The Real Threat to Civil Liberties

by Victor Davis Hanson

Real Clear Politics

A common liberal complaint against the Bush administration is its supposed trampling of civil liberties. The Patriot Act, wiretaps, and Guantanamo supposedly have undermined our freedoms — or so we are warned ad nauseam by liberal watchdogs.

True, we have not received any detailed analysis or cost/benefit ratios of how many deadly terrorist plots have been circumvented by these new controversial measures. The administration’s past defense of tough interrogations abroad of suspected terrorists sounded to many a lot like an endorsement of torture-light. In any case, as the danger of another 9/11 fades after almost six years, the public seems to be backing off from such anti-terrorism measures — at least until another such mass murder takes place on our shores.

But at least the Patriot Act passed both houses of Congress with wide public support. In contrast, there are a variety of other assaults on personal freedoms, due process, and the sanctity of the law that leftwing moralists not only ignore, but often seem to endorse — as if the liberal ends should justify illiberal means.

First, take illegal immigration. Not only have we neglected to enforce federal immigration statutes, but also local communities, due to pressures from Hispanic lobbyists and tacit approval from employers, have passed local codes barring arrests of suspected illegal aliens.

Tens of thousands of regional and local government officials, along with law enforcements, have taken the law into their own hands by simply deciding not to enforce it.

Both employers and aliens — the former for profit, the latter with the expectation of ethnic solidarity and support — have simply flaunted the law with impunity. We don’t talk about massive fraud in our Social Security system due to false names and numbers used by illegal aliens, but only in pragmatic terms of whether such flagrant disregard ultimately puts more into the system than it takes out.

The result is one of the most grievous examples of civil disobedience in our nation’s history — with 12 million de facto exempt from the law. In fact, we haven’t seen state and local government defy federal laws in such blatant fashion since the Jim Crow days when the states of the Old Confederacy were openly insurrectionist.

Second, every bit as dangerous as wiretaps are prosecutors who manipulate the law, either for personal, ideological or political reasons. And here too reappears a pattern in which perceived political liberalism seems to trump adherence to the spirit of the law.

In the so-called Duke rape case, now disbarred District Attorney Michael Nifong withheld evidence in his holy crusade to convict three innocent Duke Lacrosse players — in hopes of appeasing the lynch mob of local black activists and self-righteous university professors. But even before evidence was adduced — all exculpatory to the defendants — liberal forces had tried and convicted the falsely accused in the media in furtherance of their own leftwing race, class, and gender agendas.

In the case of Valerie Plame, a special prosecutor was selected to find out who outed supposedly covert status at the CIA. The common liberal allegation was that administration lackies had stooped to hound a CIA employee for the anti-war politicking of her husband Joe Wilson.

But very early on in Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s investigation, two inconvenient truths emerged. Ms. Plame was not a covert agent as envisioned by the original mandate of the special prosecutor. And second, the culprit who disseminated knowledge of her employment in with the CIA was almost immediately revealed — former State Department official Richard Armitage.

But no matter. Armitage was out of office and had voiced misgivings about the Iraq war. Thus his early conviction would have earned little public attention, but might instead have ended the investigation before it could snowball in the daily press.

So Fitzgerald barreled ahead anyway on a new mission to satisfy the partisan lust for high-value scalps — hoping to find some top administration official guilty of something else in the growing labyrinth of competing testimonies.

Presto!  Scooter Libby, Chief of the Vice President’s staff was found to have offered contradictory evidence, and thus convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. We tend to think of smooth Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald as far more professional than the buffoonish Nifong. Maybe. But as was true of Nifong in the Duke rape case, Fitzgerald knew of information that might be fatal to his case — that early on Richard Armitage confessed to the leak — and yet neither apprised the public nor shut down his investigation.

Prosecutors pick and choose what charges to bring. When they either act unprofessionally or beyond their mandates, they have enormous, unchecked powers to undermine the very legal system that employs them.

Third, everyone has their own particular complaint about the modern Supreme Court’s propensity to legislate new rather than interpret existing laws. But two years ago this June, they dismantled much of the constitutional protections of the right to hold private property.

In the Susette Kelo case, the Court gave state and local officials unchecked rights of eminent domain to expropriate her house. The property was not condemned for a necessary bridge or public highway. Instead it was seized for “urban redevelopment” — even when the property in question was not blighted, and the urban renewal project was of questionable viability.

City officials were delighted. Their stock and trade have been to confiscate properties, sell them in sweet heart deals to wealthy insider developers — and paper over the entire shanigan with utopian rhetoric about helping the underclass.

Fourth, most recently Democrats have discussed reinstating some sort of “fairness” doctrine aimed at regulating talk radio. They are furious that the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennet, Michael Savage, and a host of other conservatives dominate the AM airwaves — while Air America, Jerry Brown, Jim Hightower, Mario Cuomo, and other liberals have failed utterly to carve out a comparable audience in the marketplace of ideas and entertainment.

Once again, liberal civil libertarians are not so liberal about free speech when it is a matter of the public not buying into their own progressive agendas. We should remember that the public is free to choose — and advertisers respond accordingly — about what they wish to hear. Apparently, whiny sermons by nasal-droning elites about the illiberal nature of the yokel middle class is exactly what most on their way to work do not wish to endure.

Of course, conservatives likewise lament the imbalance of left-leaning public radio and television, the major networks such as NBC and CBS, the predominantly liberal print media, universities, the entertainment industry, and foundations. But the difference is that for the most part they are not calling for the government to mandate “fairness” by empowering federal bureaucrats to curb the liberal biases of these institutions.

It is stereotypically easy to identify authoritarians who seek restrict civil liberties during war in the name of “national security.” But it is much harder to take on crusading special interest groups, district attorneys, court justices, and liberal Senators who ignore, twist, or subvert our constitutional freedoms under the liberal clarion call of helping minorities, stopping the war, or championing the underclass.

If we are to lose our civil liberties, it won’t be all of sudden due to Patriot-Act zealots in sunglasses and flattops, but rather insidiously and incrementally by egalitarian professors, moral crusaders, muckraking journalists, and government utopians all unhappy that constitutional justice is too little and too late for their ever impatient desire to ensure heaven on earth.

©2007 Victor Davis Hanson

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