Tonight’s award for the most pathetic excuse for denying Americans their freedoms goes to U.S. Representative Dan Lungren, who rose to the floor of the House of Representatives late last week to explain why it was so necessary for Congress to sneak an extension of the most abusive aspects of the Patriot Act, without any reforms, as an obscured amendment to Medicare legislation.
Here’s the justification that Congressman Lungren gave for passing the Patriot Act extension:
“The massacre at Fort Hood. A lone wolf. Now, admittedly not someone who would be under the PATRIOT Act because he’s an American citizen, but my point is, we have to be concerned about lone wolves.
And what about Mr. Abdulmutallab?
If we had had information and been able to connect some of the dots early on, we would have not been able to prove initially that he was necessarily associated with any other group, maybe inspired by another group. He would actually come under the definition of a lone wolf.”
Here’s Dan Lungren’s argument: The Patriot Act protects us from “lone wolves”, potential terrorists acting alone, by allowing the USA to spy on those lone wolves. How do we know that we need protection from lone wolves? Why, just look at the Fort Hood massacre, where that US Army psychiatrist went crazy and started shooting people! And, if that’s not enough for you, how about Abdulmutallab, the teenager who couldn’t figure out how to conduct a suicide bombing?
I’d like to think that every American who has graduated high school can perceive the flaws in Lungren’s argument, but then, I’ve learned over the years that it’s not a good idea to overestimate the logical reasoning skills of the typical American voter. So, here are the main problems:
1) Dan Lungren cites the Ft. Hood sniper psychiatrist and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as examples of the kind of lone wolves that the Patriot Act can give us protection from, but in the very middle of his statement, Lungren admits that the Patriot Act could not have legally applied to the Ft. Hood shooter or Abdulmutallab. Lungren is left to argue that, if things had been different, and the American government had needed lone wolf spying powers against Abdulmutallab, if Abdulmutallab had been on American soil, which he wasn’t, then we might have gotten some information, perhaps, but only if we knew that Abdulmutallab was planning a terrorist attack anyway, without the Patriot Act to tell us about the threat. Lungren’s argument requires a pile of hypothetical situations to gather information of only indirect importance.
2. Lungren’s two great threats, the Fort Hood psychiatrist and Abdulmutallab, were profoundly, idiosyncratically, failures. The Fort Hood psychiatrist had a mental break, and failed to kill the number of people he could have if he had a reasoned plan for carnage. What kind of Patriot Act spying could be done to protect us against such murderous insanity, anyway? Does Lungren suggest that the Patriot Act be used to monitor the mental health of all Americans, just in case we’re nearing the point where we might grab a gun and start shooting people because we just can’t take the pressure any more?
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on the other hand, was profoundly incapable of accomplishing any act of terrorism. The media love to call him the “underwear bomber”, but the fact is that he’s not actually a bomber at all. He’s a conspirator who completely failed to bomb anything, he was so poorly suited to the mission he had been given.
The specific threats that Lungren cited were, on the one hand, so insane as to be almost impossible to predict, and on the other hand, so inept as to make the idea of a threat almost laughable.
3. Even if we were to ignore the facts of these specific cases and conclude that the Fort Hood psychiatrist and Abdulmutallab were top notch killers with coldly calculated master plans for terrorist destruction, they could have only killed something on the order of one in one million Americans if their plans had gone off without a hitch.
Even if they weren’t kooky screwups, these lone wolves could only have killed about one third of the number of Americans who die every year from accidents involving bicycles. You don’t see members of Congress ranting about the need to sacrifice Americans’ constitutional rights for the sake of bicycle security, and for good reason. It doesn’t make sense for hundreds of millions of people to sacrifice the dignity of their lives just because of the off-chance that an aberrant, violent nut will try to kill a relatively small number of people.
If a nutty psychiatrist and a bumbling teenager are the best justification for the Patriot Act’s rampant abuse of our liberty that anyone can find, the last thing our Congress should be doing is to pass an extension of the Patriot Act. A rational Congress, not seeking to play political games with people’s fears, would instead vote to Repeal the Patriot Act.