Patriot Act II: Legislating Liberty as Currency

On Friday, March 3, “The Oregonian,” in its sunrise edition, gave us some interesting insight on politics and the press. Its headline, over a dark background picture showing quantities of crystal methamphetamine, and covering about one-third of the front page, read: “Congress OKs landmark restrictions to fight meth.”

The headline was introduced by a quote from Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind) stating, “This is the most important meth bill that’s ever been passed by the United States Congress.” And the lead news article of the day, taking up most of the front page, went into details as to the legislation’s intent to control the sources, manufacture and sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; and, also, the legislation’s impact on consumers, and political as well as international implications.

Lost inside the article, as if an unimportant obituary or a “by the way,” was a short paragraph stating that Bush was expected to sign the bill, “which the Senate approved 89-10 as part of legislation renewing the USA Patriot Act.” Ah! So the principal legislation addressed in the bill was the renewal of the Patriot Act. Who would have guessed! News can be massaged and managed as if it were play dough, and a story within a story can be presented as “the major story of the day.” And it was.

The newspaper carried the story of the Patriot Act II in page 2… sans any commentary in the Editorial Page.

Little doubt that the meth epidemic is more pronounced in Oregon than in most other states, but… to the point of overshadowing the civil liberties of Oregonians? And, wasn’t the ‘real story’ one of political heroism by Senator Wyden? After all, here is a politician who is well aware of, and constantly addressing, Oregon’s meth problem, yet he could not bring himself to vote for the bill. Why? The bill was about freedom, not meth! Yet one can picture this hero turning into a goat when seeking reelection in 2010, likely to be accused by his political opponents of having voted against meth legislation.

Of the ten maverick senators that solidly stood for civil liberties, two of them hail from Cascadia, USA - Patty Murray (Washington) and Ron Wyden (Oregon)… making us truly proud of them! And we are also proud and thankful for the leadership shown by Feingold and Byrd, and the patriotism and guts of the other six senators: Akaka, Bingaman, Harkin, Jeffords, Leahy, and Levin. Not coincidentally, of the ten, nine voted in 2002 against giving Bush carte blanche on the Iraq War.

Ten percent of the Senate has stood fast in trying to guard the jewels of our democracy: civil liberties and balance of power. Just ten percent of that august body is fighting for our rights! And back in 2001 when the vote was cast on the original Patriot Act there was just a single dissenter: Russell Feingold.

Americans were quick to accept in 2001 the possibility that security and liberty might require some trade-off. Perhaps it was an easy sell after 9/11 for a White House whose single major contribution to the nation has been the politics of fear. Fear of what others may do to us as a nation… not fear of our own incompetence and poor governance.

Security and liberty are not mutually exclusive. And you don’t buy security by making installment payments with liberty currency. There is no good reason not to have both. Terrorists are, for the most part, only monsters of our own creation… the result of a foreign policy in need of a major overhaul.

But once again, we are being asked to trade away the things that always made America the dream worth fighting for. By March 10, Congress will be offering the President a bill that will permit him to cash in our liberties to purchase a promise of improbable security. That, when a revamped, and fair, foreign policy could buy for us all the security we’ll ever need. And the respect of the world, something we sorely need.

Perhaps the editors at “The Oregonian” were right in eclipsing the Patriot Act renewal story with one more apropos to the interest of the readers: meth. It’s the demand, stupid! Or so it seems. It matters not whether it’s drugs or news stories. Something as esoteric as civil liberties and freedom… who gives a damn?! How sad… it makes one want to cry.