I Am Leaving the Republican Party

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In a free, democratic society, political affiliation is an informed, continually evaluated decision; not a bond of blind loyalty, like that of dog to man.

I hereby take leave of the Republican Party, for the time being anyway, at least as an active participant. Hopefully, the GOP will soon again merit the support of Americans who believe in individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government. I will continue to work for those values and for candidates who support them, irrespective of party affiliation.

Why?

The Senate just passed the detainee bill. It is even worse than the bill President Bush proposed. Among many noxious provisions, it allows American authorities to lock people up indefinitely, without independent judicial review. That clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, the Geneva Convention for foreign detainees.

It also breaks a nearly thousand-year English-American tradition of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is the foundation upon which every aspect of a fair trial rests, indeed the foundation of every civil right. What right or freedom can be safe if government officials can throw someone in jail without independent review? Literally throw away the key.

The McCarthy era and Japanese internment were recent memories when I grew up during the Eisenhower Administration. I learned about them through study of history and came to know victims of both personally. When the internment bill becomes law, President Bush and Republican Members of Congress will have done something equally shameful, as well as dangerous to our democracy. We can only hope the Supreme Court rises to its duty and strikes down their mischief, as it did Bush’s unilaterally declared Special Tribunals.

Comments of Congressional Republican leaders leave no doubt a major reason for passing this bill was to benefit Republican candidates in the upcoming Congressional elections.

Fellow Republicans: You owe yourselves and America at least this. Study the detainee bill. Read commentary from both sides. Read foreign as well as American sources. Thanks to Google and the internet that is much easier than in the past.

Do not glibly say (in ignorance or after consulting only right wing sources) “My Party’s leader (President Bush) has acted, it is my duty to trust his judgment.” That is not discharging the duty of a responsible conservative and citizen of a free society. That is being an idiot, or a fascist.

If, after devoting substantial effort to informing yourself from diverse sources, you can still support the Republican Party and its candidates this fall, do so with my blessing.

I cannot. I tried, but there is a limit.

President Bush made a personal visit to Congress to fight an amendment by Republican Senator Arlon Spector. That amendment would have restored habeas corpus. After the President’s visit, the Senate defeated Spector’s habeas amendment on a party line vote: 48 YEA (4 Republicans, 43 Democrats, 1 Independent – Jeffords), 51 NAY (50 Republicans, 1 Democrat). In the final vote, sending the bill to the President, Spector rejoined fellow Republicans, and some Democrats. He expressed hope the Supreme Court would strike down the habeas denial provision. I think Spector is right, at least I hope so.

Whatever happens upon judicial review, President Bush and Congressional Republicans did what they did. That action must be punished, and in a tangible way, not just with talk. In democratic politics that means withdrawal of political support, contributing, hopefully, to electoral defeat. Otherwise, politicians of either party will succumb to future temptations to indulge momentary public passion at the expense of principles essential to freedom.

Some readers may protest that the detainee bill only applies to aliens in U.S. custody, i.e., “them,” not to citizens, i.e., “us.” My limited research suggests citizens are not entirely safe from the bill’s provisions. I don’t care and neither should you. Our concern should be with what U.S. officials do in our names, not who they do it to. Only by uniting “their” freedom with “our” freedom (whoever “they” and “we” are at the moment) can anyone’s freedom be safe.

Others will ask – likely in anger, “Do you accept responsibility for the possibility that your concerns about individual rights and freedom may lead to Islamic terrorists killing innocent Americans?”

One answer involves numbers. With the highly unlikely exception of their employing nuclear weapons, terrorists do not pose an unusually great threat to Americans (in America). Averaged over reasonable time periods, the nearly 3000, 9/11 deaths amount to a few hundred per year. Averaged over comparable periods, more Americans die from just about every domestic-origin form of mortality on record.

As a global society unfolds around us, we, formerly isolated, Americans have some emotional adapting to do. We will be exposed to different risks, but not substantially greater total risk. Americans who once died of home-grown diseases (smallpox and whooping cough in the past, cancer and heart disease today) will someday die of foreign origin diseases, like AIDS and Asian bird flu. Similarly, our murderers may come, not from the house down the street, or from across the bedroom, but from villages on the far side of the world.

One American child dies in the privacy of his or her home, grieved only by family and friends. Another dies screaming to the world through TV cameras, victim of some yet to be conceived form of foreign terrorism. One equals one. Death is death. It is the responsibility of Americans to emotionally adapt to new realities, not the responsibility of the world to indefinitely cope with our present inability to do so.

Coping with death is not easy, whether the cause be old or new, domestic or foreign, public or private. It is when we depend on the strong and wise among us, family, friends, sometimes government officials. Reflect on whether you genuinely believe President Bush and other Republican leaders properly discharged their responsibility to lead us (calmly and rationally) through the valley of death created by 9/11.

The other answer involves politics. I quote Benjamin Franklin “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We Republicans must give first loyalty to the vision of America we share with Franklin, that of a nation that is better than momentary fear and anger. Try though I have, I can no longer believe our current Republican President and Congressional leaders uphold that vision.

October 6, 2006

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