The real threats are fear and smear

Time flies when you’re slinging mud, as the Republicans and Democrats all too often remind us.

‘Twas not that long ago when some Democrats were likening social conservatives in the GOP to the Taliban. That was simply because they had opinions on such issues as abortion, prayer in the schools and sex education that didn’t fit with their attackers’ world views.

And Republicans these days are all too eager to either imply or charge outright that Democrats are opposed to defending the country. You know: “Thank God Al Gore wasn’t president on 9-11.” Why? Would Gore have disappeared for several hours, leaving the country to wonder where he was while the mayor of New York became the moral symbol of a nation under attack? Would he have responded by eventually invading the wrong country?

Now a right-wing group called Defenders of Democracy is going after Democratic members of the House for stalling on a bill authorizing the president to conduct surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls without getting a warrant from the so-called FISA court, as current law requires. Here in New Hampshire, Carol Shea-Porter has been the target of an ad that claims she and other Democrats in the House have thereby undermined our nation’s security.

Never mind that the Bush administration apparently did nothing when handed a presidential briefing on August 6, 2001, warning that Al Qaeda was planning a major attack on the United States. Now we are being told the same administration cannot protect us from future attacks unless they can eavesdrop on our phone calls without the bother of going to the FISA court, which has granted nearly every request for a warrant.

So that means that standing up for the FISA law as written and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is enough to make a member of Congress a threat to our nation’s security.

We’ve gone through this sort of thing before, when anticommunist zealots claimed we couldn’t defend the country from communism without loyalty oaths and subpoenas. In New Hampshire, there was the infamous investigation into subversion seeking the names of all visitors to the World Fellowship Center in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley. (See Uphaus v. Wyman, U.S. Supreme Court, 1959).

Interestingly, it turned out that freedom was a far more effective defense against communism than the now-defunct House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington or New Hampshire Attorney General Louis Wyman’s witch hunt in Concord. And it will be a better defense against terrorism than a fear-and-smear campaign to convince New Hampshire voters that Carol Shea-Porter and others who agree with her are aiding and abetting terrorists by impeding the government’s access to your phone calls.