Lowering the Barr
Conservatives debate the Patriotic Act.
7:35 PM, Sep 1, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Our rights are being infringed, Barr said. And "no matter how much our rights are being infringed," no one "in Washington would ever admit they are doing so."
"The government justifies its gathering of evidence based on absolutely no evidence that these people have done anything wrong," Barr continued. However, when asked, Barr didn't cite any specific instances of abuse or fraud committed under the Patriot Act. In fact, at one point he said it is hard for him to cite any. It was difficult for the legislation's critics to provide specific examples of abuse, he explained, because much of the Patriot Act operates in secret.
Barr isn't alone. He's the voice of a small, but extremely vocal, coalition of conservatives and Republicans who oppose the Patriot Act, among them David Keene, who runs the American Conservative Union, and Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist.
Norquist was at the panel, too. His problem isn't so much with the legislation, which he says should be reevaluated and "sunsetted." His problem is with potential abuses of power. It's not enough to simply trust the government to do the right thing, Norquist said. "I think Bill and Hillary Clinton deliberately abused power."
That Norquist and Barr are in the minority is a sign of the extent to which the Republican party under George Bush has embraced government power. At Thursday's panel, the pro-Patriot Act side of the debate was represented by Barbara Comstock, attorney general John Ashcroft's former chief of public affairs, and David Aufhauser, former chief counsel for the Department of Treasury. Comstock pointed out that there are provisions in the Patriot Act which stipulate the Department of Justice's Inspector General must disclose reported abuses every six months.
This doesn't placate Barr. He said the rights of Americans are endangered, specifically "the right to travel." Barr is not against only the Patriot Act. He is against airline passenger screening systems as well. "The government has no right to tell us that we need its permission to travel," he said.