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Jewish World Review March 7, 2002 / 23 Adar, 5762

Joel Mowbray

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Let dissent ring | AS great as it would be to watch Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle get tarred-and-feathered for his ham-handed critiques of the President's foreign policy approach, leading Republicans are off the mark in blasting the top Democrat for merely making the statements. In fact, GOP efforts to foster dissent-free bipartisanship will ultimately harm conservatives.

In mounting our continual campaign in the war on terror, the last counterpart we need is a war on dissent. While that may sound like overheated rhetoric, GOP Congressional leaders breathlessly condemned the South Dakota Democrat in unnecessarily hyperbolic terms.

House Majority Whip Tom Delay simply called Dashcle's statements "disgusting." Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott did his best political guilt trip, bellowing, "How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field."

Defying all bounds of logic and common sense, Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA), head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, had the gall to claim Daschle's "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country."

What did Daschle say to find himself the object of such scornful indignation? He raised questions about the ongoing strategy in the war on terror and attempted to change the expectations for defining success. Daschle was undoubtedly laying a foundation for undermining public confidence in President Bush's leadership on foreign policy.

Rather than hitting the Senate Majority Leader for opening his mouth, however, Republicans should have handed Daschle more rope and had a field day with the sheer idiocy of his comments.

If Daschle had been paying attention in the past few weeks, he would've known what the rest of us do: we are in a phase where we are supporting governments-in Yemen, Georgia, and the Philippines-who need our help to vanquish terrorists within their borders. We are further keeping a watchful eye on furtive nations developing weapons of mass destruction, such as those in the axis of evil, and mulling over the best possible solutions. And as the tragic events of the past few days make painfully clear, the campaign in Afghanistan is not yet over.

Daschle's goofiest contention was that the war on terror cannot be considered a true triumph unless we have convincing proof that Osama bin Laden is dead or captured. Of course the American public would love to see bin Laden's head on a stick, but no one, except for the South Dakota Democrat, is naive enough to think that that is a prerequisite for success. Columnist Deroy Murdock noted that Daschle's logic would render World War II a failure if Hitler had in fact survived, as many conspiracy theorists have speculated.

The emerging Republican strategy is to effectively muzzle Democrats in the foreign policy arena, giving Bush greater leeway and bolstering GOP electoral prospects. This is a dangerous tack, however, and conservatives will inevitably end up with the short end of the stick in a world without debate.

To see the harm that can be caused by muting dissent, look no further than the Patriot Act and the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, both passed in the immediate wake of 9/11. In the true spirit of bipartisanship, government amassed amazing new powers, robbing us of more liberties in one fell swoop than in the last 20 years, combined.

House Republican leaders thankfully had the cojones to swim against the tide and strip the bills of some of the worst provisions. Despite their best efforts, though, the bills still destroyed hard-won privacy protections, lowered the threshold for searches and seizures, and created a back-door national ID card with the so-called trusted-traveler program.

The only possible result from extreme political unity is more government, not less. Politicians dedicated to self-perpetuation will never band together to weaken their own influence and minimize their fiefdoms. But politicians, including solid conservatives, can join forces to expand the size and scope of government. In molding the Patriot Act last fall, Attorney General John Ashcroft shunned his civil libertarian past-and his fellow conservatives.

Instead of vilifying Daschle for merely speaking out, Republican leaders should embrace debate and shine a spotlight on the top Democrat's clueless comments. Not only is deliberation vital for democracy, but dissent is the best weapon in the conservative arsenal for fighting the rising tide of government.

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© 2002, Joel Mowbray