Be Good, or Be Diminished

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America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville


Katherine Shrader, Associated Press, writes, that a new poll shows 56% of Americans believe Bush must work through courts in order to spy on Americans regardless of circumstances, including suspicion of links to terrorists. 42% say Bush is free to ignore the laws in his efforts to fight terrorism. Is fighting terrorists the number one priority in our Constitution? Or are civil liberties in the Bill of Rights the first priority? Which position is more Good?

Is fear a rational justification for abandoning the Constitution and rule of law? More people will die because of crime and transportation accidents this year than any single terrorist attack including 9/11. Yet, we don't abandon our Constitution or rule of law in order to halt crime and deaths on our highways. So why should we abandon what makes our nation Good in order to fight terrorism?

Can America disregard the rule of law in order to defend against its fears and remain a Good nation?
Can American torture others and continue to be called a Good Nation?
Can America preemptively attack other nations, occupy them, and remain a Good nation in the eyes of the world?
Can an American government which legalizes bribery from the wealthy, both foreign and domestic, for legislative influence, continue to call itself a Good democracy?

America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville

8 Comments

I think America will stay good as long as it considers freedom and justice as the top priority, as the American people has done so far. America has as well many problems and is not the perfect nation, the perfect nation does not exist, but it is doubtless the best nation in terms of "being good" in the world. America has the right to defend itself (and, doing so, the rest of the free world too) and the duty to defend its citizens even by trespassing the laws at times, but always staying in reasonably moral limits.

Simone, thanks for your comments.

My only question is, who determines what are reasonable moral limits if not the LAW? Dictators determine moral limits according to their needs, that is what defines dictators as different from societies in which the people make the rules, and when the people make the rules, they are called LAWS.

Do you see the problem with a democracy allowing their government to ignore the people's laws? They cease to look like a democracy and begin to look and act much more like an authoritarian society, where one or a few in government author the rules, instead of the people.

If you look at the poll demogrpahics, the results are not surprising. They almost mirror the political affiliations of the respondents.

Further, the non-political demographics are not even close to the demographics of America as a whole so the claim that 56% of "Americans" want warrants to spy on terrorists is at best manufactured news.

Lastly, I know a few judges and none have the global scope of understanding or international expertise necessary to qualify them to make judgments on how to best proceed to combat a fanatical world-wide religious movement that thinks it is just fine to saw people's heads off while they are still alive and screaming in pain.

p adams, good points. It is safe I think to say the American public is roughly divided on the issue. That said, I have seen polls with a slight majority against the NSA spying without court review, and the one referred to showing a slight majority in favor.

But if rule of law is what we are touting overseas as part of democracy, seems to me it is vital we live by it here at home, if we are to maintain any credibility in the world.

The "Do as we say, not as we do" paradigm doesn't sell today.

The objection you made, Mr Remer, is right and you are right when you say that LAWS have to set those moral limits I was writing about. But there is a point that concerns me and that point is that the laws of many democratic coutries are not fit to deal with the threat of terrorism. One example. I am italian, and though I love my country, I cannot close my eyes in front of its many problems. One of these problems is its inability to deal with today's terrorist threat. A few months ago judges released several terrorists accused of recruiting suicide bombers sent to Afganistan and Iraq. Do you know why they were let free? Because italian laws viewed these criminals as recruiters of fighters, not recruiters of terrorists, thus the crime had not to be punished. This malfunction of the laws, together with the leftist inclinations of many italian magistrates (and you know that italian left wing is not a liberal or socialist left wing, but it comes directly from forty years of the west's biggest communist party) let out of jail about seven terrorist recruiters. The only thing the center-right government could do at this point was to expel these guys from Italy, but it's sure that they are now free to keep on doing their "job" in some other part of the world. This long example was meant to highlight the inadequacy of the laws of some democratic countries in today's challenges. I do believe in the strength of democracy and I think that many countries, among which the United States, already have the legislation needed in order to fight terrorism. But jailing those seven terrorists in Italy was, I think, inside those moral limits, while outside the national laws. Probably it's just that the laws have to be improved, but I'm afraid that those improvements may have to sacrifice some of the liberties we've had until today. The question is, to what extent is it right to trade freedom for security?

Simone, you have of course, hit the heart of the issue being debated. Patrick Henry said: "Give me liberty, or give me death". Patrick Henry would prefer to live free from government intrusion and run the possible risk of death at the hands of terrorists, rather than live unfree at the hands of authoritarian authors of government.

Not all Americans by any means, agree with Patrick Henry. They would prefer to feel safe from outsiders and risk loss of freedom from those here at home.

But, as I see it, no amount of surveillance, which the al-Queda know we conduct anyway, is going to eliminate the terrorist threat. At best, we can minimize the risk by controlling our borders against unlawful intrusion. But, even that best measure is no guarantee. But freedoms lost, are almost impossible to recover, even after the threat is passed history demonstrates. And it is fact that terrorism in the world has always existed and will always exist.

So, the argument that we should give up freedoms that distinguish America as the land of the free, in exchange for defeating an enemy which can never be defeated, is not a viable choice as I see it. We will never eradicate terrorism. The heart of terrorism lies in the very base of human nature. Every criminal who murders women for sex is a terrorist, they terrorize women everywhere. And as long as there are those who seek power via war or murder, there will be terrorism.

To yield to the terrorism by giving our up freedoms, in my mind, is handing victory to the terrorists. Just as a woman who never ventures from her home without husband or brothers to protect her, yields a victory to predators. She may not be their next victim, but, she is no longer living free either. This is precisely what Patrick Henry was talking about, and I agree with him entirely.

If I wanted to feel safe from crime or terrorism, I would choose to live in China, where everyone is a suspect and punishment of innocent and guilty alike is swift and unforgiving. Talk about deterrence to crime, China is about as safe as you can get as far as nations go. But, I sure as hell would not want that sense of safety accompanied by that amount of loss of freedom.

We have seen Presidents, and are seeing Congresspersons today, use, bend, and break laws in order to further their own personal agendas. Nixon, Clinton, both impeached for this, and for an extremely long list of political criminals check out http://politicalgraveyard.com. It is a shocking testimony of American office holders who chose to make their own laws of conduct rather than abide by those of the people. Power corrupts and that is why I believe heart and soul, that the greatest harm the American people can do themselves is to relinquish freedoms to politicians. Even well intended requests for exhange of freedom for security by on office holder, is likely to be taken advantage of against the people by the next office holder.

Freedom yielded is only painfully and at great cost ever retrieved again.

We should try to minimize the risk but you are right, we shall never be completely safe. However, I think that it is possible to optimize the laws in order to make them sharper against terrorism without hurting freedom, without forgetting that war on terror is fought on two fronts and in two terms: the short-mid term in which we can hit terrorism with police, intelligence and military, and have an immediate result, and the long term, which should involve deeper and more complicated political and cultural changes in the Islamic world in order to cut the resources of terrorism for a longer lasting result. I think both ways of fighting terrorism are needed.

Simone, I agree entirely. What I and many Americans are waiting for, have been waiting for since 9/11, is effective border control. This was a no brainer. Foreigners strike your citizens, the first thing you do is secure your borders against their entry.

The ONLY reason this didn't happen is because the Republicans did not want to alienate the Hispanic Vote which helped them become the majority. In other words, they put politics before the safety, security and liberty of Americans. But, let me hasten to say, were the Democrats in the majority, they too would have felt the same political pressures. Hard to say what they would have done.

But, it is appalling to me that politicians would put political gains ahead of the security needs of our people. That is one of the reasons I founded Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy. These kind of incumbents, Americans can not afford to keep in office.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on January 8, 2006 9:16 AM.

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