Live and Let Spy?

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
clip showing Barr cut a former House colleague down to size
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
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,
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
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

Go there too >>
Barr: The President Violated the Law

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