Rights, Responsibilities and Regrets

In my previous post I wrote about, among other things, the importance of reflecting on why you hold the beliefs you hold and being willing to change them. It was not the major theme of the piece but it was an important one none the less. It proves particularly important to me today, because I have come face to face with the notion that I have been wrong about a particular issue.
The past few weeks I have been lambasting those that have screamed “foul” over the National Defense Authorization Act and the most onerous provisions in it. These provisions, I asserted, did not amount to being able to indefinitely detain American citizens for any reason, much less for dissent. I accused the “extreme” left of fear mongering and ignorance of the real evil of the bill (more on that tomorrow.)
I consider myself fortunate to have friends from many walks of life and of many professions. One of them is a lawyer. He is not prone to extremism and indeed once considered himself a Rockefeller Republican and still holds many of those same values. When he asked me what I thought of NDAA I expressed the opinion in the previous paragraph. He then sent me this link:  http://www.salon.com/2011/12/16/three_myths_about_the_detention_bill/ and explained his analysis of the law.
There is no legal definition of terrorism, and the definition of “giving support” has been pulled about like taffy over the years that it is conceivable that expressing any sympathy publicly might be taken as such. It is too great a risk to mindlessly trust such power in the hands of any leader. Furthermore the language of the bill makes it clear that deciding whether or not someone “might” be giving support is at the discretion of the President, with no clear check on that power.
Never mind that this law could be used to suppress our right to free speech, or our right to peaceably assemble. This law attacks some basic provisions of our Constitution, our right to trial by a jury of our peers, our right to representation (guaranteed in Gideon v. Wainwright), and our right to a speedy trial. I would not be surprised to find I missed a few. These are rights we should not toss away at all, much less so casually.
We have been tossing them away casually. We have done so by treating politics like a football game, rooting for whatever team suits us best, regardless of whether that team has been playing for us. It is far more important to win the election, policy be damned, than anything else. I find myself getting angry (keeping in mind that I am trying to turn over that particular leaf) at drone like Democrats more concerned that this was done as political sabotage by the Republicans.
Let us say for a moment that was the case. Let us say that the White House’s only reason for signing this is not to gain such powers for President Obama, but to make sure they beat the Republicans. These zealous Democrat flag bearers warn that we cannot chance a Republican win because the primary field in that party is so extreme. They say it is better to pass this bill with this “poison pill” to win ground with the moderates (whoever they are, the definition shifts each year.) Even if they had no ulterior motive beyond that to accept that pill, what if they lose? What if between now and then the economy takes such a drastic down turn that any politician associated with the mainstream is thrown on the fires of an angry electorate and we get a right wing radical in the White House despite this supposedly astute political maneuver? Do you really want to give such an individual this kind of power? I do not.
We have a responsibility as citizens in a democratic republic. We are charged, whether we like it or not to be as well informed as we can be, and to see the long view of problems. Is it easy? Of course not. If we do not accept that responsibility, however, we may as well live in tyranny, something I am not willing to do. I am not willing to do that for personal reasons: as an agnostic, queer, small “s” socialist I would certainly be on the chopping block with any right wing radical tyrant. Beyond that, however, I do not want that for my fellow Americans. I do not want my neighbors to live in fear of their government. I reject the idea of an America without the voice of the people, without those rights we have spent the last 235 years in fighting for while shaping the definition of liberty until it included all.  I hope you do too.


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