Good Night and Good Luck

I hate to get cranky, but I think a lot of us are forgetting what America is all about.


Repeat after me: our constitution wasn’t designed for cowards. The Founders didn’t protect our right to say what we think because they believed we would all mouth non-offensive proprieties. They didn’t insist on our right to pray (or not) as we choose because they were confident we would all agree about the nature of Ultimate Truth. And they didn’t insist that government show a darn good reason to search or detain us because they were sure we wouldn’t ever have anything to hide.


They protected liberty because they valued it for its own sake—not because it was safe.


In fact, they were well aware that liberty isn’t safe. Freedom is dangerous, and those who drafted the Bill of Rights knew that. They just believed that a government with the power to decide what ideas may be expressed, or what prayers must be said (and to whose gods) is much more dangerous. They were willing to risk political, scientific and religious debate—just as they were willing to take the risks of a market economy. No risk, no reward.


We’ve come a long way, baby—to weenie land, apparently. Recent headlines paint a depressing picture of a society increasingly afraid to entertain different ideas or consider evidence inconsistent with our preferred realities.


In New Mexico, a nurse with the Veterans Administration is being investigated for sedition—sedition!—because she wrote a letter to the editor criticizing George W. Bush and advocating withdrawal from Iraq. The letter was signed in her private capacity as a citizen, written on her own time, on her own stationery. She has been a VA clinical nurse specialist for sixteen years; she is now refusing to give interviews and is reportedly terrified that she will lose her job.


In Washington, a thirty-six-year veteran of the Congressional Research Agency who is widely considered the most eminent living scholar of Separation of Powers has been told to “apologize” and threatened with loss of his position in the wake of a research report disputing Presidential authority to ignore Congress and engage in unchecked surveillance of Americans’ communications. This is an individual who has served with distinction under Republican and Democratic Administrations alike.


At NASA, in one widely reported incident, an expert on global warming was ordered to modify a scientific paper posted to the agency’s website. In another, five researchers from CalTech who published a report on “Potential Environmental Impact of a Hydrogen Economy” abruptly had a planned NASA conference cancelled, reportedly by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and further funding for this research has been cut off.


Perhaps—before we make too many self-righteous comparisons between our own devotion to “liberty” and the Islamists violent reaction to Danish cartoons—we should take a good hard look in the mirror. That isn’t James Madison looking back. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to Joe McCarthy.