Editorial / San Francisco Chronicle – 2006-07-04 23:31:14
SAN FRANCISCO (July 4, 2006) — The Fourth of July is not just an occasion for throwback celebrations with parades, grilled food, cold beer and fireworks extravaganzas. It should be a moment for reflection on the vision and sacrifice that went into the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia on this day in 1776, and how well its principles — and those of its most noble offspring, the US Constitution — are holding up today.
The health of American democracy, as envisioned by our Founding Fathers, is not measured by how much red, white and blue is displayed on any given day. It is the sum of all who stand up to be counted when the defining freedoms of this republic are under assault.
Perhaps it is the lingering shock effects of Sept. 11, 2001, or maybe it is the complacency of a half-century of growing affluence, but too many Americans seem all too willing to ignore Benjamin Franklin’s admonition about the danger of sacrificing essential liberties for temporary security. The Bush administration has been adroit at invoking the war on terrorism to justify policies that should be setting off alarms in this democracy.
At what point will Americans draw the line at these intrusions on civil liberties and usurpations of power by the White House? Revelations that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on phone calls and e-mails without getting the required warrants didn’t do it. The disclosure that the government has compiled a vast database of Americans’ phone records didn’t do it. The hundreds of examples of President Bush’s unprecedented expansion of the number and scope of “signing statements” in which he gave himself the option to ignore parts of laws he objected to — such as torture — didn’t do it.
Just last week, the US Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration’s system for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay that openly defied congressional law and international rules on the treatment of prisoners of war. So, what was the reaction in Congress? Regrettably, but not surprisingly in this era, there were immediate moves to give the president such authorization.
The White House response has been to turn these issues against its critics. In the latest example, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their echo warriors across the land have questioned the loyalties of the New York Times for disclosing an international-banking database to track the movement of money by al Qaeda.
Never mind that the administration simultaneously gave the story to what it thought might be more sympathetic journalists, and that there is no evidence to support the Bush-Cheney claim that the revelations would do great harm to the war on terrorism — or that any terrorist would be the least bit surprised that the United States is tracking the flow of money, as it vowed to do after Sept. 11.
This is about power. This administration wants to decide what its government can know about you, and what you can know about its government.
Americans did not undertake a revolution against the reign of King George III to create a government that would spy on its citizens, torture enemy combatants, detain suspects without charges for extended stretches on an island beyond reach of US law, invade foreign countries without just cause and attempt to edit not only the press — but laws that have been duly crafted and approved by our elected representatives in Congress.
This nation is veering too far from the course of its Founding Fathers. Two hundred-thirty years ago, the Declaration of Independence reproofed that a government’s power is “derived from the consent of the governed.” Those words ring true today.
If Americans are ceding too many freedoms under the guise of a war on terrorism — which, by its nature, may never officially end — it is because their absence of outrage is taken as a nod of assent.
The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not doing so to commission an annual party. They were making a covenant with history that requires day-to-day vigilance to defend the liberties it asserted. Honor them by speaking out.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.