April 26, 2004


Politics of Patriot Act Turn Right for Bush (Peter Wallsten, April 25, 2004, LA Times)

Only months ago, Democrats were targeting the controversial USA Patriot Act as an ideal issue to use in their campaign against President Bush, assailing the law as an intrusion on civil rights. But in a turnabout, the act has suddenly emerged as a cornerstone of Bush's reelection campaign, while Democratic rival Sen. John F. Kerry and others have toned down their criticism.

The Patriot Act is proving to be more popular in opinion polls than once expected, given its diverse range of critics. Also, both Democratic and Republican strategists now believe that public debate over the Patriot Act and other aspects of the nation's response to terrorism only enhance Bush's national security credentials, while threatening to paint Kerry as soft on terrorism.

The result is that the Democrats have lost what once seemed like a useful tool for rallying opposition to the president.

"There's a dangerous trap here for Democrats," said Jim Mulhall, a Democratic strategist working with independent groups targeting Bush. "It's a terribly unfair characterization, but … if Democrats are not careful, they will sound more like they're worried about technical concerns than they are about locking up terrorists."

Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has recently been couching his positions on the law as "fixes," whereas in December the Massachusetts senator called for "replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time." Kerry has even argued that his ideas would make the law, bashed repeatedly last year by nearly all the Democratic presidential contenders, tougher than it is currently.

There's a name for a party that's as out of touch with the American people as are the Democrats: the Whigs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2004 8:10 AM

The Democrats spend almost a month having people like Ben-Veniste attack the administration over security lapses in the 9/11 hearings, which go out on national television and throughout the press, and then wonder why Americans don't want to see the Patriot Act diluted?

Until Kerry and the rest of the party can either show how they'll make the nation more secure while loosening security laws or come up with their own version of the Patriot Act -- one that's not just limited to "arrest John Ashcroft" -- the public is unlikely to change its stance on this issue.

Posted by: John at April 26, 2004 9:26 AM

Gee, "only months ago" this issue seemed to be working for the Democrats and now it's not. That's a tough one.

They can't all be this stupid, can they?

Posted by: David Hill, The Bronx at April 26, 2004 9:27 AM

Too many blog readers in the campaign offices, methinks.

Posted by: Chris at April 26, 2004 9:40 AM

Gives a new meaning to hoist by one's own petard, n'est pas?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 26, 2004 9:59 AM

So, Patriot is popular in polls, more popular than once expected (by whom? journalists? no bias in that imprecise phrase, eh?), but still it's referred to as "controversial." To whom? The far Left and some Libertarians? Why not point that out?

Rhetorical question. I think we all know why.

Posted by: kevin whited at April 26, 2004 10:57 AM

Someone at this blog or elsewhere has stated that the only thing wrong with the Patriot Act was its name.

That name apparently allowed Democratic candidates to bluster forth with soundbites (conjuring up images of McCarthy, perhaps), but as the recent 9/11 commission shenanigans proved, the act itself was reasonable considering the threats.

Posted by: h-man at April 26, 2004 11:29 AM

The name was brilliant--Democrats opposed the Patriot Act? Yeah, that'll play...

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2004 12:09 PM

A friend of mine had this theory regarding the naming of the Patriot Act:

It SOUNDS like a Secret Police blank check. Or what a Pulp Comic-opera Strongman would call his goon squads. Now Americans are always leery of Federal law-enforcement types getting out of hand, and with a name like The Patriot Act that sounds like something a banana-republic strongman would use, Americans will always be keeping an eye on this one to make sure it doesn't get out of hand.

Real-life secret police goon squads either have mom-and-apple-pie names ("Society for the Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice", "Dignity Battalions") or bureaucratic alphabet-soup or neutral monikers (BATF, DEA, KGB, OGPU, NKVD, "R Troops", "Special Services", "Fourth Bureau", etc). Not something that tells too much of what they really are.

Posted by: Ken at April 26, 2004 12:30 PM

Funny, no one associates Patriots Day with a descent into fascism.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2004 12:40 PM

What always amuses me is the hand-wringing over judicially-authorized warrants for library check-out records (which provision has not been employed for the past two years, and which was available to federal prosecutors ante-Patriot Act). When I was a twenty-six-year-old federal prosecutor, I issued grand jury subpoenas from my office (without judicial authorization and requiring no showing of probable cause) to financial institutions requiring disclosure of the most private and intimate financial data (including microfilm copies - front and back - of every check someone had written). I was not a maverick on a mission. Federal prosecutors were doing this routinely decades before I did and to the present day. The Patriot Act tweaked a few procedural wrinkles at the margin of common prosecutorial practice, but was largely a feel-good exercise by Washington politicians in the wake of September 11 (worry not, fellow citizens, your elected representatives are doing something, witness this new legislation titled the 'Patriot Act').

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at April 26, 2004 3:15 PM

OJ I wasn't implying that the "Patriot Act" name
was offensive to me, however I was saying that it engendered thoughts of "loyalty oaths" and such in leftist.(which in turn has driven them over the edge, on the subject)

Come to think of it, I am in favor of loyalty oaths for immigrants, I'm sure you would agree.

Posted by: h-man at April 26, 2004 4:18 PM


Immigrants take them to become citizens--I'd favor them for natives.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2004 4:47 PM

Good point.

Posted by: h-man at April 26, 2004 5:08 PM

Hey, don't dis the Whigs! They would have done a lot better if not for the fact that every time they elected a President the guy croaked within a few months of taking office.

Posted by: ralph phelan at April 27, 2004 10:52 PM