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Trading Essential Liberties for Temporary Safety

Essential Liberties and Temporary Safety Cato’s Tim Lee wonders, “Why are today’s Democrats less concerned with civil liberties than Republicans were a decade ago?”

Jim Henley retorts, “Why are today’s Republicans less concerned with civil liberties than Republicans were a decade ago?” His guess is that its because 1996 Republicans were trying to protect “their voters, the right-most fringe of exurban and rural white men” whereas now the laws are aimed at an other.

But there’s a rather obvious answer to both questions: The 9/11 attacks hadn’t happened a decade ago.

In fairness, Lee acknowledges that defense but rejects it because it doesn’t “justify Congress’s panicky reaction to the president’s demands” and because they steadily chipped away at civil liberties since 9/11. But politics is often irrational.

Megan McArdle discusses the lunacy of our airport security policies which she correctly points out “waste time, turn us into sheep–and give the world the impression that the government is ‘doing something.'” For the most part, though, the latter trumps the former from the cost-benefit analysis of the policy-makers.

Furthermore, from the standpoint of a politician seeking re-election, the moves have been decidedly rational. When the president or the FBI or the CIA say they need certain powers to protect us from another 9/11 attack, the public naturally jumps on board. It takes stern moral fiber, indeed, to fight against these encroachments when one’s career is on the line.

Photo: Ballyblog via Google

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Jacksonian influence in the present Republican Party. Jacksonians typically don’t view liberty as dependent on enforcement of the 1st Amendment but upon preservation of the 2nd Amendment. Fundamental difference between Jacksonians and Jeffersonians.

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  2. legion says:

    So modern Republicans are trying to make government so horrifically bad we have no alternative but armed insurrection?

    Which they will undoubtedly blame on the Democrats. Sigh.

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    So modern Republicans are trying to make government so horrifically bad we have no alternative but armed insurrection?

    I think it’s something in the way of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s Whiskey Rebellion territory. There’s a strain that sees government as inherently evil rather than just contingently evil. Cf. the much-favored Reagan quip “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”.

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  4. Steve Plunk says:

    I’m a little curious about what essential liberties I have given up? Which ones do I have left? Freedom of speech, check. Freedom of the press, check. Freedom to assemble, check. Guns, check. Due process, check. You know I don’t know that I’ve given up much of anything other than having to take my shoes off at the airport.

    With judicial oversight I’ve lost some right to privacy but, in fact, that was gone long ago. Judges have been issuing search warrants willy nilly for years. My religion isn’t threatened and I can still bitch at my elected officials. No soldiers in my house.

    I do see excessive fines being levied but that’s excessive to me, not to the government so I’ll accept I’ve lost that one. I can still vote.

    Now that I think about it I’ve lost more rights because of an ever expanding government over the last fifty years than I’ve lost from the fallout of 9/11 in the last six and a half. Political correctness has robbed me of a measure of freedom of speech but I can still get my message out.

    So what have I lost? Very little indeed.

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  5. Tlaloc says:

    Due process, check.

    Pay attention. Padilla was an american citizen grabbed on american soil and taken to be held at a facility with no due process. The Executive argued it could do this at any time for any reason with no review or accountability. It was most likely going to lose the SCOTUS case and so suddenly transferred Padilla to have charges brought after three years and allegedly torture.

    No, Steve, your due process rights are very much not intact.

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  6. Jim says:

    So those prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been give their due process rights Steve?

    How about warrant-less wiretapping? You know, where there was supposed to be judicial oversight but wasn’t?

    How about the Justice Department threatening to imprison journalists for reporting things the government doesn’t want reported? Or refusing to enforce subpoenas for political reasons?

    Or how about the CIA kidnapping people off the streets of sovereign nations and whisking them away to be tortured?

    Steve has inadvertently offered an answer to the misleading question of “Why are today’s Republicans less concerned with civil liberties than Republicans were a decade ago?”. The clear answer is that Republicans have never concerned themselves with “civil liberties”, now or in the past, as long as it is someone else’s rights being infringed upon.

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  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Tlaloc,

    Padilla was classified as an enemy combatant and treated as such. After working through the courts it was determined he should be charged and was. When you fly overseas to train to kill Americans and plan on doing such I can see such designation as enemy combatant being appropriate.

    Jim,

    Our constitution is for us, American citizens, not foreign fighters wishing to kill and is in fact killing Americans. So, no, the prisoners in Guantanamo have not been given due process and neither should they.

    The courts have overseen judicial wiretapping. The congress has approved them. The executive branch has implemented the program. Three branches all working together.

    As for the journalist I would only say there is such a thing as classified materials and that classification has to do with national security and saving lives.

    This Republican is concerned with American civil liberties more than the civil liberties of those striving to kill us. Apparently there are plenty of elected Democrats who feel the same way. I don’t see this as a partisan issue the way you do. The process is working pretty well. Perfect? No. It is still far from the image being portrayed by many.

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  8. Jim says:

    So…your civil liberties should be based on the color of your skin or the country or your origin?

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  9. Tlaloc says:

    Padilla was classified as an enemy combatant and treated as such. After working through the courts it was determined he should be charged and was. When you fly overseas to train to kill Americans and plan on doing such I can see such designation as enemy combatant being appropriate.

    Yes, an american citizen arrested in America was arbitrarily deemed an unlawful combatant and detained with no rights whatsoever. The only reason there was a trial to force the administration to give him a trial was because *other* people knew about him. If he’d been disappesred in the middle of the night, maybe along with his family for giggles, you’d never have known it.

    And that could be you. Don’t lie to yourself, or to us, for that matter.

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  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    To those idiots who claim Steve lost something, I ask you was Padilla not trying to harm the United States in league with al Qaeda? Warrentless wire taps on foreign phone calls? Which of the planned attacks would you like to have seen happen as opposed to what you personally lost? I wonder what rights you whiners have under Sharia law?

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  11. Fredw says:

    Please look up Stalin’s story about plucking a bird or look up how to boil a frog – and you decide if we are being boiled or just plain plucked

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  12. Dantheman says:

    To Steve and Zelsdorf,

    Was Padilla was classified as an enemy combatant after due process with a hearing before a court? Or was it on the say-so of the Bush Administration, who did their utmost to prevent a court from actually looking into the truth of the charges against him? That is the due process rights we have lost in the last 7 years.

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  13. Steve Plunk says:

    Jim,

    Please don’t paint me as a racist. It is not the color of your skin but it does matter what country you are a citizen of. I noticed today the EU wants to start fingerprinting all foreign travelers so security seems to be an issue everywhere.

    Tlaloc,

    Padilla was deemed an enemy combatant under standing law that has been reviewed by the courts. We could speculate as to what could happen but that’s something for movies and TV. The Padilla case was handled in full view of the legal community and he was given legal representation even while an enemy combatant. After being charged he was given full rights as a citizen and subsequently found guilty of terrorist crimes.

    Dantheman,

    The law allows the POTUS to designate enemy combatants. That is a long standing law that has been reviewed by the courts. So Padilla was handled within that law. Any loss of due process would have come sixty years ago when this law originated, not in the last seven.

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