News flash! While Americans blissfully planned their Memorial Day barbeques the U.S. Congress extended for four years the dubious Patriot Act and narrowly rejected efforts to bring to a close the war in Afghanistan. If it seems to you like these decisions were made with very little debate or public discussion, you are correct.
First for the Patriot Act renewal (S 990), President Obama signed the extension into law via auto pen last Friday despite promises to address the law’s myriad privacy and transparency problems. Add another chapter to the Obama book of broken promises along with ending the Iraq War, scaling back involvement in Afghanistan, addressing the country’s immigration problem, and renegotiating one-sided trade deals like NAFTA.
The startling thing about all of this is the lack of fanfare, public outrage, and congressional deliberation or debate surrounding the renewal of one of the most controversial laws ratified in recent American history. Even more troubling is the significant amount of support in Congress for the Patriot Act’s renewal, with the Senate voting 72-23 in favor and the House approving by a margin of 250-153. With the exception of valiant efforts by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the opposition appeared to go down without a fight.
This writer has commented extensively over the years on the Patriot Act’s obvious flaws. Former Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Bob Barr argued concisely in a December 6, 2005 column that the Patriot Act poses a serious problem for the country on several grounds. These problems include sneak and peak searchers conducted without informing a person they have been under surveillance; allowing the government to "obtain secret court orders" to collect information on individuals; broadening the definition of domestic terrorism to possibly ensnare those who are "simply protesting government policies;" and allowing the government to procure roving wiretaps "without specifying either the identity of the target or the phone to be tapped."
In short, the Patriot Act represents the epitome of Big Government largess and a shining example of a policy which explicitly mocks the ideals of open, transparent, honest government. The Patriot Act’s renewal allows liberty-loving citizens to see clearly that the Obama/Biden administration may differ from the Bush/Cheney administration in name, but they march in lockstep when it comes to advancing policies that tighten government’s vice grip over our civil liberties.
Second, the U.S. House narrowly defeated Amendment 44 to HR 1540 on May 26 requiring "President Obama to draw down the 100,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. As this column has argued in the past, the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—which now exceeds $1.19 trillion—is utterly disastrous. The wars together have represented a tragic loss of fortune, blood (of both Americans and civilians), and common sense. The price tag on the war in Afghanistan alone has eclipsed the $418 billion mark. These figures are not sustainable and are outright unreasonable.
Politicians in Washington and across the country who are arguing for austerity measures to curb spending on governmental programs should look no further than the two wastefully expensive wars being fought at this time. 204 members of the House bravely voted to expedite the end of this war while 215 voted to cling to the failed war policy of both the Bush and Obama administrations. These same 215 members that voted against the Afghanistan withdrawal have lost their opportunity to be taken seriously on their push for austerity measures in other areas. They should not be able to claim legitimacy under any circumstances on other issues pertaining to spending control since they voted to continue breaking the bank to fight the longest war in American history that has no end in sight.
An important question that the press is not asking is what happened to the boisterous Tea Partiers who claim to oppose the encroaching increase in governmental authority and the rowdy liberal activists who opposed the wars and the Patriot Act when Republicans held the White House?
Sunshine patriots in the Tea Party movement allege to crusade against Big Government at all costs. They fought the Obama health care plan on the grounds that it represented communism. They protested the cap and trade proposal in 2009, calling it enviro-socialism. They rally for low taxes for themselves and argue for fewer government programs so long as they are not programs they themselves benefit from directly. So where are they now when civil liberties are under assault and the country is being bled dry in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Not only was their criticism hushed, but the evidence shows that they weren’t even in the game. In January 2011 the respected National Journal ranked the national Tea Party organizations based upon their organizational strength and grassroots support as Tea Party Nation, Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, Freedom Works, and the National Tea Party Federation. On May 27, 2011, the day after the Patriot Act’s renewal vote in Congress, I sifted through the web page content of the top six ranked Tea Party groups. I found not a single reference to the need to safeguard against governmental efforts to usurp and weaken the civil liberties of individual American citizens or to end the costly war in Afghanistan.
The evidence proves that those who scream about threats to their freedom remain distracted with illusions like birth certificates and death panels. Equally flaccid is the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The left was apoplectic when Bush and Cheney first pushed through the Patriot Act and allowed two wars to drag on. They burned Bush dolls in effigy, called for impeachment, and rallied in the public square on the side of liberty. Now that MoveOn.org’s guy occupies the White House they sit quietly on the sidelines.
Together the Democratic left and the Tea Party movement prove that partisanship is preferred over principle. Politics does indeed create strange bedfellows.
The American public has no one to blame for this situation but themselves. We have grown fat and happy with a government that purports an ability to provide us with everything we desire including a sense of security via expanding government power. In actuality they have lulled us to sleep at the expense of our own freedom, ignoring the U.S. Constitution and our own principles of democratic governance. We’ve allowed trillions of dollars to be burned up by wars with no end and no real accountability.
Thursday’s Congressional vote to renew the Patriot Act, Obama’s decision to break his earlier commitment to reexamine its more problematic features, and the House rejection of withdrawing from Afghanistan really isn’t surprising. However, the silence from the anti-Bush/Cheney left and the lack of interest from the Tea Party right should inform those of us genuinely concerned about restoring the rights being trampled by government under the guise of security and extricating the country from an infinite war that we are on our own.
And so the beat goes on down in Washington. When will someone—anyone—take a stand for freedom?
Nathan Shrader is a Republican Committeeman in Philadelphia and former Political Director of the Westmoreland County Republican Party. He can be reached at [email protected]