Before we know it, the Republican debates will be upon us and we will be made to choose sides. The debate over the PATRIOT Act has defined those sides. Will we choose the one that promises greater security, or the one that promises greater liberty? Both are worthy goals. Chris Christie is right when he says you can’t exercise your civil liberties from a coffin. Without life, there cannot be any liberty or pursuit of happiness, but nor can you exercise your civil liberties when you have traded them all for security. It’s a fool’s bargain as Ben Franklin warned us. It’s an issue that reasonable people can disagree on.
Given that Republicans will probably remain divided on the issue, the only real question is which one resonates with the voter, and is the best counter for what the Democrats will have to offer. They (the Democrats) will try to offer us security. No one seriously thinks they will offer us liberty, certainly not as the Founders understood the concept. The security argument is based on fear, and fear is what the Democrats are good at. Fear that granny will be thrown off the cliff (metaphorically speaking), fear that the rich will get richer at everyone else’s expense, fear that women will be denied contraception, on and on it goes.
Part of the counter ironically, has been suggested by President himself, or at least his campaign slogan : Hope. I think we should co-opt the idea. Where they sell fear, we should sell hope. Not the emptiness of hoping for more money, should you fit the right constituent group, but hope tied to the one thing needed to bring it life and meaning: Liberty.
If we follow a strict security line without including liberty in the deal somewhere, we have to out fear monger the professional fear mongers of the left. That’s not a strategy that provides a viable alternative to what the other side is offering. Whoever the eventual Republican candidate may be, they must at every turn explain in simple turns what freedoms we Americans have given up in the name of the Liberal vision over the last eight years. The Republicans need to remind the voters that they no longer have the freedom to engage in commerce or not when it comes to their healthcare. They cannot chose what elements of healthcare they wish to pay for and which they don’t. They will not have the freedom to choose what their school’s curriculum is. Farmers will no longer have the freedom to choose how to manage their land, at least not if there is any water on it. The freedom to buy cheaper energy created from coal will disappear.
President Reagan’s famous question to the American voter was: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
Along those same lines, for this next election I suggest this question: “Are you freer that you were eight years ago?”
As for the security plank in the platform; let it stand, but not alone. It must stand along one for libertarian agenda. Our security will come through our strength and our willingness to support our allies in the war on terror. It will come when energy can no longer be used as a weapon against us, the Ukrainians, or any of our friends in Europe. As Rick Perry recently put it: “If energy is to be used as a weapon, America is going to have the largest arsenal.” Security is necessary, even critical, but only as a means to an end, that end being greater liberty for all Americans.