Continue to roll in. Not *here* (thankfully), but you can see all the blogs commenting via Technorati. Thank you all for publicly commenting on the the protest and the issues behind it. That's the backbone of democracy and freedom.
In light of the comments, I wanted to make some quick points.
Over time, this blog has largely evolved a personal/poetics blog, with some thoughts on law school as an institution. I rarely deal with straight-up political issues or “the law” as such, largely because legal analysis is not something I want to spend my blogging time on (at the moment) and there are already other blogs out there which provide excellent topical coverage and analysis of different legal issues and areas.
I’d like to depart from that to tell you a bit about the protest that was staged yesterday and some of the thoughts that shaped it. This post is just for the average Joe who’d like to know what happened – it’s not meant to be a detailed analysis of the issues involved.
First, you should know that (to my regret) I wasn’t one of the principle architects behind the protest, and that I also regret that the people who were don’t blog. So you’re stuck with me and Lyco. As with any kind of protest, the group is made up of individuals who are not going to see eye to eye on every minute point. Thus my writing on this issue is only my own impression and should not be taken as a statement “by” the group or “for” the group.
I think the basic theme of the protest was that Attorney General Gonzales and the Bush Administration have worked to undermine both our personal liberties (rights) and our national security.
You can attribute whatever motives you’d like to A.G. G and Bush, but the bottom line is what they’re doing to the country and to the world in our names.
What have they done or tried to do? Spied on Americans, organized military tribunals to try terrorist suspects, indefinitely detain people (citizens or no), torture (or get others to torture) suspects, lied to get us involved in a war, and tried to foster a sense of fear or hysteria in the population. Some of these are general but intense kinds of offenses to the country, some are specifically illegal in that they violate the laws of our country.
Thus, we can approach these problems in two equally valid ways which aren’t really entirely exclusive: from a societal/political viewpoint; or from a “legal” viewpoint.
From the societal viewpoint, we can say that these things are categorically wrong – that as a people, as a country, we choose not to endorse unwarranted spying, any kind of torture, the government making a slew of secret decisions, the executive lying to take us to war, etc. That’s a very powerful and normative approach, one which seemingly gets lost on the left all too often. Even if an act isn’t illegal, that act might still be morally and socially repugnant and offensive. For example - torture is morally wrong. Torture is also counter-productive (in that it provides little useful information and creates enemies on principle because, well, torture is morally wrong.) We don’t want leaders who use it or who would try to use it. There’s no social shame in standing up and saying so.
From the legal viewpoint, we can point to certain acts and say; We as a people have chosen to not do such and such a thing. We feel so strongly about this that we made a law which contains penalties if it’s violated because we’d like to deter people from that kind of behavior and punish those who engage in that kind of behavior. Everyone is on fair notice – don’t do it.
In the case of the AGG and the Bush Administration, the bottom line is that they’re trying to roll back liberties for some people, consolidate power, act secretly, and break the laws instead of democratically changing those laws. They justify this (over and over again) by appealing to our sense of Security – that these measures are needed to prevent another 9/11. I’d like to talk about that in the context of the Franklin Quote.
The Franklin Quote
Conservative fear-mongers (http://michellemalkin.com/archives/004368.htm) are quick to do two things: (1) assume the banner’s paraphrased quote reflects some kind of ignorance by its makers, and (2) leap on the quote to show that Franklin was advocating a trade-off or a balance of some liberty for security.
We paraphrased because the whole quote (a) didn't fit on the sheet and (b) the "actual" quote is debated since it was one of his speech "catch phrases" so there are a lot of different quotes that are similar.
Without getting into too many details, it’s pretty safe to say that Franklin and the other Founding Fathers distrusted centralized authority (monarchy) which could be abused or used arbitrarily. Thus they set up a system which had internal checks and balances (oversight and limits to power).
The full Franklin quote is as follows:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Essential Liberties might include such things as:
- the freedom from warrantless executive spying on the private correspondence.
- the freedom not to be indefinitely held and tortured without recourse to an attorney.
- the right to know what your government is doing to whom.
- the right to know why your government really wants to do important things, like going to war.
- the right to dissent and to make your voice heard.
And, honestly, even if I was to be offered complete Safety (financial security for my life, the guarantee no one would ever hurt or rob me, easy access to adequate medical care, etc.) I still would give up that safety just to know what the Government was doing in my name. Perhaps that’s just my Americanness speaking.
But the Franklin quote contemplates “a little temporary” Safety – and the Bush Administration has not accomplished even that. They could have chased down and caught Bin Laden and whomever financed him. Instead, they got us involved in two wars, the second of which had *little or nothing to do* with threats of terrorism. Our military is stretched thin, and we’re angering and alienating large chunks of the world with our disrespectful and high handed treatment; by “playing dirty” we’ve sacrificed our moral authority to lead the world as an enlightened democracy which stands for certain rights and safeguards. If anything, they’ve lessened the safety of individual Americans abroad and damaged our collective reputation. Have they caught/stopped *any* attempted acts of terrorism?
But the Bush Administration wants more power, power that seems to have only tangential bearing on the problem of terrorism, power that can easily be abused. All the while they seem increasingly unable to meet challenges for which they already have all the authority and power that they need.
To bring it home: Let’s say that the company you work for is worried that someone in the company is leaking trade secrets to a rival. Legitimate security concern. Or the school board is worried that some parents might be abusing their kids. Legitimate safety concern.
But does either kind of situation call for your boss(!) or the school board(!) to snoop around in your mail, to listen to your phone calls, to get a list of the library books you borrow, the videos you rent, the searches that you do on google? How would you feel about that? You’d probably tell them to go to hell. And rightly so.
What if they said you had some how implicitly agreed to this by working at the company or sending your child to that school? Yeah, I'd still tell them to go to hell.
Disrespect v. Debate
There’s a point at which debate becomes kind of Kafkaesque. You watch a man boring a hole in a damn. You say, Um, if you bore through the dam, you’ll hurt us both, the water will come in and we’ll drown. Even if we don’t, you’ll flood the valley – what about all those people who live there?
The man responds with, But I’m not boring through the dam at all. You notice he has a pistol on his belt.
So you say, You know, I’d like to discuss that with you, would you mind stopping and talking for a bit?
The man says, You know nothing, I’m on a secret mission to make everyone’s lives much better off. You oppose me. You must want to make everyone’s lives worse off. Therefore you must be my enemy.
So what do you do?
We’re pretty much at that point with the Bush Administration. They’ve put forth their arguments in the strongest and least honest way, convinced of their own rightness. They’ve taken us to war in Iraq with similar tactics, first for terrorists links and weapons links which were not there, and then for some “moral” reason to remove a dictator (a former ally) that was no longer of use to the Bush Administration.
As David Cole pointed out in response to the Gonzales speech:
When you're a law student, they tell you if say that if you can't argue the law, argue the facts. They also tell you if you can't argue the facts, argue the law. If you can't argue either, apparently, the solution is to go on a public relations offensive and make it a political issue... to say over and over again "it's lawful", and to think that the American people will somehow come to believe this if we say it often enough.
In light of this, I'm proud of the very civil civil disobedience that was shown here today.
Reprisals and Repercussions
Some people have opined that we’ve hurt our career chances or that we’re all now on some secret watch list. Honestly, I don’t think either is true.
While effective and public, this was a relatively quiet and peaceful demonstration of our views. Anyone who’d can (or not hire) someone who is involved in their country isn’t anyone I’d care to work for. Honestly, there are tons of rational people out there who, while they might hold different opinions, can easily understand the need to preserve the right to express yourself by exercising it.
Granted, I may be wrong, in which case the country is indeed going to hell in a handbasket, but I sincerely hope that’s not the case.