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Gore on Civil Liberties

Two days ago, Al Gore gave an excellent speech on civil liberties and the war on terror. The speech was sponsored by MoveOn.org. There were so many wonderful passages that I hesitate to quote from it -- it should be read in its entirety. Nevertheless, I'll give it a shot:

Rather than defending our freedoms, this Administration has sought to abandon them. Rather than accepting our traditions of openness and accountability, this Administration has opted to rule by secrecy and unquestioned authority. Instead, its assaults on our core democratic principles have only left us less free and less secure.

Throughout American history, what we now call civil liberties have often been abused and limited during times of war and perceived threats to security. The best known instances include the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798-1800, the brief suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the extreme abuses during World War I and the notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids immediately after the war, the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the excesses of the FBI and CIA during the Vietnam War and social turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But in each of these cases, the nation has recovered its equilibrium when the war ended and absorbed the lessons learned in a recurring cycle of excess and regret.

There are reasons for concern this time around that what we are experiencing may no longer be the first half of a recurring cycle but rather, the beginning of something new. For one thing, this war is predicted by the administration to "last for the rest of our lives." Others have expressed the view that over time it will begin to resemble the "war" against drugs -- that is, that it will become a more or less permanent struggle that occupies a significant part of our law enforcement and security agenda from now on. If that is the case, then when -- if ever -- does this encroachment on our freedoms die a natural death?

It is important to remember that throughout history, the loss of civil liberties by individuals and the aggregation of too much unchecked power in the executive go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin.

The last paragraph above is amazing. A leader of the Democratic Party is arguing strenously against the accumulation of power by the executive branch of the US government. Meanwhile, the current US President, a Republican, is doing as much as he can through laws, executive orders, and practices to accumulate power as quickly as possible. In other words, the Democrats and Republicans have exchanged positions on this issue, all in the span of the two years since 9/11.

I've never been a big fan of Al Gore, but I must admit to being incredibly impressed with this speech. As for MoveOn.org, I haven't agreed with some of what they've done. For example, entering the California recall election with last-minute allegations of sexual impropriety against a candidate (Schwarzenegger) seemed to violate the principle upon which the organization was founded in 1998, that "a continuing obsession with this [Lewinsky sex] scandal will do great damage to our institutions, our economy, and our power and prestige in the world." Neither did I agree with their absolute anti-war position over the course of the last year. But MoveOn.org's leadership on civil liberties violations and on the Bush Administration's accumulation of power is needed and welcome.

Kudos to Gore for his speech and to MoveOn.org for sponsoring it.

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Al Gore gave a great speech last Sunday about the proper balance between liberty and security in a terrorist age. He feels the Patriot Act has gone too far and called for its repeal, followed by a newer smaller law [Read More]

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