gaffney Jr. in a battle of the beards.

Why do I keep beating up on Joe Klein? (Other than the fact that he deserves it I mean) Because Joe Klein is representative of a harmful myth in our political media: that liberal and conservative voices are equal and opposite and represent the two and only two sides of any political debate. "Liberals" like Joe Klein buy into the same authoritarian domestic and imperialistic foreign policy that has come to define modern conservatism. On many issues a liberal and a conservative (or those billed as such) do not define endpoints but a singular indistinguishable position. This subjects us, the American people, to a manufactured false consensus that purports to represent a broad range of opinion while excluding genuinely opposing views.

Joe Klein is considered the liberal columnist at Time Magazine. Frank Gaffney Jr. is a conservative commentator who believes Americans should be hanged for opposing the Iraq War. Yet they agree on a variety of issues and define a spectrum that excludes the majority of Americans. They both believe (despite Klein's attempts to rewrite his own history) that the Iraq War was a great idea and that the surge is working -- positioning the majority of Americans as the "anti-war fringe" without a strong proponent in national media. They both believe, contrary to the views of the American people, that telecom amnesty is a good idea and that consensual sexual relationships are a worse offense for a president than cronyism, incompetence and blatant lies the the public.

Reading liberal commentators like Joe Klein and Thomas Friedman opposing conservative commentators like Fred Gaffney Jr and Charles Krauthammer is similar to reading The Onion point/counterpoint following 9/11:

Point: We Must Retaliate With Blind Rage
Counterpoint: We Must Retaliate With Measured, Focused Rage

Compare that to Klein and Gaffney opining on warrantless wiretapping. Each pair of quotes below consists of one from Klein and one from Gaffney; can you tell them apart?

Klein and Gaffney (or is it Gaffney and Klein?) defend FISA legislation:

At this writing, the U.S. Senate is embroiled in the latest round of this fight. Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd are among those trying to prevent passage of a bill that was adopted 13-2 last year by the Senate intelligence committee on a broadly bipartisan basis. While not perfect, this legislation has the virtue of: making clear the President’s authority to engage in such battlefield communications intercepts; updating and circumscribing the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts given changes in telecommunications since they were established in 1979; and providing immunity from lawsuits for companies that facilitate such legal surveillance.

The latest version of the absolutely necessary Patriot Act, which updates the laws regulating the war on terrorism and contains civil-liberties improvements over the first edition, was nearly killed by a stampede of Senate Democrats. Most polls indicate that a strong majority of Americans favor the act, and I suspect that a strong majority would favor the NSA program as well, if its details were declassified and made known.

Here they describe the noble government actions following 9/11:

In the wake of the 9/11’s deadly acts of war, George W. Bush did what one would hope any President would do: He strove to prevent follow-on strikes and brought to bear every available instrument for that purpose.

Preeminent among these was the collection of intelligence that might reveal further plots and the identity and whereabouts of those inclined to perpetrate them. Mr. Bush ordered the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls and data transmissions involving foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terror. In so doing, he exercised a well-established power of the Commander-in-Chief in time of war: monitoring the enemies’ battlefield communications. Given the nature of this particular war and of modern telecommunications, such monitoring had to include some individuals and selected intercepts in this country.

In fact, a 2002 investigation by the Joint Intelligence Committees concluded that the NSA was not doing as much as it could have been doing under the law—and that the entire U.S. intelligence community operated in a hypercautious defensive crouch. "Hayden was taking reasonable steps," a former committee member told me. "Our biggest concern was what more he could be doing."

The Bush Administration had similar concerns. In the days after 9/11, it asked Hayden to push the edge of existing technology and come up with the best possible program to track the terrorists. The result was the now infamous NSA data-mining operation, which began months later, in early 2002. Vast amounts of phone and computer communications by al-Qaeda suspects overseas, including some messages to people in the U.S., could now be scooped up and quickly analyzed.

And finally they castigate those irresponsible Democrats for not acting more like Republicans:

In time of war, our country cannot afford to have one of its two major political parties [the Democrats] at best AWOL on the major security issues of our time and, at worst, seriously wrongheaded about them. Behaving responsibly about FISA reform would be a good place to start...

The Democratic strategy on the FISA legislation in the House is equally foolish. There is broad, bipartisan agreement on how to legalize the surveillance of phone calls and emails of foreign intelligence targets.
Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that — Limbaugh is salivating — would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid.

It should be noted once again that people opposed to warrantless wiretapping, a group which on principle should contain both liberals and conservatives, is entirely absent from the fascinating dialog above, and similarly from most media dialogs on the issue.

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