January 20, 2010, 0:00 a.m.
Its the Enemy, Stupid
National-security strength lifts Scott Brown.
By Andrew C. McCarthy
It was health care that nationalized the special election for what we now know is the people’s Senate seat. But it was national security that put real distance between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley. “People talk about the potency of the health-care issue,” Brown’s top strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told National Review’s Robert Costa, “but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants.” There is a powerful lesson here for Republicans, and here’s hoping they learn it.
One of the great frustrations of the Bush years was the fact that the administration had strong national-defense and counterterrorism policies that it shied away from defending. On enhanced-interrogation tactics, for example, President Bush’s position resonates with most Americans: When the nation is under siege, nothing is more important than getting life-saving intelligence. And, particularly when we are dealing with terrorists who are trained to resist interrogation and exploit our legal system, we must aggressively interrogate them and keep them out of our legal system. The opposing position, espoused most prominently by Sen. John McCain, was counterfactual and incoherent. Senator McCain pronounced both that enhanced interrogation (which he called “torture”) never works (which is patently untrue) and that an interrogator might at most use it in a ticking-bomb situation (the last situation in which you’d want to use it if, in fact, it never works).
The Bush administration was right, but it was intimidated by the stature of Senator McCain and the prospect of the legacy media calling the president a torturer. The administration gave too much credit to the Arizona maverick — we can admire his heroism and still point out that he gets lots of things wrong. And in the event, as anyone could have predicted, the media called the president a torturer anyway.
Scott Brown went out and made the case for enhanced interrogation, for denying terrorists the rights of criminal defendants, for detaining them without trial, and for trying them by military commission. It worked. It will work for other candidates willing to get out of their Beltway bubbles.
Yes, the Left will say you are making a mockery of our commitment to “the rule of law.” MSNBC will run segments on your dark conspiracies to “shred the privacy rights of Americans.” The New York Times will wail that you’re heedless of the damage you’ll do to “America’s reputation in the international community.”
The answer is: So what? The people making these claims don’t speak for Americans — they speak at Americans, in ever shrinking amounts. If you’re going to cower from a fight with them, we don’t need you. Get us a Scott Brown who’ll take them on in their own backyard. And he’ll take them on with confidence because he knows their contentions are frivolous — and he knows that Americans know this, too.
The laws of war are the rule of law. They are not a suspension of the Constitution. They are the Constitution operating in wartime. The Framers understood that there would be wars against enemies of the United States — it is stated explicitly in the Constitution’s treason clause (Art. III, Sec. 3). The American people understand that we have enemies, even if Washington sees them as political “engagement” partners waiting to happen. Americans also grasp that war is a political and military challenge that the nation has to win, not a judicial proceeding in which your enemies are presumed innocent. The rule of law is not and has never been the rule of lawyers — especially lawyers we can’t vote out of office when they say we must let trained terrorists move in next door.
As for privacy, Americans are not as self-absorbed as ACLU staffers — who, by the way, reserve the right to search your bags before you enter their offices. If you fret about privacy, it’s Obamacare that ought to give you sleepless nights. The lefties who’ve told us for nearly 40 years since Roe v. Wade that the government can’t come between you and your doctor are now saying you shouldn’t be able to get to a doctor except through the government, which will decide if you’re worth treating — that is an invasion of privacy. Penetrating enemy communications, on the other hand, is what Americans think of as self-defense. It’s what we’ve done in every war in our history. It’s what common sense says we must do to win. And when America goes to war, Americans want to win.
And our reputation in the international community? Reputation with whom? Sharia states where they stone adulterers, brutalize homosexuals, and kill their own daughters in the name of honor? Rogue regimes where exhibitions of American weakness are taken as license to mutilate? Euro-nannies who rely on us for protection because they’re without the will and the resources to do the job themselves? They ought to worry about their own reputations. In the United States, only the blame-America-first crowd gives an Obama-dollar what they think. That crowd does not include about 80 percent of Americans who look around at their country, look at the teeming masses trying to get into it, and figure this is a pretty good place after all.
Scott Brown didn’t modulate his positions to send a thrill up the media’s leg. He said the United States needs to stop apologizing for defending itself. And he won going away, in the bluest of blue states.
— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).