Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson attacked Sen. Rand Paul, my brother, Rush, and my good friend Mark Levin in a recent column for their various comments concerning the National Security Agency’s surveillance data collection operation and other administration activities.
I find it noteworthy that Gerson — who holds himself out as measured and reasonable, as one who abhors sloppy thinking and expression, and as one who decries the politics of personal destruction — has gone out of his way to personally attack Limbaugh and Levin. He challenged their conservatism, patriotism, integrity and honor instead of simply registering his disagreement with their opinions. To make his case, he conflated and distorted their statements.
Gerson “stipulate(s)” that “IRS targeting of tea party groups is deeply disturbing” and that “Eric Holder’s Justice Department is politicized, swaggering and incompetent.” But, he says, “asserting that U.S. intelligence agencies are part of a conspiracy that somehow includes a national gun registry, drone surveillance and Lois Lerner crosses a line.”
Did Limbaugh or Levin say anything about a conspiracy? I don’t purport to speak for either of them, but I believe it’s more accurate to say their position is that Obama has created a climate conducive to government abuses, which is manifesting itself in scandalous behavior throughout the administration. Who is crossing a line here?
Gerson challenges Limbaugh’s and Levin’s conservatism because “traditional conservatism recognizes the balancing of principles — in this case, security and privacy — rather than elevating a single idea into an absolute.”
Gerson has erected a particularly flimsy and dishonest straw man here. You will not find a scintilla of evidence that either Limbaugh or Levin is an absolutist in the context of the liberty/security argument or elsewhere. They have never contended anything other than that a responsible balance must be achieved between our liberties and our national security interests. That they may draw the line at a different place than Gerson does or call into question the potential for governmental abuses of power in the name of security does not make them absolutists.
Limbaugh and Levin have not opposed the NSA surveillance program per se, but they have expressed strong skepticism that in passing the Patriot Act and other enabling legislation, Congress contemplated the types and breadth of surveillance and potential sweeping encroachments on privacy that some have suggested are occurring under this administration.
Gerson writes: “It is one thing to oppose the policies of the administration; it is another to call for resistance against a ‘regime’ and a ‘police state.’ It is the difference between skepticism about government and hatred for government. And it raises the question: How is it even possible to love such an Amerika?”
To refer to the Obama administration as a “regime,” insists Gerson, “distorts the United States into something unrecognizable in order to advance a partisan ideology. … Americans have fought and died for this country, and to turn on it in this way is noxious. It is dishonest. And it is dishonorable.”
This is disgracefully sloppy polemic. Limbaugh has referred to the Obama administration as a “regime,” and he obviously advocates strong opposition to its agenda and to its multitudinous abuses of power. Does this mean he crossed the line into hatred for government? Surely, Gerson isn’t denying that Obama has demonstrated a propensity for acting outside his constitutional and statutory authority.
What is Gerson implying when he says Limbaugh and Levin are calling for resistance, when he must know that they have advocated nothing other than lawful opposition to Obama’s policies? They haven’t even flirted with calls for civil disobedience, much less revolution. So shame on Gerson for implying otherwise — if that is what he is doing.
Gerson has correctly diagnosed the problem but has incorrectly identified its creator. It is President Obama, not Limbaugh and Levin, who is “distorting the United States into something unrecognizable.” Limbaugh and Levin are the ones who have dedicated their lives to prevent him from succeeding.
Even apart from his many scandals, Obama has demonstrated contempt for the separation of powers, the Constitution and the rule of law. He has proved he has an almost unlimited appetite for government expansion and a reckless disregard for our national debt.
Why shouldn’t all authentic conservatives and other patriots vigorously oppose Obama and call him out for his excesses?
To criticize abuses of power by government officials is not to express “hatred for government.” To criticize an executive branch that will not operate within its prescribed constitutional parameters is not to express hatred for government or for America.
It is precisely their love for America that compels them (and us) to criticize President Obama’s deliberate, pre-announced plan to “fundamentally transform America” into something it was never intended to be.
Perhaps Gerson should explain to us how it is possible to love America and want to fundamentally transform it into something the Framers wouldn’t recognize.
Neither Limbaugh nor Levin is distorting the current state of affairs to advance a partisan ideology. But just maybe, Gerson is distorting and conflating their statements and the current state of affairs because he defensively assumes, wrongly, that they are criticizing the NSA surveillance program as implemented by President Bush, whom Gerson served, and because he is trying mightily to ingratiate himself to the liberal elites by attacking a couple of their favorite whipping boys.
Are your arguments honorable, Mr. Gerson? Are they honest?