Imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

November 23, 2011

Blog posts will be light for the rest of the week — I’m in upstate New York with the family. But as a libertarian, I feel compelled by my own conscience to spread the word about what took place at the GOP convention last night.

As regular readers know, I’m not a huge fan of the Patriot Act. Now, I don’t think it was inherently unreasonable as a temporary response to an unknown acute crisis. But ten years later it has been both normalized  into the culture and validated by both political parties, no different than any of the hideous “emergency laws” in place throughout the non-democratic world. The Patriot Act — and the “war on terror” seem here to say, like so many of those emergency laws.

As a practical matter, there are two possible realities: either the Patriot Act has been an utterly smashing success as a law enforcement tool, or the danger of international terrorism was not quite as great as we thought in Fall 2001. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But that’s an argument to swing the pendulum back the other way a bit, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. If anything, it appears to be plowing forward.

I know all this. And yet I was still unnerved watching the GOP debate last night. Let’s go to the transcript. In increasing order of ridiculousness:

Newt Gingrich thinks “innocent until proven guilty” — i.e. the foundation of western civil liberty — shouldn’t apply if the suspect is involved in a “national security” issue:

Again, very sharp division. Criminal law, the government should be frankly on defense and you’re innocent until proven guilty. National security, the government should have many more tools in order to save our lives.

Let me guess: the President will decide what constitutes “national security.”

Mitt Romney is even more stark. Treason — a crime under the Constitution that requires multiple witnesses and conviction in an open court , should be governed by the laws of war, even when committed on America soil:

And that means, yes, we’ll use the Constitution and criminal law for those people who commit crimes, but those who commit war and attack the United States and pursue treason of various kinds, we will use instead a very different form of law, which is the law afforded to those who are fighting America.

Rick Santorum is convinced we are dealing with something called a “present domestic threat.” Presumably, that means American citizens shouldn’t be guaranteed their, well, constitutionally-guaranteed rights:

But the issue of the Patriot Act is — is a little different. We are at war. The last time we had a — we had a threat at home like this — obviously, it was much more of a threat at home — was during the Civil War … and, of course, Abraham Lincoln ran right over civil rights. Why? Because we had a present domestic threat. In the previous wars that we’ve had, we haven’t had this type of threat that we have here in the homeland. And we have to deal with it differently.

That is an argument fit for a banana republic dictator. I’ll make you a deal, Rick: when there’s an enemy army stationed and moving 20 miles from DC and Congress is not in session, I’ll give you some latitude to suspend Habeus Corpus and raise an army and navy and blockade the south until Congress convenes. Until then, cool it with the Lincoln comparisons.

Michelle Bachmann thinks those suspected of terrorism do not have any rights:

When the bomber — or the attempted bomber over Detroit, the underwear bomber was intercepted, he was given Miranda warnings within 45 minutes. He was not an American citizen. We don’t give Miranda warnings to terrorists, and we don’t read them their rights. They don’t have any.

That’s right: non-citizens accused of terrorism have no rights. None.

Rick Perry evidently didn’t have any specific piece of the Constitution he wanted to abridge, so he just went with this:

I agree with most of my colleagues here on the stage when we talk about the Patriot Act.

Herman Cain strikes what at first seems like a moderate tone, but on second look seems more like a call to martial law:

Now, relative to the Patriot Act, if there are some areas of the Patriot Act that we need to refine, I’m all for that. But I do not believe we ought to throw out the baby with the bathwater for the following reason. The terrorists have one objective that some people don’t seem to get. They want to kill all of us.

So we should use every mean possible to kill them first or identify them first — first.

What a depressing evening. This stuff should not be taken lightly. Especially since the current occupant of the White House doesn’t exactly have a sterling record on civil liberties. An interesting question is why this is happening now? As an old high school friend of mine noted today on Facebook, it’s amazing how fast some of these liberties are being culturally discarded, given that almost all of them survived the Cold War intact, when a much more existential threat was pointed openly and directly at the nation.

Thank god for Ron Paul. Given that Romney is highly-likely to win the nomination, I would urge any eligible GOP voters in the early primary states to vote for Paul, and let be know that it’s over these issues. And let’s hope Paul runs as an independent candidate and garners enough support to be invited to the debates. These issues need to be aired with everyone watching. Paul has no chance at the presidency, and that’s a good thing; he’s too radical on too many issues. But he’s right on this one. Say what you want about his positions on economics and whatnot, he brings the truth about civil liberties:

I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty … today it seems too easy that our government and our congresses are so willing to give up our liberties for our security. I have a personal belief that you never have to give up liberty for security. You can still provide security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights … I think we’re using too much carelessness in the use of words that we’re at war. I don’t remember voting on — on a declared — declaration of war. Oh, we’re against terrorism. And terrorism is a tactic. It isn’t a person. It isn’t a people. So this is a very careless use of words. What about this? Sacrifice liberties because there are terrorists? You’re the judge and the jury? No, they’re suspects. And they have changed the — in the — in DOD budget they have changed the wording on the definition of al-Qaeda and Taliban. It’s anybody associated with organizations, which means almost anybody can be loosely associated so that makes all Americans vulnerable … And now we know that American citizens are vulnerable to assassination.

So I would be very cautious about protecting the rule of law. It will be a sacrifice that you’ll be sorry for.

Right on, Ron. Right on.


5 Responses to Imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

  1. Guillaume on November 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Great post. Their statements are totally appalling.

    I am a bit surprised of your support of Paul. Maybe I am nitpicking here, but isn’t Paul’s position that nothing like the Patriot Act should have passed in the first place (the “never” in your quote)? Yours is different, you admit that there might be an argument to be made for it as a *temporary* measure.
    Don’t you think Paul is too extreme to actually matter (in a debate or during the elections)? His libertarian beliefs seem closer to a religion than anything else. No room for compromise

  2. Matt on November 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm


    I agree with your comments, I think. I do not want Ron Paul to be President. He’s too radical on too many things. I don’t agree with all his policy positions. But I dearly want him to continue to be in these debates, because if he is not voicing these positions, they will not be heard.

    And yes, I don’t agree with Paul that the Patriot Act was inherently wrong. You definitely have my position correct — in the unknown environment of Fall 2001, I think it was legitimately defensible, as a temporary measure. Maybe not necessary on the merits, but defensible on the grounds that we didn’t know what the merits were. (Also, I think it’s possible — unlikely, but possible — that the Patriot Act bears significant credit for the lack of terrorist attacks in the last 10 years. I think most of the credit probably goes to the fact that international terrorism was somewhat overstated and to the fact that existing law was capable of stopping a lot of it.)

    But that’s done and gone. The question isn’t about the worth of the Patriot Act 2001. It is what should our position be on civil liberties right now. Most of the GOP candidates are completely insane, falling all over each other to extend and expand the Patriot Act. Paul, on the other hand, is standing there calling them on their craziness and basically promoting a line of policy that I agree with: this law and the theory that underwrites it probably needs to be rolled back, at most needs to be kept where it is, and absolutely should not be expanded.

    I definitely consider myself a pragmatic libertarian. Paul is probably too dogmatic for my tastes.

  3. Emery Lee on November 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I said to Frances, as we were watching that *debate*, that Ron Paul is a national treasure. Not because I agree with him, even 20% of the time, but he makes some points very well. We need him.

    I think that what we’re seeing is really “The Authoritarian Personality”, writ large. The last time this broke out in a developed country, it did not go well. Check out Adorno, and Horkheimer . . . and I am getting very concerned.

    This is not a rational *debate*. It’s more amenable to psychological analysis than political, at this point, I’m afraid.

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