This time last year, many Democrats said they had a plan to keep America safe. After a string of lone gunman-style terror attacks, they said Congress should pass a law banning anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist from buying a weapon.
“It’s love of gun over love of country, right?” raged New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He added, “[Republicans are] the party of homeland security. They’re the party of safety. No, it’s pure hypocrisy.”
As I wrote at the time, in one sense, Cuomo made a fair point. Particularly during the George W. Bush years and to only a slightly lesser extent in the time since, the GOP has fashioned itself as the party of the national security state. The PATRIOT Act, NSA mass surveillance, the TSA — these are works the Republican Party hath wrought.
So it is hypocritical for a party so willing to trample the Fourth Amendment in the name of security to suddenly develop a constitutional conscience where the Second Amendment is concerned.
But Cuomo and his fellow gun control supporters were wrong about the larger point — not about guns, but about the FBI watch list. Specifically, they’re wrong about it being okay to deny anyone a constitutional right because theirs names are on a shady debacle of a list made by unelected and unaccountable government employees.
This year, many Republicans say they have a plan to keep America safe. After a string of lone gunman-style terror attacks, they say Congress should pass a law to create a national religion-based list of potential terrorists like the “Muslim registry” President-elect Donald Trump described on the campaign trail.
Now, as Democrats (quite rightly) sound the alarm over this abhorrent proposal, they would do well to remember their own recent history — and as Republicans consider whether to back the head of their party on what has become one of his signature policies, they should think back to 2015, too.
In a recent piece at the Washington Post, Stephen Hale explains this point perfectly:
Democrats, who in many cases criticized the excesses of Bush and continue to do so, have defended many of the same policies under Obama and in some cases sought to expand them. Last year, Democrats pushed legislation that would have seen the terrorist watch list — with all its well-known flaws and lacking due process protections — used to prevent people from buying guns, demagoguing the issue with slogans like “No Fly, No Buy” and the bill’s silly name: the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015. Liberal darlings such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were some of the worst offenders. She tweeted that Republican opponents of the bill had voted “to sell weapons to ISIS.”
None of this, of course, is to suggest that Trump isn’t as odious as he seems — he is — or that his proposals, and general attitude, are any less of a threat to civil liberties. Nor is it to imply that he simply represents more of the same as a president. He is uniquely terrible in a variety of ways and we have every reason to suspect that he sees restraint in these areas not as a virtue but rather as a weakness.
Still, it would be good if those who have made apologies for the expansion of the security state and the restriction of Muslim Americans’ liberty — because it was a time of emergency or because the president was a man they trusted — reckon with the fact that the worst-case scenario they were warned about has come.
Read the rest here. As Hale concludes, “One can only hope that sane Republicans and Democrats find the backbone to oppose Trump’s likely attempts to bend the rules further and that they remember this nauseating moment the next time they are in power.”