During last night’s Republican presidential candidate debate, Ron Paul took a strong stand in defense of the Bill of Rights, stating that it simply isn’t necessary to sacrifice constitutional freedom in the United States in order to establish security. “I have a personal belief that you never have to give up security for liberty,” he said.
Newt Gingrich was outraged by Ron Paul’s support for liberty. His angry response was that “Timothy McVeigh succeeded!”
Timothy McVeigh succeeded? McVeigh was part of a network of right wing extremists that wanted to radically reduce the size of the federal government. After the Oklahoma City bombing, however, the size of the federal government increased. That doesn’t look like success to me. McVeigh’s terrorism provided a powerful lesson: Violence isn’t a reliable method for creating political change.
These details were beyond the grasp of Gingrich’s pseudo-intellectual mind. Gingrich declared that McVeigh succeeded simply because he killed large numbers of people, as if that was McVeigh’s final objective. Then, Gingrich spoke in support of the radical expansion of federal government surveillance powers through laws like the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act. “I don’t want a law that says, after we lose a major American city, we’re sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says, if you try to take out an American city, we’re going to stop you!”
Gingrich’s approach seems like good sense, if you accept Newt Gingrich’s premise: That the United States is in danger of losing a major city. That premise, of course, is as flimsy as wet toilet paper. The United States has never had a major city “taken out”. Oklahoma City, of course, isn’t a “major American city”, but even Timothy McVeigh’s terrible attack didn’t destroy Oklahoma City – it only destroyed part of one building in the city. Even Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t result in the destruction of a city. In the context of real American history, Newt Gingrich’s fearful premise isn’t realistic. His hyperbole isn’t helpful.
Those who have a deeper knowledge of American history than what Newt Gingrich can offer also realize that what Gingrich proposes is something that American law was never supposed to do: Focus on preventing crime, rather than punishing it. Constitutional structures such as the fourth amendment were established to prevent the formation of a law enforcement system that was focused on controlling citizens’ activities in order to create a strict society of law and order. In the United States, the system is supposed to err on the side of freedom, with the presumption of innocence.
We aren’t supposed to have big government systems of surveillance targeted against people living peacefully within the United States. The Constitution guarantees protection from unreasonable search and seizure of our bodies and our property. The Big Brother spying laws that Newt Gingrich defends have disabled this constitutional protection, creating a law enforcement system that has more in common with that of the Soviet Union than what the authors of the Bill of Rights had in mind.
Newt Gingrich markets himself as an expert in history, but it’s obviously been a long while since he cracked open a book on American history. Gingrich has allowed his ideological preoccupations with fear and insecurity to overshadow some of the most basic facts of American history and government. His desire for a huge federal government spying system always looking over the shadows of American citizens in order to serve as a crime prevention system places Gingrich in opposition to the highest ideals of our national history.