Live and Let Spy?

Not for a handful of Republicans taking issue with Bush's domestic surveillance program

| January 5, 2006

After The New York Times reported that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without obtaining the necessary court orders, Democrats almost tripped over themselves running to the mike to denounce the program. But they're not the only ones touring the TV news circuit lambasting the executive power grab. Perhaps one of the most concise criticisms didn't come from Democratic Sen. John Kerry or Democratic National Committee head Howard Dean. It came from the staunchly conservative Bob Barr: 'What's wrong with it is several-fold. One, it's bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it's bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it's bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order.' The former Republican representative -- a leading voice in support of Bill Clinton's impeachment -- has joined the ranks of many Democrats criticizing the president's use (or abuse) of power. The website Crooks and Liars, which has tracked reaction to the once-secret program, has posted a video clip showing Barr cut a former House colleague down to size for suggesting the Constitution be sidestepped in times of war.

Barr's comments are indicative of the growing atmosphere of criticism among conservatives against President Bush. William Safire, someone who refers to the Iraq war as a 'noble effort,' also has characterized the domestic spying as 'excessive security.' Safire told Meet the Press, '[T]here's always this struggle in a war between liberty and security,' before repeating his post-9/11 admonition that 'the president can't seize dictatorial power.' The United States clearly needs to defend itself, yet the nation need not dismantle freedom at home in order to spread freedom abroad. Safire points to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II as an example of what he calls a 'mistake' in the name of security.

Of course, the conservative combatant Ann Coulter sees the issue differently. In another clip archived by Crooks and Liars, Coulter notes the internment, saying that 'FDR put Japanese, including loyal Japanese-American citizens, in internment camps.' But she's not citing it as a low point in American history; she's referencing it as a precedent for expanding presidential powers in wartime. She sums up the issue for the Today show: 'This is wartime, what the president does to defend America ... he has the authority to do it.'

Coulter's argument is not only misguided, it's misleading. But she is not alone. The problem of convoluted coverage of the issue has gotten so bad that Media Matters for America published a list of the 'Top 12 media myths and falsehoods on the Bush administration's spying scandal.' This mythology includes the idea that the courts would slow down anti-terrorism efforts (warrants could be issued up to 72 hours after the spying began) and the framing of the issue as something only Democrats care about.



The fact is, both Republicans and Democrats do care. Prominent Republican Sens. Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham, and Dick Lugar have all expressed doubts about the legality of domestic spying. Sen. Lugar even has called for hearings on the issue. As his colleague Specter said, 'There is no doubt that this is inappropriate.'

Go there >>Top 12 Media Myths and Falsehoods on the Bush Administration's Spying Scandal