Freedom for Security: A Trade We Cannot Make

As a defender against the pass, Baltimore Ravens’ cornerback Duane Starks makes an All-Pro, much to the chagrin of Steeler fans everywhere. As a defender of civil liberties and student of the Constitution, Duane Starks makes a great…cornerback.

I had waited what seemed like an eternity for my ESPN: The Magazine subscription to kick in and my first issue to come. Finally, the oversized periodical, which has replaced Sports Illustrated as my sports magazine of choice, made its first appearance in the Harvey family mailbox. I eagerly pored over the pages. And then, on page 40 of the November 12 issue, I found the question asked of professional athletes, “Which civil liberties would you sacrifice in the name of national security?” Starks offered this as his answer: “I’m not against the government listening to my phone conversations or checking my e-mail.” Marc Jackson, Golden State Warriors’ center, echoed similar sentiments: “Checkpoints, cell phone taps? Hey, invade my privacy if it’ll protect me and keep the country strong. If the government needs to censor the media so the fight against terrorism isn’t jeopardized, fine.”

Big Brother, come on in and pull up a chair; make yourself at home while we put on a pot of coffee.

Wow. Do we have a concept of the essential freedoms guaranteed us in our Constitution (doubtfully), and are we willing to give up the farm freedom-wise in order to grasp at some sense of “security” (probably)? And this represents possibly the greatest danger that we face; even greater than the spectre of terrorism looms the danger that we will eagerly, voluntarily surrender our liberties to the rapacious hunger of the government to seize more and more power.

I have little confidence in our resolve as Americans to remain free in the face of such a seemingly attractive trade-off. Frankly, we regularly do this very thing. One of the most popular government programs consists of little more than this, a willing exchange of freedom for a little bit of “security”–we call it “Social Security”. Social Security offers to us all of the security that socialism has to offer, which isn’t much, quite frankly, but we fight for the right to insist that the government take our hard-earned money so that upon retirement, whatever age that turns out to be, government will parcel it back to us in increments that it deems appropriate. Let a politician even talk about changing Social Security (which has to happen if future solvency means anything to us at all), and we can expect people to get very antsy, spurred on by liberal Democrats for whom socialism is the end goal.

Already there are calls for a national ID card issued to all Americans. My sincere hope is that this bogus idea will be rejected out-of-hand, but I am not nearly so certain that that is the fate it will meet. The Democrats want to federalize airport security, because this will ostensibly safeguard our liberty–of course, liberal Democrats would federalize motherhood and apple pie if we’d acquiesce. In the rush to “do something”, my fear is that they’ll succeed, spurred on by an American public more impatient than wise, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t lax security that allowed twenty terrorists to board those airplanes, but rather loose rules which allowed them legally to carry box-cutter knives. One could argue that it was shoddy government work which not only allowed these items to be carried onboard, but also shoddy government intelligence which failed to warn us of this plot. And we want to turn over more responsibility to federal power which failed so miserably to begin with? What gives any thinking American any confidence in our government to do much of anything well, or at least better than the private sector? But even more importantly, we have a Constitution which, for those who even care about it anymore (and I fear that number shrinks daily), limits the kinds of things that government can stick its nose into.

In this time of national angst, the temptation will be strong to ignore long-term consequences for the sake of some feeling of security. For the sake of our own freedom and that of succeeding generations, let’s not give in.

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