"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
It Can Happen Here
Late last year, General Tommy Franks told Cigar Aficionado that another terrorist attack on America, especially one using WMDs, could "unravel the fabric of our Constitution" in favor of martial law. In this scenario, liberty would be traded for security at the request of regular Americans -- folks with 9-to-5 jobs and families to protect.
This would be the recipe for tyranny.
"If it happens, it happens," you say.
Or, "It can't happen here."
That's nice. Let me tell you a story.
There once was a man named Adolf Hitler. He spoke with conviction and had a funny mustache. He was elected to office in a place called Germany, at a time when morale was low.
Then one day, in 1933, someone lit fire to an important building called the Reichstag, and Germans -- ever fearful -- handed their freedoms to Hitler so that he might lead them, unrestricted, through a time of national emergency. He vowed to protect them, and vowed to restore the dignity and purity his people so richly deserved.
He then killed millions and abolished democracy.
Oh, and get this: There wasn't a damn thing the Germans could do about it. They weren't allowed to resist him. They weren't allowed to criticize his government. The power they had given him was absolute.
Therein lies the moral of the story: You should never give powers to a leader you like that you'd hate to have given to a leader you fear.
Recently, Tom Ridge warned of a terrorist plot to target this summer's presidential conventions. Ask yourself: What if it happens? What if al-Qaeda "disrupt[s] our democratic process," or, worse, we disrupt it for them? Saying, "It can't happen here," doesn't cut it anymore. It can happen here. The mechanisms are already in place.
Picture it. It's September 2nd in New York City -- the last day of the Republican convention. George Bush is getting ready to accept his party's nomination. Outside, marchers march to the beat of an anti-war drum, whining for free stuff -- like education and healthcare -- while cops see to it that they only enjoy the First Amendment to a reasonable degree.
Viewers at home see a Fox News Alert: "This just in. Fox has nothing to report at this time."
All is well on the home front, it seems.
Then something happens. A silence. A boom.
Bombs go off inside the Lincoln Tunnel. Vans explode at opposite ends of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Panic ensues across America -- except in New York, where people keep their cool.
George Bush is onstage, inside, singing the praises of hybrid cars and aid to Africa. Andrew Card comes up beside him and whispers in his ear: "We're under attack again, sir. They've knocked out the bridges and airports."
Bush replies, "This was supposed to be an acceptance speech. Tonight, we accept our duty as Americans."
He quotes from the bible and vows to get "whoever did this."
He swears he'll protect us, to raucous applause.
Out come yellow ribbons.
Sheryl Crow, Fred Durst, and Dave Matthews record a song called "Lady Liberty (In Her Time of Need)." They perform it during a live benefit concert, with special guests Willie Nelson and Pat Boone.
Within days, the feds nab terrorists living in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Another cell is busted in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. John Ashcroft says, "We couldn't've done this without their library records." Turns out they had overdue almanacs.
"Islam is a religion of peace," writes The Weekly Standard. "But thank God for the Patriot Act!"
Yes, thank God, Americans say. Thank God for the Patriot Act. Thank God the people we elected to "represent" us elected not to read it before voting it in.
"I need this legislation," Bush says. "We need it in order to win."
Zogby polls show 8 in 10 Americans agree: We have too much freedom. Our enemies are exploiting it by living among us.
These days, just about anyone can be a terrorist. Hell, you could be a terrorist and not even know it. You're a threat to yourself now.
Thank God Congress is there to protect us by renewing the Patriot Act. Thank God they have the guts to pass the WELOVEOURCOUNTRY and VOTEFORUS Acts as well.
Soon the Department of Homeland Security issues a call for National ID cards, in compliance with WELOVEOURCOUNTRY. An 11-year-old submits the winning design. It's yellow and shaped like a star, and it weighs your thoughts like a mood ring. It turns orange and red if you're a threat to America.
You wear it like a badge on your chest.
Americans say, "Let's give up some civil liberties, so we can live to enjoy the ones we keep."
Sales of flags with fifty stars go up.
Sales of flags with thirteen stars go down.
Bush asks Congress to pass a law reversing the Supreme Court decision that prohibits him from holding terrorist suspects without trial. "Desperate times call for desperate measures," he says. "Due process diverts valuable law enforcement resources away from the war on terror."
Americans do, too. They don't believe their enemies deserve a fair trial. After all, there are folks in this world who "want to kill us."
So Bush starts rounding up "enemy combatants" in towns just like Council Bluffs and Sheboygan.
Civil libertarians need not worry. The feds have solid evidence in every single case, and they'll share it with us as soon as the war ends a few generations from now. No one's life will be ruined by wrongful imprisonment; they'll be dead by the time anyone figures it out.
"Free Speech Zones" enter the household vernacular.
And it comes to pass that folks are arrested for unlawfully protesting the arrests of enemy combatants. Then people are arrested for protesting the arrests of the protestors.
Then something funny happens to the lady across the street: Her teenage son gets dragged from his bed in the dead of night by agents who know what's best for her family. Intelligence teams intercepted the boy's idiotic, un-American emails, including one where he wrote: "Bush ain't got the skills to pay the bills." It is crucial that they detain any potential threats to the president -- even the ones who still have zits. Failure to do so means the terrorists have won.
Then the guy down the road who borrowed your lawnmower last summer gets nabbed for talking about the emails over the phone. He's a registered Republican, with tapes of every convention dating back to 1984. "The kid's mom is pretty broken up about it," he says just before his phone hits the kitchen table.
If you aren't with Bush, you must be against him.
And being against him can't be allowed now. Never forget September 2nd. Stay out of the mall on Halloween. Duct tape your windows. Take off your shoes.
People start having doubts about the powers they've given the federal government.
"But," according to Bill Kristol, Wolf Blitzer, or Tom Brokaw, "comparisons to Nazi Germany do nothing to help the debate. Mr. Bush's job is to protect the American people, and part of that job is protecting his ability to protect them. Dissent is good. Our country was built on dissent. But there's a time and a place for it, and it's not in a time of war. Politics stop at the water's edge."
Cops squash another round of protests, which, in turn, inspires more protests. The cycle continues. Washington talks about dropping a nuke on a major American city in order to keep the peace. The city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, tops the list.
"Better we should have a mushroom cloud at home," Condi Rice says, "than a mushroom cloud at home caused by someone abroad who could've been stopped if people at home hadn't stopped us from stopping them."
John Ashcroft pushes for Amtrak funding, calling it "a crucial weapon in the war on terror." He opens a chain of summer camps where kids and adults can get together and spend quality time making license plates and sniffing noxious gases. The problem with these summer camps? It's not summer yet. It's not even winter. It's a few weeks before the election -- a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
The campers all wear orange jumpsuits.
Finally, the NRA and ACLU come out and say, "Hey, 'the events of September 2nd' were tragic, but we can't allow it to destroy our freedoms any longer."
Actually, that's a lie. The NRA and ACLU say nothing. Saying something is against the law. In fact, it's been against the law for a couple of years now, thanks to senators John McCain and Russ Feingold. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act forbids anyone who hates America from taking out an ad against Bush within two months of the election.
Election Day is November 2nd -- two months after the September 2nd terrorist attacks.
But don't you worry, you silly goose: Bush isn't trying to steal the election. There won't even be an election to steal. The Department of Homeland Security has declared it a risk (though to whom, they don't say).
A disappointed John Kerry goes on TV and says, "The war on Americans isn't the problem. Bush's execution is. If I were president, I would sell Washington to the United Nations, so they could help us do it effectively."
The CIA finds Usama bin Laden's cell phone.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
America plunges into civil war.
But, oh, it can't happen here.