PATRIOT Act reveals Republican hypocrisy

Featured Columnist

After airplanes smashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, the balance of national security and civil liberties drastically changed.
Waves of legislation sacrificing individual freedoms for the common good were supported by both parties in Congress and endorsed by President Bush.
The most worrisome violations of liberty included the authorization of torture under Executive Order 13440, suspension of habeas corpus under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and illegal surveillance conducted without a warrant.
A decade later, Republicans in Congress are pushing to renew severe limitations on individual liberty—this time, absent of a massive terrorist attack as an impetus.
The culmination of the post-9/11 hysteria was the creation of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, or USA PATRIOT ACT.
This legislation radically expanded government authority over the lives of citizens. Not only were known terrorists subject to communicative and financial surveillance, but law-abiding citizens were forced to submit to the same encroachments on individual privacy.
All of this came from a political party that espoused the ideals of limited government and individualism.
American society had supposedly learned from such blunders as the creation of Japanese internment camps during WWII and the Alien and Sedition Acts, which allowed the deportation of any former residents of states at war with the U.S. in the nation’s infancy.
In light of these lessons, the Patriot Act only seemed justifiable during the panic following 9/11, just as the suspension of habeas corpus was deemed necessary only during the Civil War.
The assumption that lessons were learned lasted only until Republicans regained control of the House in November.
Within their second month, the leadership pushed to fast-track legislation that extended some of the most intrusive provisions of the act.
One allowed wiretaps on individuals without the government even needing to provide a suspect’s name to an oversight body.
Another provision allowed investigators to seize information and property without probable cause—a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The third provision allowed comprehensive surveillance of individuals suspected, but not proven, to be connected to a terrorist organization.
The irony of these current legislative efforts is apparent when recalling the Right’s anti-big government rhetoric employed by tea party candidates and Republicans during the midterm elections.
Conservatives fabricated government “death panels” that would have the power to determine whether the elderly live or die.
Tea party protests were riddled with signs linking Obama to Hitler and Stalin as Fox News anchors supported these analogies.
Yet within two months of controlling the House, the GOP has all but abandoned their professed convictions of small, unobtrusive government by advocating for a bill that calls for the totalitarian tactics of unwarranted surveillance and search and seizure absent of probable cause.
Last week, only 26 Republicans voted against the extension of the act, which required a two-thrids vote under the fast-track rule put in place by the Republican leadership.
For one brief moment, a courageous band of 8 freshmen Tea party representatives crossed the aisle to stand with Democrats against this intrusive measure, defeating its ability to win a super-majority.
That moment faded into memory on Tuesday, as the Senate floor compromised on a short extension of the act, passing a new version to the House.
On Thursday, the House GOP followed regular procedures and put together a simple majority in favor of renewal.
Sadly, the Obama Administration has not come out against the extension of these provisions under the Patriot Act.
In fairness, it is the nature of the executive branch to seek all possible tools that it can to facilitate the execution of policies. Study of any modern presidency would confirm this pattern.
However, it is the duty of the US Congress—the people’s representatives—to check the executive branch and to protect the liberties of its constituency.
The extensions of the Act will likely be signed into law, which will become another specter that haunts America’s mixed history of freedom and oppression.
The GOP now faces a precipice in which they can choose to prove their convictions of individual liberty against intrusive government to defeat further extensions of a policy that looms as a shadow from the previous administration.
Or they can choose to continue the politics of fear, and plunge into a dark uncertainty.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither.”
If America returns to the authoritarian dogma behind the Patriot Act, we will deserve neither, and lose both.