A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
By BuzzFlash Contributing Writer Rebecca Knight
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has pressured American citizens to silence their concerns or criticisms about policies implemented or actions taken in the name of national security or in unified support of the war on terrorism. Considering the history of this nation, this is an appalling strategy for an American president, vice-president, and attorney general to pursue. By seeking to squelch open debate, they may accomplish the opposite. They may have heightened the curiosity of Americans who are ingrained with a most powerful sense of right and wrong and the ability to discern the difference.
Perhaps the time has come for all Americans to give serious consideration to what our freedoms mean to us, the glorious fight of our founding fathers, and our most revered documents that established the bold experiment that is America.
In debating the American Revolution, Patrick Henry, one of the most brilliant orators in history, spoke these words:
Our founding fathers struggled mightily in determining their most eloquent wording in our beloved Declaration of Independence and Constitution, for they wanted our independence and our freedoms to pass the test of time. Originally the Constitution was remarkable in that it represented a radically new governmental concept by quantifying the liberties with which Americans are endowed. However, during the ratification process a heated debate ensued because it did not address the right to individual freedoms. Patrick Henry dissented on principle during the ratification process over his concern for individual liberties. The ratification convention was notable as a showdown between Henry and James Madison on this issue. As a result, James Madison authored our Bill of Rights, guaranteeing our individual rights.
Our First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Democracy and liberty are not the same thing. Democracy provides the right of the people to vote for public officials in fair elections, and make most political decisions by majority rule. Liberty means that even in a democracy, individuals have rights that no majority should be able to take away.
The Constitution's framers wanted to protect certain rights from government abuse. These rights were referred to in the Declaration of Independence as "unalienable rights." They were also called "natural" rights, and to James Madison, they were "the great rights of mankind." Although it is commonly thought that we are entitled to free speech because the First Amendment gives it to us, this country's original citizens believed that as human beings, they were entitled to free speech, and they invented the First Amendment in order to protect it. The entire Bill of Rights was created to protect rights the original citizens believed were naturally theirs.
Is our First Amendment under attack by those who would attempt to silence criticism? Absolutely! Those who love America should not be pressured to conform to any leader’s requests for silence, nor should they be labeled anti-American. Patriotism does not require blind loyalty to any leader. It simply requires loyalty to the documents, laws, and institutions that govern this nation. Patriots zealously love, support, and protect the best of America and strive to make it greater. In that respect, principled dissent is patriotic.
President Theodore Roosevelt expressed those sentiments with this statement:
Now is not the time for American citizens or elected officials to be cowered into accepting whatever our leaders espouse. The motivation behind Dick Cheney warning Democrats "to not seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9-11" and suggesting they be "very cautious" about their criticism is obvious. The Bush administration is trying to squelch dissent in an effort to avoid any kind of investigations. No one should fall for this obvious political ploy.
Anyone who does not believe that our liberty and freedom of speech are under attack should consider this statement made by Attorney General John Ashcroft in his testimony before the Senate: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this," he said. "Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
Mr. Ashcroft’s words indicate a fundamental lack of respect for the First Amendment, for if it stands for anything it is that the government cannot shut down the citizens’ right to criticize their leaders. The power of speech to persuade others is a gift and if it convinces others that our leaders are wrong in actions they take on our behalf, we are within our rights to do that.
The Bush administration, by declaring a full-scale war on terrorism, may have only heightened the anger of those who hate America. Since Sept. 11, America’s wealth and attention has been focused on broad military actions, rather than homeland security. Police work and intelligence at home and abroad seems to have been neglected. Rather than focus their attention on the problems America faces and work to make progress in avoiding terrorism at home, they seem to be determined to avoid any criticism or investigation, thus causing themselves even more problems. They seem to be their own worst enemies for they are at the mercy of their basest fears of political survival. Their own paranoia and unhealthy penchant for secrecy may be their downfall because it is indicative of leaders who are deathly afraid of being caught at something illegal or unethical, thus causing their critics to be even more inquisitive.
The appropriate response to constructive criticism would be to accept it as contributing to a healthy national dialogue. While they may be acting out of concern for proper legal procedures, they would be wise to apply the same honorable motives to their critics. The fact that they do not does not bode well for the Bush administration.
So, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and Mr. Ashcroft, we who dissent are not anti-American. We are not disloyal. We most definitely are not traitors. We are not causing your problems. We merely want some answers. We have the liberty given to us by our founding fathers to disagree with you and to ask probing questions. When you attempt to take away that liberty, it is you who have become the traitors in our midst. It is you who are anti-American. It is you who are responsible for eroding our national unity. Leaders who have nothing to hide have no problem answering questions.
The liberties we were granted by our founding fathers are what make America great! We will continue to speak out. We will continue to ask questions. We will continue to demand accountability from our leaders. That is our duty as patriotic citizens. We willingly and lovingly embrace that responsibility. We treasure our liberty!
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Copyright © 2002 by Rebecca Knight
A BUZZFLASH MEMORIAL DAY COMMENTARY
Rebecca Knight may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Declaration of Independence: http://www.law.indiana.edu/uslawdocs/declaration.html
Rebecca Knight is a native daughter of Tennessee.
BUZZFLASH FINAL NOTE: On Memorial Day, let us remember those men and women who have fought to preserve our Liberty.
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