23 December, 2005

... Doomed To Repeat It

With all the flap about the NSA's activity recently, I've come to appreciate more and more the wisdom of a single man.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Benjamin Franklin

Just as with the Abu Gharib scandal, when this country sacrifices the ideals it was founded on for the sake of the moment, this country dies. Not a full death, but the death of a thousand paper-cuts, self-inflicted wounds to the honor of this nation. And Atrios linked to this article in the Washington Post, I fear that America's honor has been wounded yet again.

"Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words 'in the United States and' after 'appropriate force' in the agreed-upon text," Daschle wrote. "This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."

The President wanted free rein to use the powers granted to him by Senate Joint Resolution 23 to not only pursue terrorists outside of our borders, where they are quite possibly in the planning stages of more attacks on our soil, but also here, in the land of the free.

Now, I firmly recognize that I am one of the "civil liberties absolutists" that Jeff Goldstein is talking about. In fact, I'm rather proud of being in this category. And as such, the fact that the President of the United States wanted, officially by joint resolution of Congress Assembled, the power to act as if in time of war within the borders of the United States... Well, there's something about that thought that makes me so fundamentally scared that I want to get on a plane to New Zealand and renounce my citizenship. (But I can't. No passport. Much to the probable dismay of those that feel that the only good Democrat is a non-American Democrat.)

And as David J., aka TBFKAZ, pointed out after his deconstruction of a certain Queensryche album, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an American President establishing a program for the express purposes of collecting intelligence on foreign nationals, particularly those with ties to terrorist organizations. Absolutely nothing. That is an expected power of the Executive, and one that this Democrat has zero difficulty comprehending. But wanting the same power for those within the United States, and quite probably citizens of the United States, who may have had some casual contact with someone who is the sixth-degree-from-Kevin-Bacon from a known or suspected terrorist? That goes too far, even by the shortest yardstick ever created.

(Free plastic wrapping from an iPod Nano for the first person to explain that to the studio audience. Restrictions apply. See store for details.) (And free rants on the topics of choice for a full year for the first person to buy me an iPod Nano, or any other 10+ gig MP3 player, just so I'll have the wrapping to give out. Yes, you can be the editor of Left Off Colfax, with the full and complete power to boss me around, on my own blog, for a calendar year. Restrictions apply. See store for details.) (Sheeesh, am I cheap or what! Most folks would at least hold out for cash!)

For those that have forgotten their history classes from high school (or just slept through them like I did), let me remind you that one of the few reasons the Constitution was finally ratified way back in 1789 was due to the (eventually planned) inclusion of the Bill of Rights. If it wasn't for those ten little amendments, there would not have been enough support among the states to get this country started, at least not as we currently know it. The right of an American citizen to not be subjected to an unwarranted search, which is precisely what the recent NSA flap is all about, is one of the bedrock concepts of the American society. And for the President to ask for it, particularly when we are not legally at war and within a resolution that is not a formal declaration of war, disturbs me beyond the point where my vocabulary can express. Well, at least not without descending into base vulgarity.

Now, there are those that seek to justify the President's actions by saying "Wait! Clinton and Carter did the exact same things! And for worse reasons, at that! How can you Democrats complain about Bush's actions when your guys have done it!" I'm sorry to disappoint those attempting that argument, but it just doesn't fly with me. On the one hand, unless major laws and regulations were changed between Bush's inauguration and 9/11, it would be just as illegal for a President to do such actions when they were President as it would be for Bush to do so. And on the other hand, such a statement should be included as a textbook example of the Appeal To Common Practice fallacy, and as such, carries little water with me, particularly when it is being said by those who tend to offer expansive logical arguments.

Simply put, the base liberties of Americans are more important than the Armed Conflict Against Terrorism And Violent Extremism, or whatever it's being called. And as Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."

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