America has slid back again into its own special brand of terrorism-derangement syndrome. Each time this condition recurs, it presents with more acute and puzzling symptoms. . . .
Moreover, each time Republicans go to their terrorism crazy-place, they go just a little bit farther than they did the last time, so that things that made us feel safe last year make us feel vulnerable today. . . . In short, what was once tough on terror is now soft on terror. And each time the Republicans move their own crazy-place goal posts, the Obama administration moves right along with them. . . .
We're terrified when a terror attack happens, and we're also terrified when it's thwarted. We're terrified when we give terrorists trials, and we're terrified when we warehouse them at Guantanamo without trials. If a terrorist cooperates without being tortured we complain about how much more he would have cooperated if he hadn't been read his rights. No matter how tough we've been on terror, we will never feel safe enough to ask for fewer safeguards. . . .
But here's the paradox: It's not a terrorist's time bomb that's ticking. It's us. Since 9/11, we have become ever more willing to suspend basic protections and more contemptuous of American traditions and institutions. The failed Christmas bombing and its political aftermath have revealed that the terrorists have changed very little in the eight-plus years since the World Trade Center fell. What's changing -- what's slowly ticking its way down to zero -- is our own certainty that we can never be safe enough and our own confidence in the rule of law.