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Trading Liberty for Security? A misuse of Benjamin Franklin

Trading Liberty for Security?  A misuse of Benjamin Franklin

By Robert Meyer

Since the commencement of the War on terror, we have heard various iterations of a famous statement by Ben Franklin from 1755.

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

The basic assumption being promulgated by identifying with Franklin is that no tradeoffs of liberty for security are ever justified. Of course that idea is usually derived from using truncated versions of Franklin's entire quote. Notice the phrase "essential Liberty." I want to know what "essential liberty" anyone has lost via any measure to heighten security in the wake of 9-11? Perhaps people have been inconvenienced, but scarcely more than that.

Many people have voiced concerns about whether they might be having their telephone line tapped and their conversations eavesdropped upon. But is that the reality behind anything being done to monitor terrorism? When I think of "wiretapping," an image quickly pops into my mind; three electronics geeks in a plain van parked down the street. I don't see how surveillance of communications, either to or from locations of suspected terrorists qualifies as wiretapping--and domestic spying for that matter. To actually listen to all or many of the phone calls from people in the U.S., you would need virtually the entire manpower of everybody in the U.S. to monitor them. Then we would have everyone listening and nobody talking.

Accusations of Bush spying seems to be little more than political gamesmanship. Bush is constantly accused of using "fear" to gain power. This is a perfect example an old gambit, doing exactly what you accuse your nemesis of doing. Unfortunately, many staunch conservatives, fearing the belated arrival of "1984," play right into the expedient hands of political liberals, by playing the "I spy" card. Can you really place credibility in any liberal who claims to be afraid of government power, except as it attempts to curtail his/her personal moral autonomy? Liberals want increasing government involvement in every other facet of social discourse.

Notice also, that Franklin talks of "a little temporary safety." The measures we are employing are designed to avert future terrorist attacks, and have already proven successful in catching terrorists before they can cause mayhem. Is that considered "a little temporary safety?" The great pseudo-polemic up for auction to the highest bidding fool is that our founders esteemed any measures taken to promote public safety and security very little-and in fact loathed such potential intrusions. 

It should then come as no surprise then, when some historical revisionists who want to offer us anecdotal evidence about abuses of presidential power, try to convince us the Abraham Lincoln wasn't really such a great statesman after all. They think that they are being clever and insightful in telling us that Lincoln was a scoundrel for suspending Habeas Corpus. But the Constitution in Section 9, Clause 2 reads...

"The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

The point is that situations to preserve public safety are seen as worthy of curtailing certain individual rights, contrary to what our loyal dissenters tell us. The founders recognized this, which is nothing more than observing the common sense principle that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. If we wanted to find a historical perspective to support this claim, we could quickly cite John Adams and the Sedition Act, or FDR's internment of ethnic Japanese during WWII. Personal freedom must never be so virtuous a pursuit that its cost is the destruction of national liberty. That is precisely where the liberal rationale will lead this nation.

Furthermore, we hear that Bush has violated the Fourth Amendment with surveillance policies. The amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." The operant term is "unreasonable," which implies flexibility under certain situations, a la Bush's War Powers claim as Commander-in-Chief. You can't fight terrorism without necessary tools. Instead we would rather genuflect to the absurdities of political correctness, wasting precious resources hounding people who are unlikely terrorists, so we can self-righteously declare that we're not "profiling" anyone. 

It isn't a very a convincing scenario to assume that if Bush hadn't taken any of these security measures everything would be "peachy" in America. I can almost hear the chorus line of the liberal congressional leadership--their cat calls that "this" president has done nothing to "get tough" on terrorists--but a vote for us will remedy that. Yeah, right!

Five years after 9-11, many of us in the west still don't get it.