*To a large degree this country was founded on civil liberties.
Even as the Constitution was being ratified, the founding fathers were drawing up and debating the Bill of Rights to ensure that individual freedoms would be secure. This is why the first amendment guarantees freedoms that enable individuals to pursue their happiness.
The concept of personal freedoms was the most important aspect of being an American at the onset of the United States and for many people this is still the crux of Americaness. This explains the National Rifle Association’s obsession with the ability of people to own firearms; it explains the American Civil Liberties Union’s obsession with the ability of people to burn flags. And it also explains the intense discussion that takes place when a president seemingly infringes upon civil liberties.
In 2001 President Bush, weeks after the tragedy of September 11th, signed the Patriot Act into law. One aspect of the law allowed the federal government to engage in enhanced surveillance techniques including monitoring cellular conversations and online activity. This law criticized from people on both sides of the political spectrum but because the president who passed it was Republican, liberals were generally less accepting and painting Bush as a totalitarian while conservatives defended Bush for doing what was necessary to combat terrorism and keep the United States safe.
Fast forward nine years. In 2010 President Obama, after an unsuccessful plan to use cargo planes to attack the United States and an incidence of someone storing explosives in their undergarments in 2009, implemented stricter search measures for air travelers. Again people from both liberals and conservatives are complaining about the new, more invasive, procedures. But because the president presiding over the initiation of the new methods is Democrat, left-wingers are generally more accommodating while right-wingers are condemning Obama as un-American.
But where is the real difference in these two situations? Both presidents stepped over a line and put federal agents in a position to violate civil liberties; but both presidents would argue that the measures were/are necessary to respond to real threats based in air travel. The curse of partisanship that has affected this country over the past two decades has made rationality and consistency impossible. Many of the people who attacked President Bush’s actions now defend President Obama and vice versa strictly because of party affiliation or political ideology.
In truth there is no real difference between these two policies. What was true for President Bush in 2001 (the U.S. being targeted by terrorists, a military action in South West Asia, the prioritization of homeland security) is still true for Obama today.
Many people support or oppose President Obama’s solely on the basis of his ethnicity and/or the unfounded questions regarding his religious affiliation. Layer on top of that the curse of partisanship and our country is very close to not working.
The founding fathers wanted to protect freedom of speech. But they wanted it to be informed speech. One can logically support President Obama. But if so, then one must also conclude that President Bush was not all bad.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected]