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Originally published Tuesday, December 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Froma Harrop / Syndicated columnist

A bad week for blowhards

The right-wing takeover of this sensible country has been stopped. With this pleasant thought, we enter 2006. In one golden week, three...

The right-wing takeover of this sensible country has been stopped. With this pleasant thought, we enter 2006.

In one golden week, three things happened that bore a common thread. In each case, mainstream positions won out over the bluster of blowhards. People of principle stared down charges that they were unpatriotic, loved Osama or hated religion. The results were gratifying — not only to liberals, but to moderates and a good number of self-described conservatives, who have distanced themselves from their leaders' excesses.

For starters, the Senate said "no" to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It has saved the refuge before, but this time the Republican oilmen turned the vote into a game of chicken. The drilling provision was first stuck to the budget bill. When lawmakers balked, it was unstuck and attached to the defense-spending bill. Once there, the gamesters figured they could smear anyone voting against it as uncaring about the troops.

The defenders of the wildlife refuge, which included several Republicans, did not cave. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Democrat from Washington, accurately called the bill "legislative blackmail." Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut announced that the defense bill was not going anywhere with drilling in it. The Democrat had just returned from a grand tour of conservative talk shows, where the hosts covered him with praise for supporting the Iraq war. Any charges of not backing American forces bounced right off his armor.

The pro-environment senators easily ignored the latest tantrum by Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican obsessed with developing the refuge. And then they turned the tables on the opposition: Some questioned the patriotism of those who would load the "must-pass" defense bill with extraneous special interests.

In another vote, the Senate temporarily extended the USA Patriot Act past its Dec. 31 expiration date. President Bush wanted the anti-terrorism law renewed, but that wasn't going to happen without a frank conversation on his recently revealed surveillance activities.

Not long ago, anyone who wanted to contain the president's powers was smothered by accusations of leaving America open to attack. It's true that after Sept. 11, 2001, many of us agreed that the government needed more powerful tools to track the bad guys. That the rules had to change, however, didn't mean there should be no rules. The citizens have not signed on to giving Bush the right to wiretap Americans making international calls without a warrant — especially since he already can do it in an emergency and ask permission later. The president says he may act as he pleases.

Vice President Dick Cheney bared his teeth and warned that politicians who criticize these policies will pay a heavy political price. Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, coolly responded, "My oath is to the Constitution, not to a vice president, a president or a political party." Expect to hear that kind of thing more often.

The third victory for rational thinking took place in central Pennsylvania. There, a federal judge ruled that "intelligent design" — a crypto-creationist challenge to the theory of evolution — is religion, and forcing it on science classes in Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

Judge John E. Jones, a Bush appointee, called intelligent design "relabeled creationism." He accused its backers of lying about their true intentions, which was to promote religion in a science class. And before the intelligent-design sponsors could utter the words "activist judge," Jones told them to get lost.

Actually, the tide first turned against the intelligent-design boosters in November. That's when the Dover voters removed School Board members pushing the scientific-sounding doctrine.

As far as I can tell, there's hardly a liberal in this story. The judge is a Republican. The voters who kicked out their school board come from a staunchly conservative community. It appears that the movement to sneak religion into science class — which has commanded a national debate — is the work of a noisy few.

All these events, one after another, suggest that the newfound courage of moderates is not a fluke. There never was this big groundswell to develop a wildlife refuge, make Bush king or teach creationism in the schools. The nation has begun to march in the other direction from the right-wing majorettes. May the parade grow long in 2006.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is fharrop@projo.com

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