Besides all his other gifts, Thomas Jefferson appears to have been prophetic.
In his first presidential inaugural address in 1801, he ticked off a long list of essential principles of government, featuring highlights of the Bill of Rights, and called preservation of the government “in its whole constitutional vigor” the “anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” These principles “should be the creed of our political faith,” he said. “Should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.”
Such moments of error or alarm have sent the government off on dangerous tangents from time to time over the years – but rarely with more wide-ranging consequences than the course embarked upon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. On this 231st anniversary of Jefferson’s eloquent Declaration of Independence from British rule, the United States is desperately in need of restoring the rights and freedoms surrendered in a false bid for security that has perversely put the nation at greater risk.
Consider what has been lost.
Sweeping federal measures, most of them heavily cloaked in secrecy, have robbed Americans of privacy, due process of law, even freedom of movement. Warrantless wiretaps, e-mail surveillance, national security letters secretly demanding information on thousands of citizens and, soon to come, the equivalent of national ID cards – all would be abominations to Jefferson. America’s suspected enemies have fared worse. They have been tortured, held indefinitely without charge and spirited away to secret prisons abroad so no one knows who they are or what has happened to them….
In the weeks and months after 9/11, when the Bush administration was paring back civil liberties through the cynically named Patriot Act and travelers were coping with what would become increasingly burdensome restrictions, fearful Americans were persuaded to accept the sacrifice in return for a greater measure of safety.
But Jefferson would argue that was a false choice. Liberty is the source of security. An open, accountable government is the best protection against tyranny and incompetence. Travel restrictions in the form of identity papers – aimed not at terrorists but at illegal immigrants – represent the cost of unchecked power on the quality of American life.
The portrait now emerging of Vice President Dick Cheney as the unseen hand behind many of the more outrageous violations of civil liberties, aided in part by Alberto R. Gonzales, the lapdog of an attorney general, powerfully underscores Jefferson’s point that the time has come to retrace these missteps and get back on the road to peace, liberty and safety.
Congress, now in Democratic hands partly because of a backlash at these heavy-handed tactics, should begin the process by getting out all the facts. Americans have a right – and a responsibility – to know what’s being done in their name and what effect it’s having….
Do go and read the entire editorial. And consider it in the context of this quote from Paine that Digby shared yesterday:
…in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other….
Here’s to “we the people” and to the restoration of the rule of law. I stand for liberty. What say you?
(Photo of the Jefferson Memorial via ehpien. H/T to reader WB for the Baltimore Sun link.)
PS — Happy birthday to Waccamaw! And take a little time today to visit the Group News Blog.