Do you believe in magic?

Liberal Democrats do. They believe that our economy can roar along producing prosperity and millions of new jobs no matter how over-regulated and over-taxed its participants are. They believe that if we properly salute all the gods of political correctness, our enemies will finally recognize our fundamental goodness and lay down their arms. Until that day, they believe we can discover our enemies’ plans without properly funding our intelligence agencies and without allowing them to engage in serious spying. Al Qaeda may use our public libraries to figure out how to make their attacks more lethal. It may communicate with their agents in the U.S. through cell phones. But we must not aggressively spy on these activities. We are expected to thwart al Qaeda through magic.

The Carter administration represents the apotheosis of the Democrats’ reliance on magic. The unmitigated disaster that administration produced paved the way for Republican ascendency. The Clinton administration (constrained by a Republican Congress) eschewed a magical domestic policy, and thus produced only half of a disaster.

Clinton also taught the Democrats not to publicize their magical thinking. Thus, many now vote for hard-headed measures in which they do not really believe or, if no vote is required, hold their tongues. If they later wish to oppose these measures, they can always claim that the administration misled them.

The president’s decision to have NSA listen to terrorists’ phone calls provides the latest example. The Bush administration advised leading members of Congress, including Democrats, about what he was doing and, as far as appears, they had no objections. Can one even imagine Democrats, in the aftermath of 9/11, telling the president that, no, he shouldn’t act promptly to listen to conversations in which new attacks might be discussed, but instead should wait for a court order? I can’t.

But now the Democrats are again claiming that they were misinformed. According to the Washington Post, Senator Bob Graham asserts that the briefing only talked about a change in technology, not any new policy with respect to spying on conversations. Nancy Pelosi, who was also at the meeting, gives a different account. Astonishingly (at least for people who don’t follow Pelosi closely), she asks us to believe that Vice President Cheney told the group that the president was giving “authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” Pelosi claims that she “expressed my strong concerns.”

These two accounts conflict. In one, Cheney talks about an innocuous change in technology. In the other, he talks about new activities in a way that raises “strong concerns,” but declines to say what the activities are. Neither account is plausible. With respect to Graham’s account, what new technology was the administration suddenly relying on, and (barring something revolutionary) why would the administration meet with members of Congress just to discuss it? With respect to Pelosi’s account, why would the assembled members of Congress let the administration get away with calling a meeting to announce a new approach to spying without telling them what it is? And if Pelosi she was so concerned, why didn’t she try to do something about it?

But that’s the beauty of magic — you never have to do anything except invoke magic words like “concerned,” “shocked,” and “misled.”

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