Rational Politics Chapter 6: Liberty, Terror, And Schizophrenia

The great American author, Tom Clancy, noted in the epilogue to The Sum Of All Fears that it was not probable that any free democracy could prevent a terrorist event using weapons of mass destruction. Since 9/11, most of the nation’s best analysts, through interviews on television or in print, have repeatedly stated that another major attack is a near inevitability. This friends, leads us to the nature of terrorism; the ability of a small force able to bend a larger force to its will through intimidation. But the United States hasn’t changed in response to the events of 9/11, have we?

Clancy made it a point to reference the free democracy in his note. Liberty, after all, does not blend well with a police state. For decades the Red Chinese, and the Soviets, Nazis, and Czarists before them, controlled the ethnic and religious divisions that existed in their nations. It is not coincidental that bloodshed began anew in the Balkans when Yugoslavia was dissolved; the tensions of Serb and Croat had been sublimated to the will of world socialism. Iraq as well, showed the results of tyranny on the profession of terror; Hussein allowed no jihad in his country, and was utterly without limits in his ability to enforce his will. It took a foreign power to uncork the terrorist potential in that nation.

The United States has always worked to be different. Our system of justice is largely predicated on the notion that it is better ten guilty go free, than one innocent be convicted. The 4th and 5th Amendments are the elements in our Constitution that enshrine the safeguards of liberty; prohibitions of unreasonable search and seizure, the necessity of evidence or testimony giving probable cause for the issuance of a warrant, and the guarantee of due process under the law. We have, in our fear since 9/11, willingly submitted to a steady attack on our liberties. We take solace in the notion that these new methods “only apply to the terrorists”; as if they come with labels.

I speak of schizophrenia in the title because we Americans have been of two minds with regard to civil liberties in the presence of terror. Two issues have jumped again to the forefront of our national discussion; the rights of the accused, and the security of deadly instruments. Some of the split in our personality can, of course, be directly linked to politics and the shameful deceit of elected officials and those in the media. There exists a steady drumbeat, coming from the general direction of Dick Cheney, that pounds out a simple message; “What I did was legal, what I did was proper, and even if it wasn’t, it was necessary because look….it kept us safe.”

An entire national discussion has been hijacked by one politician trying to cover his ass. Cheney’s apologists in the media (and I do mean Cheney, because I believe more every day that it was he and not Mr. Bush who was responsible), daily turn themselves inside-out trying to make his party-line true. Charles Krauthammer, once a respected journalist, became the latest to go on TV and propagate the lie that the previous administration kept America free from terrorism after 9/11. Friends, this is very simple; if Ft. Hood, Times Square, and Captain Underwear were terrorist attacks, then so were the El Al counter attacks, the Anthrax attacks, the DC Sniper attacks, the North Carolina SUV attacks, Captain Shoebomber, and the Seattle Jewish Federation attacks.

It is important to note the earlier attacks for two reasons. First, they represent only those acts of terrorism driven by Islamic fanaticism (there were other terrorist acts), and the frequency of that brand of terror has not diminished. Second, the events were all investigated and brought to an end point by traditional American justice. Nobody was waterboarded, and everyone arrested (that is, all of the folks arrested by the Bush Administration) was read rights, tried, and convicted. Richard Reid, a foreign national, tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight bound for the United States by detonating explosive shoes. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a foreign national, tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight bound for the United States by detonating explosive underpants. The FBI under President Bush mirandized Reid, and he was successfully prosecuted…why is Abdulmutallab any different?

Why is it so important to begin watering down our rights? Why is it that when we talk about liberties in other contexts, the concept of the slippery slope is so important, but when the conversation turns to habeous corpus or due process it is just national security? Last year more than 1,000 “members” of the national terrorist watch list shared an interesting fact in common; they were approved when their names came up for a background check connected with the purchase of firearms and/or explosives. Mostly firearms actually. Only 3 people on the national terrorist watch list were able to buy explosives last year. Only 3 people on the national terrorist watch list were able to buy explosives last year. Only 3 people on the national terrorist watch list were able to buy explosives last year. Don’t you feel safer already? Why oh why, is Fox News not having a group cerebral hemorrhage over this tidbit? Heck, why isn’t every news agency reporting this?

These folks can’t be prevented from buying guns or explosives because that would deny them there 2nd Amendment rights, according to the NRA. Now let’s be clear on something friends, I believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to gun ownership. Heck, if you want to own a twin .50 caliber mount for your back yard, great. Of course I believe guns ought to be a little like cars in that they should be registered and you should need to prove your ability to keep it off the sidewalk…so to speak. Of course, I also don’t think it is ok to yell fire in a crowded theatre. But I digress; the element to focus on here, is the inconsistency.

If we have decided that it is in the prevailing national interest to suspend due process seizure rules for individuals that someone somewhere decides pose a terrorist threat, then why can’t we also suspend their 2nd Amendment rights to buy guns and explosives? Both sides of this slope are equally slippery. Personally, I would move to reinstate the idea that America is the land of the free. Friends, it IS the land of the free…but only so long as it remains the home of the brave. We could give up all of our rights and still watch helplessly as some self-absorbed idiot detonates an IED in a crowded place. We could put our reliance on our ability to apply limited rights to only one segment of the population, and watch homegrown losers like Timothy McVeigh almost get away while we look for the Muslims.

Or, we could bravely live as we did before 9/11, albeit more vigilant. We can cherish our liberties in the happy understanding that the folks in China might be more protected from terror, but at a cost we refuse to pay. We can be consistent in the application of civil liberties and our expectations of safety. Maybe I am just stubborn, but I am not willing to let that cave-dwelling idiot take away any more of this country by proxy.

The Rational Middle is listening…

8 thoughts on “Rational Politics Chapter 6: Liberty, Terror, And Schizophrenia

  1. Michael – As usual. Well thought out. Well stated. Logical and…well…Rational.

    I just find the two approaches almost as opposing as right vs left, liberal vs conservative.

    I do thirst very much for the interchange of ideas. These exchanges are a sound basis for digging deeper into your own thoughts and beliefs. And trying better to understand what you yourself believe, and if your beliefs are grounded in any sort of fundamentally sound logic. However, I'm not sure (as you have noted in at least two posts) that it furthers the intellectual exchange when you pepper your commentary with slight, innuendo and personal insult.

    Nor am I certain I could agree that criticism emanating from "furriners" is ever going to be genuinely relevant to what I feel is best for or what I want for OUR country.

    Still, great site and I appreciate your effort and commentary.

  2. Well Hank, where should I start. At the top, you might have missed my point; if we concede the need to erode 4th Amendment rights in the pursuit of terrorism suspects, then it is consistent to apply the same logic to the 2nd Amendment rights as well. Last year, more than 1,000 terrorist suspects applied for and received permits to buy weapons or explosives. I am not talking about squirrel hunters here. You and I disagree on the top (in that I don't believe rights should be sacrificed in this conflict), but if the consensus says yes, then it should be enforced consistently. On Mario Piperni…I respect and endorse your rights to an opinion and a voice; the RM is committed to conversation. Please note that it is committed to conversation with as many people as possible, from the most diverse backgrounds as possible. As you may note, I am left of center on many issues, so some of the topics and cartoons on the Piperni site are amusing and/or informative to me. He is (and would be the first to admit it) more confrontational in his views and presentation than I. Indeed, many supporters of Beck, Hannity, et al. would call that monolithic and uncompromising style courageous; they might also call my style cowardly. Reason is in the eye of the beholder as much as beauty Hank. It is, I think, a benefit to engage with people who with disagree with, as well as people whose style we disagree with. In any case, Mario Piperni has been a friend to this blog, and been open to conversation and keen to offer valuable advice. I value my readers Hank, and especially those that comment and help the blog to grow as you do…but please understand that I am equally interested in the communication I have established with Mr. Piperni and others.

  3. (continuation of previous comment.)

    When you talk about blanket restrictions to 2nd amendment rights for people who are not suspected of anything other than a desire to hunt squirrels, I'm not sure you're making an equivocal argument. At least, not in my opinion.

    Okay, off topic and quite possibly erroneous judgment, but what the heck. A characteristic of "us guys"? Right??

    I find your collaborations with Piperni a little conflicting. For several reasons.

    First, Piperni and most every individual contributing to his blog are out there as far as ideology is concerned. I find that diametrically opposed to your calm, rational and logical approach to many political issues. One of the difficulties I have in commenting to your posts is that you pretty thoroughly discuss and state your beliefs and thoughts, dissecting them from many different angles to where many times, about the most I can muster up is, "Okay then. I understand your point whether I completely agree or not!"

    On the other hand, Piperni and the myrmidons (I LOVE that word. Thanks to Rob Waterson.) that frequent his site are pretty much as closed minded as the most dedicated, transfixed Fox News Zombie they can conjure up. I find little difference in Piperni, et. al. and people like Hannity or Coulter, who would find wrong in ANY action this President might undertake, and their (Piperni's) approach to all things Republican/Conservative. In my opinion, that's not your style and I'm curious why you wish to be aligned with a group so intractable and radical in their ideological leanings.

    Also, Piperni allows very little challenge. With hardly any exception, he deletes and bans ANYONE who challenges his positions. I find that cowardly. If you can't intelligently, reasonably and logically support your position, then perhaps you should be re-evaluating YOUR thoughts more than censoring the thoughts of others. Actually, he is even more aggressive than censorship involving only his own blog. He has managed to have me banned or ATTEMPTED to have me banned from several other sites where I comment. (Maybe I shouldn't complain. If he's so busy following me around and interfering with my First Amendment rights, it distracts him from furthering HIS particular brand of lies, hate and misinformation!!) :-)

    And last, why would you, I or any concerned American Citizen care what Piperni thinks, or aid in any manner his effort to promote his agenda of "America Hate"? He is a Canadian Citizen. Why would you, me or anyone else care to lend credence to the musings, the thoughts and "calls to action", of someone who has no skin in the game? In the end, he can advocate for ANY action for Americans, then run back to Canada when those actions negatively impact American Citizens.

    Okay. Sorry for that but I had noticed your "Guest Blogger" status on Piperni's Dump. I was just curious about the collaboration as I find you and he on opposite ends when it comes to presenting your thoughts and opinions. Piperni reminds me of a Liberal Version of Coulter, Savage or Hannity. Only worse!! On the other hand, I find your commentary very well presented and supported. And I appreciate that you approach it with a respectful and courteous style as opposed to the profanity and childish insult endorsed by Piperni.

    I find the "Rational Middle" a very appropriate title for your effort. And I find your articles intelligent, respectful and informative. Keep up the good work.

    (Plus, Piperni really ticked me off when the best mention he could muster during our Historical Flood event was, "Tennessean Dicks"!!) ;-)

  4. (I'm getting an HTML error message and have to post this in two sections to get it through. Sorry for any confusion.)

    Michael – And I am going to give up front warning. I'm going to veer off topic before I'm finished, MOSTLY because I can't find a method here of sending you a note on the side. So, any negative ramifications are essentially YOUR fault!! :-)

    First, thanks for your kind comments on our flooding. I'm sure Obama had something to do with it. Let me check Hannity and Beck. I'm sure they've drawn the connection by now!! :-) (Teach US to go Republican on the next election!! Right??)

    Next, I'm aware of Franklin's quote TXI paraphrased. (Actually, I'm aware of TXI. Good guy. Reasonable to engage.) http://www.momentarylucidity.com/blog/

    I'm not sure you're drawing a reasonable argument here. I'm talking about possibly limiting certain rights or liberties in certain, limited situations. I'm not talking about blanket limitations. Specifically, if you're suspected of terrorist activities, perhaps authorities should have a little more freedom to check into your activities. There first, in my opinion, would have to be substantial and verifiable reason for such suspicion.

    (continued)

  5. Hank…first of all…good luck and be safe as the RM understands that Nashville is in crisis. Second, the point touched on by TXI was the line delivered by Ben Franklin, at a time when the notion of support for the Revoution could mean your life; "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." I would think that you of all would appreciate the reference to that most sage of all the Founding Fathers. Third….you make my point (and Mayor Bloomberg's) for me…if we have decided that rights can be violated to give the whole more safety, then why would would stop short of applying the same logic to the 2nd Amendment (and the gun/explosive sales it is shielding)? You can't have it both ways, but some are trying.

  6. What profits a man if he gains the world and loses his life?

    (What irony! I'm in Nashville in the middle of the worst flooding in this area in history, and the word verification thing was "drytoo"!

  7. Michael – Don't really have a lot of time. Been busy with the flooding as I live in the Nashville area. But one thing jumped out at me and I just want to hear your "Rational Middle" expansion.

    You seem to embrace the notion that "it is better ten guilty go free, than one innocent be convicted." and I'm really not going to argue that point with you.

    But doesn't the same logic apply on the other end? Are we not equally entitled to feel that it's better one or two individual's rights get invaded somewhat than for 3000 to die??

    I understand the slippery slope argument but until that becomes a reality or a concern, isn't one entitled to endorse this premise just as well as "it is better ten guilty go free, than one innocent be convicted."??

    Okay. Back to my buckets!!

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