If Americans needed another reminder of why the Democratic Party is absolutely worthless, they got it during the recent Patriot Act extension debate when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid behaved exactly like the Bush-era Republicans he once vigorously opposed. In 2005, Reid bragged to fellow Democrats, "We killed the Patriot Act," but in 2011 Reid says that anyone who opposes the Patriot Act might be responsible for the killing of Americans. Is Reid a sociopath, liar, or both?
The War on Terror that defined and preoccupied Republicans during the Bush era brought with it not only massive government growth and debt, but an unprecedented expansion of extra-constitutional state power, symbolized most famously by the Patriot Act. In the name of national security, government officials could wiretap phones, hack into e-mail accounts, pry into business records, and spy on citizens — all without a warrant. Defenders say the Patriot Act did what needed to be done after 9/11. Critics say it did away with the 4th Amendment.
Let us say for argument's sake that sometimes it's necessary to surrender our liberties for increased security. Is this still true a decade after 9/11? Will it be true two decades after 9/11? How about three? Have the actions of Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists forever altered our Bill of Rights?
Allegedly, the default position for conservatives is to distrust the government and defer to the Constitution. When it concerns the Patriot Act, too many conservatives blindly trust the government at the expense of the Constitution. This type of thinking mirrors the logic of the Left, in which the constitutionality of a big government program like Obamacare is considered irrelevant due to the severity of the problem at hand. The liberal healthcare ends justify the unconstitutional means. This characteristic mentality of the Left is exactly how most of the Right approaches the Patriot Act, although it is an outright rejection of what most conservatives of any generation have held most dear.
Think about it. Conservatives get upset about many things on a regular basis — ACORN, NPR, french fries. There is always some new and outrageous right-wing distaste of the week.
But most of these controversies are a speck on a gnat's ass compared to the damage done to the Constitution by the Patriot Act. For genuine constitutional conservatives, something like NPR funding is undoubtedly wrong but ultimately trivial and peripheral, while the protection of the Bill of Rights is crucial and integral. If George Washington or Thomas Jefferson were alive today, are we to believe that they would be more outraged that: A.) The federal government helps fund public radio, or B.) The federal government snoops on citizens without restraint? Those who answered "A" truly don't understand the mindset of the men who founded this country.
The entire reason we have a written charter like the Constitution is to specify the enumerated powers that define the parameters of our federal government. Among those powers is national defense and security. But much of what we call "defense" is anything but. Similarly, a total police state could undoubtedly provide much better security, though few Americans would desire a country so void of liberty. After all, most Americans can barely tolerate the way the federal government handles air travel these days.
When Ronald Reagan said there was nothing closer to eternal life on this earth than a government program, he could have easily been describing the Patriot Act. When Barry Goldwater said that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," he could have easily been describing the minority of Republicans who now question the Patriot Act. When James Madison wrote, "Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other," he could have easily been describing our current state of perpetual war that now gives seemingly permanent life to the Patriot Act.
If the War on Terror is a perpetual war — as so many politicians readily contend it is— have we now permanently given up our liberties? If terrorists really do "hate us for our freedoms," is the best method of defeating them to permanently surrender our historic freedoms? And if so, who is really winning the War on Terror? Us or the terrorists?
By the very nature of their philosophy, conservatives are supposed to question their government. And given the very nature of our Constitution, this is precisely how the Founders would expect any true patriot to act.
Jack Hunter co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington. Southern Avenger commentaries can be heard every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd on 1250 AM WTMA.