It was health care that nationalized the special election for what we now know is the people’s Senate seat. But it was national security that put real distance between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. “People talk about the potency of the health-care issue,” Brown’s top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told National Review’s Robert Costa, “but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants.” There is a powerful lesson here for Republicans, and here’s hoping they learn it.
One of the great frustrations of the Bush years was the fact that the administration had strong national-defense and counterterrorism policies that it shied away from defending. On enhanced-interrogation tactics, for example, President Bush’s position resonates with most Americans: When the nation is under siege, nothing is more important than getting life-saving intelligence. And, particularly when we are dealing with terrorists who are trained to resist interrogation and exploit our legal system, we must aggressively interrogate them and keep them out of our legal system. The opposing position, espoused most prominently by Sen. John McCain, was counterfactual and incoherent. Senator McCain pronounced both that enhanced interrogation (which he called “torture”) never works (which is patently untrue) and that an interrogator might at most use it in a ticking-bomb situation (the last situation in which you’d want to use it if, in fact, it never works).
Scott Brown went out and made the case for enhanced interrogation, for denying terrorists the rights of criminal defendants, for detaining them without trial, and for trying them by military commission. It worked. It will work for other candidates willing to get out of their Beltway bubbles.
The laws of war are the rule of law. They are not a suspension of the Constitution. They are the Constitution operating in wartime. The Framers understood that there would be wars against enemies of the United States — it is stated explicitly in the Constitution’s treason clause (Art. III, Sec. 3). The American people understand that we have enemies, even if Washington sees them as political “engagement” partners waiting to happen. Americans also grasp that war is a political and military challenge that the nation has to win, not a judicial proceeding in which your enemies are presumed innocent. The rule of law is not and has never been the rule of lawyers — especially lawyers we can’t vote out of office when they say we must let trained terrorists move in next door.
As for privacy, Americans are not as self-absorbed as ACLU staffers — who, by the way, reserve the right to search your bags before you enter their offices. If you fret about privacy, it’s Obamacare that ought to give you sleepless nights. The lefties who’ve told us for nearly 40 years since Roe v. Wade that the government can’t come between you and your doctor are now saying you shouldn’t be able to get to a doctor except through the government, which will decide if you’re worth treating — that is an invasion of privacy.
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