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Congress Goes Bipartisan—Against Civil Liberties

Civil liberties are theoretically a bipartisan concern. Conservative Republicans who don’t like Obamacare’s “death panels” should be outraged by presidential kill lists. Liberal Democrats who defend due process ought to be offended by secret surveillance law. Protectors of the First and Second Amendments should have a high regard for the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth.

Yet restricting civil liberties is what actually commands bipartisan support in Washington. The same Congress that barely averted the fiscal cliff swiftly passed extensions of warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention, assuring Americans that only the bad guys will be affected but evincing little interest in establishing whether this is really the case.

The same Congress that failed to come up with an agreement to avoid sequestration appears to have bipartisan majorities in favor of profligate drone use at home and abroad. Lawmakers are generally less exercised about the confirmation of likely CIA chief John Brennan than Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

At the very time it appears Washington is so dysfunctional that the two parties cannot get anything done, Democrats and Republicans cooperate regularly—when it it comes to jailing, spying on, and meting out extrajudicial punishments in ways that on their face contradict the Bill of Rights.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid argued that preserving the Bush administration’s national surveillance program—now for the benefit of the Obama administration—was more important than Christmas. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss didn’t even want any amendments.

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