Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Had the Founders wanted to balance security and liberty America wouldn't exist.

Ever since the secret NSA domestic meta data spying on American citizens was exposed by Edward Snowden,  the defenders of the program from president Obama to the chairs of the intelligence committees, Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers,   Director of Intelligence James Clapper, General Keith Alexander, and even a few journalists, have all  used the same rationale, (or is it excuse?) to justify the mass  domestic surveillance on hundreds of millions of Americans:  the need to strike a balance between security and liberty.

Obama has offered that same premise repeatedly in defending the program,  most recently in responding to his own appointed White House panel who, among other things,  recommended abolishing the meta data collection.  Obama's response was that he would consider what changes he might make based on  the "need to strike a balance between security and liberty."

The problem with this premise  is that it is antithetical to the principles and values of those who are credited with the founding of the country. In fact, it's a premise the Founding Fathers would have held in contempt.  And in fact, did. The very idea that Americans should consider giving up some of their liberty and freedoms in exchange for security  flies in the face of everything the Founders believed and had they valued  a balance between liberty and personal security America wouldn't exist.

 Thomas Jefferson, George Washington,  Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John  Adams, James Madison and others,  all enjoyed more security both personal and financial than any American living in the colonies at the time. In fact,  much more than the majority of Americans do today. They would have been considered the 1%.

 Jefferson and Washington lived on large,  lavish, even opulent estates, Monticello for Jefferson, Mount Vernon  for Washington. Their kitchens were larger than the homes of most Americans and they enjoyed lives of comfort and luxury as well as accomplishment.

 Franklin was an international celebrity as an author, scientist, philosopher and publisher and was treated almost like royalty at  the court of the King of France whom Franklin went to see for help with the Revolution and was revered by the French aristocracy.  John Hancock was a successful and wealthy businessman whose biography states "maintained a lavish lifestyle and often faced staunch criticism for his exorbitance".  John Adams was a prominent Massachusetts lawyer.  Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the legendary Paul Revere, were successful in their chosen professions and were living prosperous lives,  Rush a physician, Revere a silversmith.  These men whose ideas and principles founded the country already had all the personal security anyone could have wanted.

 What they didn't have was the kind of liberty and freedom for themselves and their countrymen that they believed was the natural entitlement of a free people,to be  free from an oppressive and intrusive government and the right of people to self-determination. And for that they risked everything, their wealth,  security and their lives for what became the American idea Which is what led to Franklin's statement  " We either all hang together or we hang separately".

 Most colonists shared that idea. If they hadn't, if they had valued a balance between liberty and security, if it was something they cared about, no one would have showed up at Bunker Hill. No soldier who endured the winter at Valley Forge and survived by eating tree bark or leather from their own shoes assuming they had any shoes, or any soldier who hit the beaches at Normandy, or suffered hardship or gave his life in any war America had to fight,  ever did so for the idea of a balance between liberty and security.

 Giving up a certain amount of freedom and liberty in return for security is not and never has been part of the American idea. It is not only a false choice, it  undermines the very principles on which the country is founded and expressed in the Declaration of Independence and preamble to the Constitution.

 The ever dwindling supporters of  the NSA's mass  domestic spy program,  a program recently called  "almost Orwellian" by a federal judge, along with  being  unconstitutional,   (which, Obama's statements to the contrary,  has resulted in more than 2,000 documented  instances of illegal  NSA abuses of the rights of American citizens) still continue to support the program based on the  idea that Americans should be willing to accept a certain loss of liberty and privacy in return for security (as for security, it's still a fact that there hasn't  been a single instance where the NSA domestic data collection ever resulted in a single terrorist attack being foiled).

 It bears repeating as the debate continues,  that if the Founders and Americans who followed them had valued a balance between liberty and security there would have been no Revolution and no America.

President Obama's recent announcment regarding the NSA which both sides found tepid,  once again invoked the idea of having to find a  "a balance" between security and liberty. His proposals tried to satisfy both sides,  those who want to preserve civil liberties and those advocating the need to give up some in the name of  more security. Typically, Obama's proposals satisfied neither.

Sometime this month, members of congress will vote on The Freedom Act,a bill introduced by conservative Republican James Sensenbrenner, the author of the Patriot Act  under which the Obama Administration's expanded interpretations allowed the NSA's mass domestic spying to take place, and liberal Democratic senator Patrick Leahy. /The bill, in part, will abolish the NSA domestic meta data collection and tighten the restrictions on what the NSA can and cannot do with their spy technology.  If the bill passes, most of Obama's decisions on the NSA  will  be moot.

As members of congress contemplate that vote, they should keep in mind that a balance between security and liberty isn't really the issue and in fact undermines the founding principles of the country. And it would do them all well to consider what Benjamin Franklin had to say about it at the time :  "Those who would trade essential liberty for short term security deserve neither".

No comments: