Regardless of how it is constituted, whether it is â€œdemocraticâ€ or otherwise, no government poses a larger threat to liberty than a government that is at war. Â
War is the mother of all crises and, as Rahm Emmanuel memorably â€” and rightlyÂ â€” said, crises are pregnant with opportunities for politicians and activists that they otherwise wouldnâ€™t have. It is in moments of crisis, real or imagined, that government has its best opportunity to accumulate ever greater concentrations of power, for it is during crises that the people expect their government to assert itself in ways that wouldnâ€™t ordinarily be tolerated.
Yet todayâ€™s self-avowed â€œconservativesâ€ advocate on behalf of not just war, but war without end, for â€œIslamic terrorâ€ is an amorphous container into which any number of contents can be inserted.
Interminable war means, necessarily, the interminable growth of government.
And where the expansion of government is interminable, so too is the diminution of liberty.
Matters canâ€™t be otherwise, which is why it is at once exasperating and laughable that the very same people who indefatigably defended the so-called â€œPatriot Actâ€ now act shocked that it has been abused by the Obama administration. If they had an iota of wisdom, they would have recognized way back when that the Patriot Act itself is a standing abuse.
Instead, one of its authors, Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, maintains that he is â€œextremely disturbed by what appears to be an overbroad interpretationâ€ of the law he crafted. In a letter to Eric Holder, Sensenbrenner asserts that while he is confident that the Patriot Act â€œappropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights,â€ he nevertheless â€œalways worried about potential abuses.â€Â
There are four things of which to take note here.
First, whether â€œwhat appears to be an overbroad interpretationâ€ coincides with reality is left to be seen. The fact of the matter is that, overbroad or not, at issue is an interpretation of the Patriot Act. The latter lends itself to precisely this kind of interpretation â€” as its critics noted back at the time of its birth.
Second, Sensenbrenner actually admits, albeit inadvertently, that in drafting the Patriot Act, he felt the need to achieve a â€œbalanceâ€ or compromise between â€œcivil rightsâ€ â€” i.e. constitutional liberties â€” and â€œnational security concernsâ€ â€” i.e. greater government power. To put it more bluntly, he concedes that the Patriot Act required trading off some of the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution in exchange for granting the government an even greater scope than it already possessed.Â
Third, although he says now that he â€œalwaysâ€ had concerns about â€œpotential abuses,â€ Sensenbrenner was quite dismissive of critics who have expressed these same concerns.
In 2006, he said that not only did the Patriot Act have a â€œstellar recordâ€ of being abuse-free, but â€œcongressional negotiators added more than 30 civil liberty safeguards not included in current law to ensure that [its] authorities would not be abused in the future.â€ Sensenbrenner was indignant as he concluded that this is â€œstill not enough for some.â€
As even he now recognizes, it was for good reason that his assurances were â€œnot enough for some.â€Â Â Â
Finally, legislation is just that. It is no more potent than the ink and paper of which it consists. Real conservatives, and real statesmen, have always known that the true laws and â€œconstitutionâ€ of a people are embodied in their habits and traditions. Legislation should distill this shared experience â€” and vindicate it. Â Â
Furthermore, paper laws, like paper constitutions, are all too susceptible to the predations of the power-hungry. Â Â
But Republican Sensenbrenner continuesÂ â€” along with several of his fellow partisansÂ â€” to defend the Patriot Act and the entire NSA surveillance program. Take George W. Bushâ€™s former speech writer and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen. â€œSignal intelligence,â€ Thiessen says, is the only feasible and effective way to â€œprotect the country.â€ Upon reminding us that â€œthe programs exposed in these leaks did not begin on Barack Obamaâ€™s watch,â€ Thiessen declares that the current presidentâ€™s continuation of â€œBush-era counterterrorism policyâ€¦ is not an outrage â€” it is a victory.â€
That Obama is building upon Bushâ€™s already massive surveillance program may very well be a â€œvictory.â€
But it is a victory for the champions of Gargantuan Government â€” not the lovers of liberty.
This article originally appeared on: The New American