The Brazen Word

My father once told me, “One day, we are going to sacrifice individual rights for the sake of safety.” He insisted that safety will be used as an excuse for those in power to obtain more power.

This seems to apply to a hot debate going on in our country over terrorism, safety, and civil rights. It has been most recently manifested in a Senate Judiciary hearing on Monday, where Democrats and Republicans argued over executive power and the means President George W. Bush can use to protect the country. The issue of executive surveillance is tricky, and even scary, as we face two threatening possibilities:

1. We sacrifice civil rights to our federal government for the sake of safety.

2. We put ourselves in danger of a grand terrorist attack.

Some say that they’re more afraid of their government than any terrorist. They say that the government is getting too powerful and will be able to alter their lives more severely than any terrorist will or ever could. Alter, sure. But I’ll take an altered life over no life at all any day of the week. I’d also rather have every person in my entire family have altered lives than lose a few of them to a terrorist attack that could have been stopped if the feds could have just listened to some telephone conversations. But that’s just me.

We hear the President tell us that “Freedom is on the march,” as if it is a tangible thing, something that we can grab by the reins and ride. But it seems that with two threats, one against our independence, the other against our safety, that freedom has never been under attack more than it is today.

My father also told me once that “The most effective government is a monarchy, but the monarch’s got to be a saint.”

Now, my father is far from a politician, but his remarks seem to have a ring of truth worth trusting. He instilled in me a desire for things “high and lofty”-an appreciation for ideals, religion, art, literature, etc. He has raised me to be as much of a freedom-loving American as anyone, so the idea of the federal government being able to tap private phone lines? That’s just absurd.

But we live in an absurd time. There are large terrorist factions that have one target: America. They will do whatever it takes to kill as many of us as possible. We have to do whatever it takes to stop them.

So when I think of what my father told me about sacrificing rights for safety, I cringe at what is happening today. The federal government will probably never listen to one of my phone conversations, but the mere possibility is troubling. If we sacrifice our rights now, we will probably never get them back. What politician in Washington is willing to sacrifice power?

And when I recall my father’s comment on monarchs, it is clear that this country does not trust Bush. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have gotten the country to back a domestic wiretapping plan. Democrats might have even supported a Bill Clinton wiretapping plan. It is unclear whether a resentment for Bush or a fight for freedom is what drives people to oppose Bush’s wiretapping plan.

Probably the former, but hopefully the latter.

We live in pretty tricky times. The democratic society that we love and fight for seems to hold us back from protecting ourselves against lawless terrorism. It would be great if the fight against terror could be backed by a hawkish king that had the country on his back. Some say that we have that now, sans the support of the nation. Regardless, that would get us some good ol’ safety.

It would be wonderful if the government stayed out of our lives and did not have the means to get into our homes or businesses. That would get us some good ol’ freedom.

So freedom or safety?

I’ll take both.

But you can’t order the surf and turf if the chef can only cook one thing at a time. You can’t expect freedom and safety when one depends on the other being all but gone.

These are absurd times. These are tricky times. In a time where terrorism and threats of violence dominate American politics, it is getting more and more difficult to stay the course, whatever direction one may take.