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The Liberty Experiment
by joseph   November 15, 2006

civil liberties I would like to begin by joining my voice to the Leftist chorus celebrating the breaking of the Republican blockade of the legislative, executive and (let's face it) judicial branches of government. I have also breathed a rueful sigh at the mainstream media's new approach to the Democrats, demonstrating that rather than having a right- or left-wing bias, most media outlets simply kowtow to whomever seems to capture the public eye (with the intent, of course, of selling those fawning stories to their audience). This chorus of relieved voices represent a sizeable bloc whose interests and concerns are being relatively well represented by the agenda set forth by Pelosi and her crew.

However, one issue or rather set of issues seems to be curiously under-discussed. Like many others, my "Doomsday Clock" to move to Canada was turned back several minutes with the last election results. However, as much as I am optimistic about the potential for change in the Iraq muck and the ludicrous tax imbalance, if a more meaningful conversation does not emerge about civil liberties in this country, I cannot say the clock will not continue to tick.

When it comes to the disintegration of a free and the imposition of a police state, history is rife with examples, of which Nazi Germany is only one, albeit a useful favorite. But after all, Benjamin Franklin didn't need any of the examples of nationalism and Fascism to make his observation about security and liberty and giving up the former for the latter. The inaugural democracy Athens in the fourth century BCE found democracy too inefficient while fighting the Peloponnesian War, and with the consent of its citizenry gradually dismantled it. Athens never again rose to her former glory (check the dates on all those famous Athenian writers who authored the seminal works of western civilization). Yet for two thousand years, people in times of anxiety have gazed upon the delectable carrot of safety and surety and, despite never reaching it, are content to follow it off the edge of a cliff.

Left-leaning commentators like Bob Herbert, Keith Olbermann and CSP's David Nett were often the only ones heard speaking out about the suspension of habeus corpus and secret spying, but it's clear that this concern is shared by others, like the libertarians, a notable bloc of independents who often vote Republican due to its now-hypocritical "small government" platform. Fiscal conservatives can't be happy about an increased bureaucracy designed to monitor our spatial, financial and virtual movements either. These are not terrorist-huggers; these are not people who hate their country. This kind of broadly based discontent with the overreaching and ill-conceived dismantling of the Bill of Rights needs to be addressed, and the gag order of "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" must be retired in favor of a more nuanced and mature conversation. We shall see. The new House may well investigate the secret spying programs, but when one realizes how many Democrats in fact voted for many of the liberty-eroding measures, it is important that we remain ready to make even more noise to ensure that we are given back our freedoms, and that we are allowed to have a more open and honest say in how we want to address the amorphous threats with which the modern world confronts us.

We are a bicentennial experiment in human progress that worked, albeit in often disharmonious and creaky ways, and is still working as of last Tuesday, Diebold and robocalls notwithstanding. There are better and more creative ideas for establishing effective governance and domestic security than those found in the ages-and-ages-old authoritarian playbook. The last five years of the Bush presidency will remain a tangled black mark in our national history books, but my wish is for the very next paragraph to be about how we as a people set about making it right. And when some new unforeseen threat looms we can all point to that paragraph and say to someone too young to remember, "You see? You see?"


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