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Jewish World Review June 19, 2002 / 9 Tamuz, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Consumer Reports

Learning to
love the feds | A fundamental divide appears to have arisen in America between those who trust the government and those, increasingly on the left, who don't.

In a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey, 71 percent of Americans reported being more concerned that the FBI have the tools and freedom to spy on terrorists, while 13 percent professed to worry more deeply that the agency would spy on them. Even as 63 percent are willing to "expand law enforcement powers to catch suspected terrorists, even if it requires sacrificing some personal liberties," 24 percent refuse to back such measures.

For many Americans, 9/11 represented the end of the Vietnam era. We moved from being suspicious of men and women in uniform to embracing and welcoming them. We morphed from seeing our government as part of "them" to considering it part of "us."

If the naive infatuation with our nation and its leaders that characterized our love affair with President John F. Kennedy was our first marriage, then Vietnam and Watergate was our divorce. Now most Americans are entering the second marriage.

Warily, cautiously, tentatively, we discard the cynicism that grew like a scar over the wounds of our disenchantment with Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and reach out to embrace our government and our national ideals.

But for some, nothing has changed: The ghost of J. Edgar Hoover still roams the corridors of the FBI, and the history of wiretapping the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is still fresh.

When Ashcroft asks for more power to investigate Americans suspected of cooperation with terrorists, the memories of the abuse of power resurface as in a nightmare that keeps repeating itself. More fearful of the government than of those it seeks to investigate, they react with a suspicion born of experience to what most other Americans see as reasonable grants of power made necessary in this era of terrorism.

This cultural divide makes the positions of some of us incomprehensible to others:

  • The mainstream asks how the left can ignore the dangers we face when the grim evidence of 9/11 demonstrates vividly their gravity.

  • The left (and some on the more extreme right) wonder how their countrymen can sell their liberties so cheaply and set in motion the chain of events which led this nation to the civil unrest of the 1960s.

Who's right? For now, the mainstream sees things more clearly. It is not just that Ashcroft needs the powers he requests to protect us. It's that we trust him and President Bush not to abuse the authority we give them. We feel a new sense of unity with our leaders and a symbiotic understanding of the need for protection.

In the future? The pendulum will inevitably swing the other way. The powers we vote today are the grounds for abuse tomorrow.

Unfortunately, there is no happy medium. Governments usually end up misusing the powers we give them. Power corrupts. Bureaucrats shed their fear and with it their inhibitions. They go too far and pry too deeply into activities that are none of their business.

For our part, once the crisis fades, we forget to take the authority away until after its abuse has triggered scandal.

But we don't live in the future. We live in the present. And, for the present, with the threats that loom so drastically over our national life, there is no question but that the right policy is to trust our leaders and give them what they ask to defend us.

Let's just try to remember to be careful to rein them in when the danger has passed.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris