Here are some rules for being a good citizen. They date back to the American Revolution, but most Americans today have forgotten them.
Rule No. 1 is that people given power will tend to abuse it. This applies to everyone from local government to national government. It applies to Democrats and to Republicans. The reason it is so universal is because it originates in human nature, which is the same today as it was 10,000 years ago.
That’s why the Founding Fathers labored so hard to devise a basically weak national government. Not only does the Constitution divide power between the three separate and equal branches of the federal government, it also divides power between the federal and state governments. Unfortunately, we have removed many of these safeguards.
Not everyone in government abuses power, and one of the duties of a citizen is to recognize those who don’t and to reward them.
Rule No. 2 is that politicians have an inclination to lie. The Bush administration lied us into a war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The regime of Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with al-Qaida or with the attack on the U.S. It is also a lie that "everyone believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction." The U.N. weapons inspectors had never said, after 1995, there were weapons. They said there was a paper discrepancy. One part of the government said x amount had been destroyed; another branch said it was y amount. You will find paper discrepancies in practically every government in the world. Witness, for example, the numerous weapons and large amounts of money our own government cannot account for in Iraq.
Nor, it should be added, did Saddam pretend to have weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi government said repeatedly that it did not have them.
Lying by American politicians has become so pervasive, it is the rule rather than the exception. Lies destroy credibility, but because they are so pervasive today, few people get punished when they are caught lying. Citizens should consider a lie a mortal sin in the realm of civics, for lies are an attempt to deceive the people about very important matters. Lies are a direct attack on the American system of self-government, which is based on the premise that if the people know the truth, they can make the right decisions.
Rule No. 3 is to always oppose excessive government secrecy. Common sense tells us that government is entitled to some secrecy, primarily military in time of war. Recent governments, however, have gone overboard and promiscuously classify practically any piece of paper that comes across their desk. Usually the only thing they are protecting is our own government from embarrassment or possibly criminal prosecution.
National-security letters are a good example. These are demands by the FBI for information about citizens for which there is no search warrant. The institutions receiving them are threatened by criminal prosecution for revealing to anyone that they have received one. These warrantless searches went from 8,500 in the year 2000 to 47,000 by 2005. The current government conducts all kinds of "data sweeps" that involve our use of the Internet, including Web pages we visit and e-mails we write or receive, along with telephone calls, our spending habits, the flights we take and our bank records. The right to privacy for all practical purposes is as dead as a beached whale.
But are you being spied upon? Sorry, that’s classified. Thus, invasion of privacy and secrecy go hand in hand. The only remedy I can see for this is to vote out of office the politicians who have tolerated it and to avoid electing anyone who might reasonably be expected to continue these practices. They are all done, of course, in the name of security, but Benjamin Franklin said it well when he wrote that those who prefer security to freedom deserve neither.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.