E.J. Dionne, on behalf of the Democrats, vows “we won’t be fooled again.” He’s referring to how the Democrats acted entirely in good faith on the homeland security issue, only to fall victim to the brilliant and cynical politics of President Bush. You all remember this, don’t you?
Dionne’s initial argument is that, since President Bush initially doubted that a giant Homeland Security Department was appropriate, it was cynical of him ultimately to come out in favor of such a bureaucracy. Dionne even seems to suggest that Bush did this in order to upstage whistle-blower Coleen Rowley (you remember her — the one who was about to bring down the presidency by complaining about her FBI bosses). One can certainly argue that establishing a Homeland Security Department was a bad idea (and maybe even a cynical one) on the part of the Democrats. But Dionne apparently doesn’t believe this, so it’s difficult to understand how he can reasonably complain about Bush compromising with the Democrats on the issue.
Dionne then criticizes Bush for insisting on a bill that enhanced his right to fire incompetent bureaucrats. But Dionne never explains why the president should not have this right. The value of a Homeland Security Department is questionable. But, particularly in light of what we’ve learned about FBI and INS negligence in connection with events association with September 11, the value of giving the president a freer hand to root out bureaucratic incompetence seems indisputable, unless you’re a Democrat upholding the interests of union constituents. The homeland security legislation is better for giving the president this freedom, and Dionne does not argue otherwise.
Dionne concludes by arguing, correctly, that the real homeland security issue is how aggressive we are going to be in dismantling terrorist networks inside the U.S. He wonders why, other than Senator Bob Graham and Rep. David Obey, the Democrats didn’t argue that we aren’t being aggressive enough in this respect. I could offer some theories about this. For now, let’s just say that if the Democrats wish to increase Attorney General Ashcroft’s power to find and dismantle terrorist networks in the U.S., then we may see some real bipartisanship. But don’t hold your breath.
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