E.J. Dionne proclaims that “liberty and democracy were triumphant last week” because the filibuster against the Patriot Act succeeded. Dionne fails to show why this was a victory for liberty — his substance-free column does not even to attempt to argue that the Patriot Act poses a meaningful threat to liberty. And it’s difficult to see how this filibuster represents a victory for democracy. A majority of Senators wanted to end debate, and a majority of Americans favor the Patriot Act in its present form. The filibuster thwarted these democratic outcomes.
Dionne also lionizes the four Republican Senators who joined with all but two Democrats in supporting the filibuster. The over-heated Dionne states that the position of these four is “what one would expect from patriots.” He thus implies that the remaining 51 Republicans and the two Democrats who voted with these Republicans are not patriots. This from the man who constantly accuses the administration of questioning the patriotism of its opponents when it points out that certain of their positions will lead to bad outcomes for the country.
Dionne is perhaps at his most fatuous when he asserts that the Democrats need not fear a backlash from voters for obstructing the Patriot Act. According to Dionne, the Dems “are protected by their defensive line of Sunnunu, Craig, Murkowski, and Hagel.”
With respect, that’s not exactly Marshall, Page, Larsen, and Eller (or Daniels, Griffin, Salava’e, and Wynn, for that matter). The fact that three obscure Senators and one maverick have major reservations about the Patriot Act won’t provide any cover at all if, as appears to be the case, the American public doesn’t share those reservations. McCain provides cover. Sununu, Craig, Murkowski, and Hagel provide the occasion for puzzled looks. Ben Nelson and Tim Johnson, the two Democrats facing re-election next year who voted with the 51 Republicans, understand this reality well enough, even if the ever-hopeful Dionne does not.