The arrest of a Pakistani-born American in connection with a failed attempt to set off a car bomb in New York City's Times Square has produced a swift and remarkable debate among conservatives over civil rights and national security. Within a matter of hours, Glenn Beck was casting longtime lawmakers as shredders of the Constitution.
The morning after the arrest of 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad at John F. Kennedy airport on Monday evening, the usual suspects in the GOP took to print and the airwaves to whack away at the president and his top lawyer. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) mocked the idea that Attorney General Eric Holder might read the suspect his Miranda rights or consider trying him in a civilian court.
"I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did discuss this with the intelligence community. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he's an American citizen but still," King said.
Notorious for jumping into the political fray in the wake of attempted or successful terrorist acts, King was quickly joined in the ring by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called the idea of reading Miranda rights a "serious mistake."
"There's probably about 350 different charges he's guilty of -- attempted acts of terror against the United States, attempted murder," McCain said during an appearance on "Imus in the Morning". "I'm sure there's a significant number to warrant the death penalty."
That both McCain and King would so quickly condemn the idea of reading Miranda rights is a reflection of just how far the Republican Party has moved away from a basic element of law enforcement (used often by, among others, the Bush administration's Department of Justice). The suspect, after all, is an American citizen. And in an unexpected moment of dissension, the two lawmakers found themselves on the opposite end of the argument from no less a conservative voice than Beck.
"He is a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens," the bombastic Fox News host said to the stunned co-hosts of "Fox and Friends". "If you are a citizen, you obey the law and follow the Constitution. [Shahzad] has all the rights under the Constitution."
"We don't shred the Constitution when it is popular," Beck added. "We do the right thing."
How Beck and McCain could be so far at odds is a reflection of a distinctive debate taking place within the conservative movement and the obvious political gains that the elected GOP sees in attacking the White House on matters of national security. On Tuesday, the firm Resurgent Republic released polling data showing that: "Voters agree that civilian trials are a bad idea by a 56 to 36 percent margin overall, including a 61 to 32 percent margin among Independents and a 76 to 20 percent margin among Republicans (Democrats say civilian trials are a good idea by a 55 to 36 percent margin)."
Likewise, in a speech that was planned before the news of Shahzad's arrest, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) tore into the president for a "naïve moral relativism in which the United States bears much responsibility for the problems we face around the world."
"America can't win the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world by apologizing, and by banning terms like "war on terror" and "radical Islam," the congressman said, according to excerpts provided by his office. "Al Qaeda knows very well that it has a soft underbelly: Our job is to exploit it."
"The problem with the Obama defense and foreign policy philosophy is that it seems to abandon the proven strategy of peace through strength"