Both AmericaBlog and TPMCafe have posts up about how the Republicans in 1995 and 1996 refused to give Clinton the power for both roving and warrantless wiretaps in an anti-terrorism bill. And they’re right. Clinton wanted both kinds of wiretaps as part of a larger anti-terrorism package and the Republicans amended those provisions out of the bill, claiming that it was a threat to our freedom. Especially telling is this quote from Porter Goss, later named by Bush to head the CIA:
Mr. Speaker, this effort comes in the wake of three horrible tragedies: The bombing of a military installation in Saudi Arabia, the loss of TWA flight 800 out of New York’s JFK Airport, and the recent pipe bomb explosion in Atlanta at the Olympics. While we haven’t had time to thoroughly assess these tragedies and the effectiveness of the antiterrorism law Congress passed earlier this year, these attacks tell us that our society remains vulnerable to terrorism. Unfortunately, terrorism is a fact of life. In response to recent events, a series of proposals were offered to solve the problem–some with merit, and some that could cause more problems than they might solve by cutting deeply–and unnecessarily–into the constitutional freedoms of American citizens. I include in that category certain proposals for expanded wiretapping authority for Federal law enforcement. This is a dangerous proposition–and one that would be ceding victory to terrorists, whose goal is to disrupt our society, create anxiety and constrain our freedoms. That’s the way terrorism attacks a free open society. Let me be clear, this bill does not–I repeat, does not–expand wiretapping authority. In fact, it goes the other direction, strengthening penalties for misuse of Government’s existing authority. That’s good news for all Americans–especially the many southwest Floridians who urged us not to succumb to the pressure to diminish our liberties.
My oh my, how that tune changed, eh? There are similar quotes from many Republicans, and if you look at the debate over those provisions in the Congress you’ll find that the two parties pretty much took the opposite position from the one they’re taking now. But here’s what I don’t get. Why aren’t those blogs also blasting the Democrats for being hypocrites in this regard? 10 years ago, expanded wiretapping authority was a vital and necessary tool in the anti-terrorist arsenal; now, it’s an absolute outrage and a huge threat to our civil liberties and it means the terrorists have won.
The two parties just exchanged scripts, because it’s not about taking a serious, principled position; it’s only about spinning a tale that benefits you politically – and that’s true for both parties, not just the one that happens to be in power now. And who took a consistent position on this question? Libertarians. Libertarians were against such expanded wiretapping authority in 1996 and we’re against it in 2006 as well, and it doesn’t matter which party will be using it. And people wonder why I don’t take the major parties seriously.