If Americans needed another reminder of why the Democratic Party is absolutely worthless, they got it during last week’s Patriot Act extension debate when Senate Majority leader Harry Reid again behaved exactly like the Bush-era Republicans he once vigorously opposed. In 2005, Reid bragged to fellow Democrats, “We killed the Patriot Act.” Today, Reid says that anyone who opposes the Patriot Act might be responsible for the killing of Americans. Dick Cheney now hears an echo and Americans deserve congressional hearings—as to whether Harry Reid is a sociopath, mere liar, or both.
But while Democrats stand pat for Bush Republicanism, the GOP now debates the extent to which it will remain the party of Dubya. Tea Party favorites like Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Congressmen Ron Paul, Justin Amash, Allen West and others, all voted against the Patriot Act. To varying degrees, each of these GOP representatives questioned the act’s effectiveness and legality. But unfortunately, most Republicans still won’t ask any questions.
The “War on Terror” that defined and preoccupied Republicans during the Bush era brought with it not only massive government growth and debt, but an unprecedented expansion of extra-constitutional state power, symbolized most famously by the Patriot Act. In the name of national security, government officials could begin wiretapping phones, hacking into email accounts, prying into business records and spying on citizens—all without a warrant and at government officials’ own discretion. Defenders say the Patriot Act did what needed to be done after 9/11. Critics say it did away with the 4th amendment.
Let us say both have a point, and that for arguments sake, both Harry Reid and Dick Cheney are correct in arguing that it is sometimes necessary to surrender our liberties for increased security. Is this still true a decade after 9/11? Will it be true two decades after 9/11? How about three? Have the actions of Osama Bin Laden and his fellow terrorists forever altered our Bill of Rights?
Allegedly, the default position for conservatives is to distrust the government and defer to the Constitution. Concerning the Patriot Act, too many conservatives blindly trust the government at the expense of the Constitution. This type of thinking mirrors the logic of the Left, in which the constitutionality of a big government program like Obamacare is considered irrelevant due to the severity of the problem at hand. The liberal healthcare ends justify the unconstitutional means. This characteristic mentality of the Left is exactly how most of the Right approaches the Patriot Act—though it is an outright rejection of what most conservatives of any generation have held most dear.
Think about it. Conservatives get upset about many things on a regular basis—ACORN corruption, NPR funding, demanding that French fries be renamed “Freedom Fries.” At any given time there is always some new and outrageous rightwing distaste of the week.
But most of these controversies are a speck on a gnat’s ass compared to the damage done to the Constitution by the Patriot Act. For genuine constitutional conservatives, something like NPR funding is undoubtedly wrong but ultimately trivial and peripheral—while the protection of the Bill of Rights is crucial and integral. If George Washington or Thomas Jefferson were alive today, are we to believe that they would be more outraged that: A. The federal government helps fund public radio. B. The federal government snoops on citizens without restraint. Those who answered A. truly don’t understand the mindset of the men who founded this country.
A Republican critic of mine once asked me during a radio broadcast “Jack, can you show me where any American has been harmed due to the Patriot Act?” I replied, “Can you show me where any American has been harmed by Wikileaks?” The caller said he couldn’t, but stated that he believed private individuals shouldn’t haven’t access to private government documents. The gentleman was basically saying that whether or not Wikileaks has hurt anyone to date is irrelevant—the whistleblower outfit shouldn’t be trusted with such power to begin with. I argue the same is true of the federal government. So did the Founding Fathers. That’s why they wrote the 4th amendment.
The entire reason we have a written charter like the Constitution is to specify the enumerated powers that define the hard parameters of our federal government. Among those powers is national defense and security. But much of what we call “defense” is anything but. Similarly, a total police state could undoubtedly provide much better security, though few Americans would desire a country so void of liberty. After all, most Americans can barely tolerate the way the federal government handles air travel these days.
When Ronald Reagan said there was nothing closer to eternal life on this earth than a government program he could have easily been describing the Patriot Act. When Barry Goldwater said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” he could have easily been describing the minority of Republicans who now at least question the Patriot Act. When James Madison wrote, “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other,” he could have easily been describing our current state of perpetual war that now gives seemingly permanent life to the Patriot Act.
If the “War on Terror” is a perpetual war—as so many politicians readily contend—have we now permanently given up our liberties? If terrorists really do “hate us for our freedoms” is the best method of defeating them to permanently surrender our historic freedoms? And if so, who is really winning the War on Terror? Us or the terrorists?
By the very nature of their philosophy, conservatives are supposed to question their government. And given the very nature of our Constitution, this is precisely how the Founders would expect any true patriot to act.