Today, Ron Paul made headlines for his apparently bold and controversial assertion that Al Qaeda figure and U.S. Citizen Anwar al-Awlaki deserved his constitutional right to a fair trial, instead of the murder by drone strike he received in Yemen this Friday. Is Ron Paul wrong in yet again refusing to bend on his consistent support of the Constitution? Obviously not. Anwar al-Awlaki is an American citizen, and each American is by law entitled to a fair trial, no matter how heinous a crime he or she committed. Says Paul, there is something seriously wrong with this country if we aren’t bothered by the fact that an American citizen was murdered today simply because Barack Obama demanded it. If we allow one man the power to violate the law and take away the life of an American citizen because that man deems him a terrorist without ever proving it in a court of law (what happened to innocent until proven guilty), I shudder to think of one simple question: what’s next?
Anyone who says Ron Paul is wrong on this issue is thinking purely with emotion and disregarding any semblance of rationality. However, the neoconservatives, who have thoroughly hijacked the Tea Party that Ron Paul started and who still unfortunately make up the majority of the Republican base, will predictably blast Paul for siding with Al Qaeda and denying “American exceptionalism”.
The catch is that in the eyes of (most of) the GOP, being exceptional means that America gets to do whatever the hell it wants around the world, that it can and should start endless, bloody, costly, unconstitutional wars in the name of “democracy”, and that we can safely ignore the logical consequences of those actions. Then, when Ron Paul points out that people who live in these countries view us not as liberators but as murderers, and that they might just be a little bit resentful of an endless, murderous American presence there, it’s because he hates America and he’s siding with the terrorists. In fact, Mitt Romney snidely told Ron Paul in a 2007 debate that he should “stop taking his marching orders from Al Qaeda.”
I am filled with sadness when I reflect that Ron Paul, who has for 30 years been Washington’s only consistent advocate of liberty, freedom, and the Constitution, a feat truly worthy of America’s Founding Fathers, is portrayed by most of the Republican party as a terrorist sympathizer because he doesn’t give America carte blanche to police the world and disregard the inevitable consequences of doing so. I mean, you seriously don’t want to know how many times I’ve heard “I agree with Ron Paul on everything except his foreign policy” from the average Republican voter. Ron Paul must get tired of explaining to people, time and time again, that true conservatism doesn’t advocate a jingoistic, “Go America, f*ck yeah!”, good guys vs. bad guys mentality where the American military is some infallible force of goodness that can do no wrong in its noble quest for worldwide democracy. Contrary to the childishly naive and historically blind views of notorious war hawks John McCain and Rick Santorum, who have both criticized Ron Paul for denying American exceptionalism, hating America, and blaming America for the 9/11 attacks.
It stuns me that Republicans like McCain and Santorum who proudly trumpet small government values at home – low taxes, balanced budgets, deregulation, laissez-faire economics – can be so unbelievably blind to the fact that throughout American history and to this very day, war has proven to be a springboard for big government to violate the Constitution and strip away the individual rights of its citizens.
Take the example of World War One, when Woodrow Wilson created an unprecedented propagandist machine known as the Committee On Public Information which had one sole purpose: to brainwash Americans into supporting the war. And worse still were the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act, which literally permitted the government to deem anyone who spoke out against it’s brainwashing war efforts as a terroristic threat to American security. These acts forbade the use of disloyal, profane, or abusive language about the US government, and both gave the government essentially unrestricted power to punish those that simply disagreed with it. We see in the case of “Wilson’s War” that war allowed for a huge, propagandist government with a blatant disregard for our right to free speech as guaranteed under the Constitution’s first amendment.
Still not convinced that war serves as a catalyst for big government gone wild? Consider the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks nearly 100 years after World War One, when Congress readily approved the Patriot Act one month after the attacks. The Patriot Act is literally the destruction of the Fourth Amendment, which says that government cannot conduct a search without obtaining a warrant and showing probable cause to believe that the person has committed or will commit a crime. It also violates the Fourth Amendment by failing to provide any notice to people whose privacy has been compromised. In the words of Dr. Paul himself,
“Certainly the Patriot Act would have never been passed, because it wasn’t available to us… It was almost 400 pages long, and became available less than an hour before it was debated on the House floor… The congressmembers were intimidated… And the people are frightened. When they are frightened, they are much more willing to give us their liberties. But giving up their liberties won’t make them safer, that’s the real sad part of it.”
Yet again in the case of the Patriot Act, as in Wilson’s Espionage and Sedition Acts, we can observe government using terrorism and war as an excuse for people to give up their constitutional liberties for a false sense of safety from the government. Of course, the “safety” is nothing but massive government expansion and actually makes American citizens significantly less safe than they were before.
The greatest irony is that the one group who most pushes the wars and “terrorist prevention” that serve only as springboards for government expansion and loss of civil liberties are those who most profess the need for the government to stay out of peoples’ personal lives: the neoconservatives. Indeed, these are the same people that will inevitable deride Paul for his supposed “alliance” with terrorists such as Anwar al-Awlaki. It should be quite clear that in reality, Paul correctly understands liberty as an indivisible whole – not something that can be applied only to economic policy but disregarded when it comes to foreign policy. It also proves that Paul is one of the few, if not the only Republican(s) that understand the history of war and “terrorist” prevention in America. Said Paul on Friday,
“If the American people accept this blindly and casually that we now have an accepted practice of the President assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it’s sad.”
Is Paul saying that al-Awlaki isn’t actually a bad guy? Of course not. What he is saying is that we as Americans should never stand for the murder of another American, no matter how evil, who was killed without a fair trial and solely because the President said so. History indicates that if we so complacently accept the fear mongering that the government spins for us, and let the President violate the law because of it, then we do so at the jeopardy of our own civil liberties.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Not only is Franklin correct in saying that they don’t deserve liberty nor safety, but furthermore, all the historical evidence proves that they won’t get them, either.