Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Treason and the New York Times

Those who wish to charge individuals at the New York Times with treason for revealing the fact that Bush is spying on Americans without a warrant prove by their words that they are fonder of tyranny than they are of liberty.

Perhaps they do not realize which cause they are working for. Perhaps they lack the wisdom to realize that the tools Bush is creating are those that tyrants drool over, and that the best way to prevent tyranny is to deny would-be tyrants access to these tools. This is what the founding fathers tried to do in creating the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. Perhaps, those who protest the actions of the New York Times are not particularly adept at understanding the lessons of history.

Or, maybe, they do understand what a tyrant can do with the tools that the Bush Administration is manufacturing for them. Maybe, instead, they are under the delusion that would-be tyrants have some natural reluctant to using these tools to support a reign of tyranny. Maybe they think that tyrants have a conscience.

Or we might be witnessing a third option; hypocrites who think that it is somehow permissible to bind others by rules that do not apply to them. These might be people who are incapable of understanding that a person cannot perform an action that they would call evil if they were done by another person without calling himself evil in the same breath.

The Hypocrisy Option

Of the three, I suspect that a majority of the critics of the New York Times fall into the third option.

This is just a guess, and I am certainly in no position to argue for it. Still, I suspect that many of these critics would be praising the actions of the New York Times as heroic and the model of true patriotism, if they had exposed a Democratic administration of performing these same actions. In fact, I would expect that they would have had Gore up on charges with the Wiretap story, and the current revelations would simply add icing to their political cake.

I would like to suggest to anybody who has this particular mindset that, perhaps, you can come to an understanding as to why these actions are evil by imaging, for a moment, what you would be saying today if the Gore Administration had taken these actions. I suspect that you would agree with the arguments that I will give below as to why the charge of “treason” is more aptly applied to a President who will act to destroy and undermine the principles of liberty that used to be important to the people of this country, than to a newspaper that still works to defend those freedoms.

Future Abuses

What is to prevent a future President from using these tools to spy on their political rivals, to collect "intelligence" on an "enemy" simply because that enemy belongs to the opposite party?

The best setting to imagine in answering this question is at a pub in the late 1700s, at a table where the leaders of a newly created nation has just won its liberty. “How do we secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity?” they ask each other. One way is to make sure that no person acquires tyrannical power. We protect the people by taking political power and dividing it between three branches of government, where one branch looks over the shoulders of another and makes sure that they do their job and that they do not abuse the power they have.

What these people see as “the enemy” is the monarchist – the tyrant who thinks that he alone is “the decider” who can do as he pleases with no legislative or judicial oversight. The people would see this potential tyrant as the true “traitor” to the principles they had fought for. They would see the press that exposes their treachery to these principles as the hero, a social benefactor so worthy of protection that they would write an Amendment to protect those who would expose government attempts to establish the manufacture and put into place the tools of tyranny.

What is to prevent a Karl Rove of the future from taking a list of people who contributed to the campaigns of a political rival, hand that list to the Justice Department (somebody appointed to the position because of his party loyalty and willingness to use these tools to pursue party aims).

He would, of course, be handing these names to a Justice Department lead by a political ally – somebody who thinks that keeping his people in power is his most important job. He would, of course, make sure that his party has access to whatever information it may find useful. He would do this either by putting party loyalists who can keep a secret in charge of accessing this information, or threaten those who are not party loyalists with “treason” if they should expose this abuse.

He would be somebody who thinks that “treason” means “betraying my political party,” as opposed – perhaps – to “betraying the moral foundation on which this country is built.”

Present Abuses

We do not need to look at the potential abuses of some future administration to see that the Bush Administration is the biggest threat to our future security. We need only look at the example that the Bush Administration is setting for current governments around the world.

If these organizations are giving information to the Bush Administration, then what else are they doing with this information? More importantly, if it is morally permissible for the Bush Administration to engage in these types of activities, then the Bush Administration has no moral leg to stand on in protesting the violations of any other country.

What Bush claims the right to do to people, he gives every government in the world today the right to do to people. Perhaps they do not have the technology – yet. But they will. When they do, they can point at Bush while they claim the right to use it. Then, how secure will we be?

The message that the Bush Administration is sending to the leaders of the world is this: “If you have a legislature in your country, feel free to ignore its laws. Simply rewrite those laws to suit your interests using signing statements or whatever tools you can imagine. Do not worry about the courts. Instead, sign executive orders that bypass the courts – that deny them the power to judge your actions. Spy on your people using whatever means are available. Take those who you think threaten you, call them ‘enemy combatants’, and throw them in prison without charges or a trial. Torture them. If your objectives require killing a few innocent civilians – even children – feel free to do so. In fact, you may do so on the mere suspicion that you might also kill somebody who you have decided to call an enemy. In all of this, remember that you never need to answer to anybody but yourself. So, if you end up stepping over the line, simply forgive yourself and continue on. Allow nobody to check or balance your use of absolute power.”

A lot of countries, I am sure, are taking notes.

With this, nobody can reasonably assert that Bush is creating a world in which any sane American can claim to feel safer.

The Argument Against Embarrassing the President

Another argument made against the New York Times for the publication of these articles is that their intent was to embarrass or do harm to President Bush.

This argument is self-defeating. The only way to make this argument is to begin with the assumption that the Bush Administration was doing something that many Americans think its government should not be doing. We are supposed to have a government “of the people.” This means that the government should reflect the peoples’ values. If the government is doing this, then there is nothing that any newspaper can do to “embarrass the President.”

If, on the other hand, a paper’s story is at risk of embarrassing the President, we must then assume that the President is doing something that does not reflect the values and concerns of the American people. If this is the case, then it is a case in which the government has betrayed the people. The paper that reports this betrayal can only be understood as working to serve the people.

It does not matter that the people might not be in agreement on this issue. The people have a right to resolve their differences by debating the issues among themselves. If publication of a government’s wrongs turns a 53 to 47 percent victory into a 47 to 53 percent defeat, then the people have spoken. The people cannot speak on issues they are not allowed to know. The people can only reject a government that does not reflect its values if somebody has the courage to tell them that the government does not reflect its values.

Betraying History

The last issue of treason that I wish to discuss involves betraying past generations.

This argument concerns claims like those that E.D. Hill made on Fox News that the government’s “number 1 job” is to “keep us alive.”

For over 225 years, Americans have taken this bundle of values called “liberty” and handed it from one generation to the next. Each generation has promised to defend it with their lives, and to hand that bundle to the next generation.

Now, in the first decade of the 21st Century, this bundle has been given to a group of people who hold it out and say, “What? Guard it with my life. You must be insane to think that this bundle of liberty is worth as much as that! And those people who have said otherwise for the past two centuries, they were wrong, too. Here, take it. Destroy it. I will not defend it, and I will condemn and insult any who try."

But is this not the way tyranny works? The tyrant says, “Obey and serve me, keep me happy, and I will allow you to live?” Eventually, somebody gets the idea that there are values that good people are willing to secure, even if it means risking their lives.

To give up the values that generations have fought to defend with their lives . . . nothing better fits the concept of betrayal than this.


Hume's Ghost said...

One of the most noxious refrains that I keep hearing is "who elected the New York Times"

I must admit. There is something about this statement that makes my skin crawl. It's difficult to put into words why this bothers me so much.

The question I immediately ask is:
Do you think the press should be branch of government?

A writer at Reason magazine's blog gave the best response, though.

No, the Times wasn't elected. But the nation's elected representatives who passed the first amendment which was ratified by the nation were.

The Ridger, FCD said...

I'd like to quote Theodore Roosevelt on the topic of "embarrassing" the President:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.