The latest blockbuster summer tour exploded onto the scene yesterday against the sultry backdrop of the nation’s capitol. Bringing a storm of publicity in its wake, the “Patriot Act 2003” tour is set to roll across America with its highly anticipated act and world-renowned headliner: Attorney General John Ashcroft.

What, you didn’t think there was a better ticket in town than the Razzle Dazzle Department of Justice show, did you? Reading like a worn page from the “Chicago” musical songbook, Ashcroft has taken his defense of the discredited USA PATRIOT Act to the streets in a tour of electoral swing-states, including Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. If Ashcroft’s political motivations were not obvious enough, he has limited attendance to this one-of-a-kind show only to law enforcement groups, avoiding the legitimacy and tough questions often afforded by public forums.

But hey, if Ashcroft cared at all about upholding a decorum of fairness and impartiality expected of the people’s Attorney General, he never would have kicked-off a whistle-stop political road show in the first place. As the equally wily Billy Flynn of “Chicago”-fame sang, “give ‘em the old three ring circus/Stun and stagger ‘em/When you’re in trouble, go into your dance/...Razzle dazzle ‘em/And you’ve got a romance.”

Although Ashcroft is surely no stranger to “trouble” or controversy, the recent storm surrounding the PATRIOT Act is without equal in a time in which patriotism is often confused with obedience and skepticism with treason. Look at the recent Republican-led efforts in the House to repeal two key provisions of the Act—a feat that would have been unthinkable over a year ago, when most representatives hadn’t bothered to read the entire bill before passing it. Add the fact that 152 communities recently passed Anti-PATRIOT Act resolutions and civil liberties groups filed a suit alleging infringements of the Constitution—and you’ve got one Chicago-style heat-wave.

Yet for all the Justice Department’s fancy footwork around accusations of civil liberties violations, no amount of smoke and mirrors could obscure this grisly truth. Simply put, the PATRIOT Act is a constitutional abomination, affecting non-citizens and citizens alike in its repeal of the Bill of Rights. Two of the more deplorable provisions, the so-called “sneak and peek” warrants and “librarian espionage”, are currently being questioned in the Senate. The “sneak and peak” warrant allows government agents to secretly search homes or confiscate property, while the “librarian espionage” provision allows agents to search through library records without showing probable cause before a court. Both PATRIOT provisions hardly qualify as a “constitutional course” for the Department, as Ashcroft recently claimed in his first leg of the tour.

The Ashcroft who once scoffed at “making no apologies” for civil liberties violations has now been reduced to producing circus sideshows in defense of his legislation—a fair sign that the tide has begun to turn. Yet the question begs to be asked: why does our chief law enforcement officer feel the need to tour the country as a ringmaster in a farcical display of political lobbying? Maybe it’s because a little Razzle Dazzle is all he felt the public needed before the unveiling of an even more repressive PATRIOT Act II. Judging from the lack of media scrutiny surrounding the propagandized “PATRIOT tour 2003”, he might just get away with it. And if the recent Fox News Poll is correct in reporting that 91 percent of registered voters believe the current Act has not affected their civil rights, maybe “the old hocus pocus” in these troubled times has become preferable to the grim, and often depressing, reality. As the “Chicago”-style act of Ashcroft’s tour shows, truth has become the first casualty of war.

“Give ‘em the old flim flam flummox/Fool and fracture ‘em/How can they hear the truth above the roar?/...Razzle Dazzle ‘em/And they’ll beg you for more!”