Frank Rich Unleashes His Inner Ashcroft

In the era of Barack Obama, dramatic liberal columnist Frank Rich is suddenly gung-ho about fighting terror.

Barack Obama's election certainly did mark the beginning of a new era: Frank Rich, the Times' overdramatic liberal columnist, is now attacking Republican Sen. Tom Coburn for...being too soft on terrorism and questioning the federal government.That's thesubject of Rich's latestbloatedSunday column, "The Guns of August."

"It is time to water the tree of liberty" said the sign carried by a gun-toting protester millingoutside President Obama's town-hall meeting in New Hampshire two weeks ago. The Thomas Jefferson quote that inspired this message, of course, said nothing about water: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." That's the beauty of a gun - you don't have to spell out the "blood."

The protester was a nut. America has never had a shortage of them. But what's Tom Coburn's excuse? Coburn is a Republican senator from Oklahoma, where 168 people were murdered by right-wing psychopaths whobombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Their leader, Timothy McVeigh,had the Jefferson quote on his T-shirt when he committed this act of mass murder. Yet last Sunday, when asked by David Gregory on "Meet the Press" if he was troubled by current threats of "violence against the government," Coburnblamed not the nuts but the government.

"Well, I'm troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government," the senator said, "but we've earned it."

Coburn is nothing if not consistent. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, he was part of a House contingent that helped delay and soften an antiterrorism bill. This cohort even tried to strip out a provision blocking domestic fund-raising by foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas. Why? The far right, in league with the National Rifle Association, was angry at the federal government for aggressively policing America's self-appointed militias.

First off, it's amusing to see liberalsoverthrow erstwhile hero Thomas Jefferson as a gun nut for the sake ofmaking apolitical point.

Reason magazine published a takedown of Rich's rant by left-libertarianJesse Walker, who, in the ultimate insult, claimed Rich's column "sounds like an Ashcroft homage."

He means Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, while defending military tribunals in the wake of the September 11 attacks, accused the left of trying to "scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" and was verbally annihilated. Walker also noted, contra Rich, that part of the opposition to the post-OKC antiterrorism bill was that notorious "far right" group, the ACLU. Walker pondered the irony of the liberal Rich accusing others, Ashcroft-like, of having a pre-9-11 mentality.