Playing Politics With Terror

Monday, September 18, 2006

"ILISTEN TO MY Democrat friends, and I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people."

That was House Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio talking to reporters last week. He should apologize.

For five years the country has been debating how to balance aggressive action to prevent and punish terrorism with core concerns about privacy and other civil liberties. On many issues -- the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in secret prisons, warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, prohibitions against torture -- Democrats, joined by some brave and responsible Republicans and more often than not backed up by the courts, have served as an important brake on an administration heedless of constitutional requirements, international law and national reputation. On some matters -- for instance, their overblown denunciations of the USA Patriot Act -- Democrats have been mistaken in their criticisms.

But whether one disagrees with Democrats on any particular issue, it is offensive to try to paint opponents, as Mr. Boehner did, as uninterested in "protecting the American people" -- and to dodge the implications of that statement by claiming, as Mr. Boehner did, that he was simply wondering. As the election season heats up, this is a line of argument that Republicans would do well to drop.

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