Bush Writing Last Chapters In Story Of American Liberty
order Sam Francis` new monograph, Ethnopolitics:
Immigration, Race, and the American Political Future]
Most Americans probably observed
this year`s September 11 with a mixture of grief,
sadness, and smoldering anger, but President George W.
Bush made good political use of the occasion—to demand
even more power for the
federal police state his administration is
Not content with measures his
critics on both the
right and the
left view with alarm, the president and his faithful
companion Attorney General John
Ashcroft have been muttering about how helpless they
are against terrorism without the new powers they want.
Despite the hasty enactment of the
"Patriot Act" in the hysterical wake of the 9/11
attacks, the President at
commemorative observances at the FBI academy in
Quantico on Sept. 10 pronounced that the powers he
already has "did not go far enough," in the
Washington Post`s paraphrase. Among the
powers Mr. Bush wants are the authority to issue
subpoenas without permission from a grand jury, the
power to hold suspects without bail, and more use of the
death penalty. [“President
Asks for Expanded Patriot Act Authority Sought To
Fight Terror,” By Dana Milbank, Washington Post,
September 11, 2003]
As for Mr. Ashcroft, he seems to
devoted most of September to hectoring and
ridiculing his critics. Last week he
denounced those critics as "hysterics" and
claimed their worries about infringing civil
liberties were merely "ghosts."
If the critics consisted only of
the usual gang of professional civil liberties lawyers,
professors and ideologues, Mr. Ashcroft`s badinage might
be justified, and the attorney general would probably
like everyone to think that`s who the critics are.
But they`re not. They include such
non-hysterical voices of the political right as former
Rep. Bob Barr, one of the most conservative figures
in politics, and the equally conservative legislator
Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, chairman of the
House Judiciary Committee. It is mainly due to Mr.
Sensenbrenner that the ill-conceived child of the
Patriot Act, often called
"Patriot II," has not already become law.
What especially worries the critics
of the administration`s domestic counter-terrorism
program is what is known as Section 215 of the existing
act. Under that section the FBI can seize all manner of
private records, including the now-famous library
check-out and bookstore sales records, but including
also computer files, educational and medical records,
and genetic information.
The kicker is that the FBI can do
all this without informing the person whose records it
seizes and without having to show "probable cause"
that he is a terrorist or a hostile foreign agent.
The defense of this section of the
law by the attorney general and the administration has
been that it really hasn`t been used all that much.
Thus, Mr. Ashcroft, in his tasteless attempt to
ridicule his critics last week, brayed that "the
Department of Justice has neither the staffing, the
time, or the inclination to monitor the reading habits
of Americans," and an internal memo of his at the
Justice Department supports his claim that the
never used Section 215.
Of course, that defense raises the
further question of why the section is necessary at all.
Obviously it isn`t, and probably
neither are most of the other powers the Patriot Act
grants, let alone the vastly expanded ones of Patriot
It is thunderously noticeable in
most of the defensive speeches, wisecracks and sarcasm
about the critics of these laws that hardy anyone ever
actually specifies why such vast powers are needed and
what terrorism they have actually prevented. What we do
know is that every few weeks the government issues yet
another statement claiming that the "terrorist
threat" remains serious or is greater than ever or
may be getting worse. There seems to be no reason to
think the new powers have helped us at all.
But the larger point is not what
this administration does or doesn`t do with the new
The point is that the powers are
far larger than the government of any free people should
have and that whatever powers this administration
doesn`t use could still be used by future ones.
That, of course, is how free
peoples typically lose their freedom—not by a dictator
like Saddam Hussein suddenly grabbing power in the night
and seizing all the library records but by the
slow erosion of the habits and mentality that
enables freedom to exist at all.
Instilling in citizens the notion
that the power to seize library records is something the
state needs is an excellent way to assist that erosion.
Most libertarians, of the left or
the right, will tell you how we have been eroding those
habits and that mentality for several decades now.
What the Bush administration is
contributing seems to be one of the final chapters in
CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
[Sam Francis [email
him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection
of his columns,