Friday, March 04, 2005


At worst, hypocrisy. At best, political paradox like the conservatives who want small government — except when it comes to people’s sexuality and private lives, when they instead want Big Brother.

This one is revealed by U.S. Food and Drug Administration efforts to get heart-risk warnings on Vioxx pain pills. From The New York Times on Wednesday:

One witness argued that the agency did not need more power. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former top official at the agency who is now at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, said the agency “doesn’t use its existing authority very well.”

Similar arguments are heard when gun control legislation is proposed. If laws already on the books were enforced, conservatives say, new laws wouldn’t be needed.

Mysteriously, the argument evaporates on such topics as terrorism. Conservatives insist that the USA Patriot Act must be kept, if not expanded, to give the government more powers to catch terrorists. Others insist there were plenty of clues, warnings and methods that could have prevented the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, meaning the Patriot Act wasn’t, and isn’t, needed. If techniques already allowed were used, they say, new laws wouldn’t be needed.

It makes a little more sense from the liberal side because liberals, despite what conservatives say, are not soft on crime or terrorism or weak on disbursing money for law enforcement or defense.

So it would be fun to sit down with a prototypical Republican — perhaps President Bush himself or the head of the Republican National Committee — to ask what justifies their inconsistency.

It’s likely the conversation would produce either empty slogans (“Nine-eleven changed everything!”) or plain gibberish (“But not gun laws!”).

That’s because conservatives can’t even be relied upon to enforce existing gun laws. They embrace them publicly, but awkwardly, eyes on the clock and then the door. Never mind those that allow one “collector” to buy hundreds of guns in a year; consider how former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft applied gun laws in direct and immediate response to the terrorist threats that somehow simultaneously demanded the Patriot Act’s secret access to library, medical and student and other records:

Immediately after 9/11, Ashcroft and the Justice Department blocked the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempts to see if people suspected of terrorism had bought guns. Department officials claimed the FBI’s search of the records was against the law, even though the law allowed for checks to see if the system was working correctly — and even though the FBI had already found two likely instances of gun purchases by the suspects.

In 2003, Ashcroft’s department decided counterterrorism agents could be informed when people suspected of being terrorists tried to buy guns but failed, but not when they succeeded. And being a suspect doesn’t mean you can’t buy a gun. “Being a suspected member of a terrorist organization doesn’t disqualify a person from owning a gun any more than being under investigation for a non-terrorism felony would,” according to a Justice Department statement. There must be another reason for denial, such as a criminal conviction.

Liberals might be conflicted about how much power to give U.S. law enforcement to look through what should be private records. But it’s disturbing to find conservatives are also conflicted ... on this one matter.

It makes the “enforce existing laws” rhetoric a little hard to swallow. And there’s not even a warning label.

No comments: