The Great Oppression

28 Nov

The Great Oppression

By Elias Wittenberg

Ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is well-known for his polemic positions and the occasional highly publicized debacle. Of late, and since the GOP CNN Republican National Security Debate on November 21, 2011, Gingrich has been the center of a controversy regarding his proposed immigration policies, and forced to parry thrusts from fellow GOP hopefuls that he intends to enact an amnesty for illegal aliens if elected. The debate over immigration, specifically of the illegal variety, is a sore spot these days.  But immigration policies were not the most concerning revelations from Gingrich last week. The GOP has wandered so far from its roots in classical conservatism that it is no longer capable of spotting an issue that should automatically disqualify Gingrich (and half the GOP field for that matter) from the field.

Gingrich wants to increase big government’s watchful eye in the affairs of Americans by not only extending the current Patriot Act, but expanding it. On November 21, 2011 he stood brashly against the civil liberties of Americans in his bid for the White House. And he was applauded for it. By real Americans.

One might be tempted to forgive those real Americans who clapped and cheered and whistled. Gingrich wields the fear hammer well. We are all familiar with the fear hammer. It has been used by people in past governments (think Dick Cheney) and by those who aspire to influence the governed (like Anne Coulter). It is wielded in favour of the erosion of American liberties in exchange for promised peace and safety as backed by the full faith and credit of the American government.

Speaking on strengthening the Patriot Act, Gingrich sought to draw a distinction between the rights he believes an American citizen should have in a criminal investigation and a national security investigation. In an eerie echo of the McCarthyism of the 40’s and 50’s, Gingrich stated “… if you’re trying to find someone who may have a nuclear weapon that they are trying to bring into an American city I think you want to use every tool that you can possibly use to gather the intelligence. The Patriot Act has clearly been a key part of that, and I think looking at it carefully and extending it, and building an honest understanding that all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives, this is not going to end in the short term”. Simplified translation: life is scary. Too scary to protect personal liberty. Gingrich is more than pleased to whisper to the GOP electorate about boogeymen and how a land of wiretaps, filtered emails, waterboarding and secret trials can make them seem like a bad dream. Fear mongering over the past 12 years has indeed convinced many Americans that the government should check their emails and listen to their phone calls and even arrest them periodically without due process (or at least the guy down the street), as long as they are home by Monday to watch football.

It is clever, but misleading, for Gingrich to imply that Patriot Act powers only apply to gaining intelligence once authorities are aware that a terrorist threat, such as bringing a nuclear bomb into a city, exists. Gingrich knows that the Patriot Act grants enormous power to monitor the nation’s communication prior to any evidence of a national security threat. It grants power to search (and listen) without a warrant, arrest without evidence and to hold suspects indefinitely without due process. But it sounds better the way Gingrich says it. It sounds… scarier. And more reasonable.

Gingrich is tied with Mitt Romney (who is also pro-Patriot Act and during the debate last week called for greater American military presence overseas without mention of how it should be paid for) for the GOP Presidential nomination, according to most polls. What he says seems to resonate with a significant portion of conservatives, and apparently a Christian America that is reluctant to elect a Mormon.  Never mind that it is the American government that has created a very real national boogey man many think capable of ushering in financial Armageddon. Some, like Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, have called that particular boogey man the number one national security issue in America. Why does the GOP think that a government that cannot get its fiscal house in order should be trusted to decide when to protect a citizen’s inalienable rights or not in the interests of national security?

Gingrich wants less, not more, accountability in an area that should be (and must be) infinitely more sacred than mere money for Americans. Freedom and liberty are of paramount importance to life itself, if you believe the Declaration of Independence. A person can live with an empty wallet. The nation can survive a Great Depression. But America cannot and will not survive the Great Oppression. It cannot, and still be America.

The United States, and particularly those Christian elements within it, were not always in a place where the people were willing to trade freedom for the unbridled oversight of the government. Indeed, the great catalyst that sparked the migration of millions from the old world to America was religious and governmental oppression. The hope of a new land free of kings and popes birthed a land that became a bastion of freedom, courage and new beginnings for humanity. The Founding Fathers of America hated and abhorred anything that smacked of oppression and tyranny. But those were the Founding Fathers.

Newt has forgotten all of this, if he ever really understood it in the first place. And so has most of the of the GOP electorate judging from the debate last week, with the notable exception of Ron Paul. The sound of applause for Newt Gingrich on Tuesday night was the sound of a fearful people, indeed, it may be said, a cowardly people. A people dispossessed of the courage of the Founding Fathers, who could no longer stand with Patrick Henry, credited with those immortal words of inspiration in 1775: “”Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”

Is life so dear that I would consent to my fellow citizens (not to mention myself) held for years without a trial if I could have a two car garage and take a two week vacation every year? Is the peace to watch my t.v. without interruption so sweet that I would consent to have someone read my mail and bug my room without a warrant?

Liberty is the foundation of America that ignited a revolutionary inferno and knit the bones of the greatest nation in the world. Liberty first. Gingrich wants to put liberty somewhere else – where is not quite clear. But, in America, liberty is not second, or third or last. Liberty, as in the land of the free, home of the brave, is first. “Land of the Free and the home of the brave” used to be a pretty popular tag for America. Since when did the slogan “Land of the watched, home of the safe” put a Republican American at the top of the polls?

“Forbid it, Almighty God”, Henry implored. Forbid it, Almighty God, that I should be a slave, in chains, and “safe”, rather than a free man. Yes, the world is an uncertain and dangerous place. It is true that there are boogey men (although I doubt there are as many lurking in the real world as there are in Newt Gingrich’s). But the world is more uncertain and more dangerous by far led by a bastardized America motivated by fear and self-protection instead of liberty and justice.

Profoundly, the questions that loom largest for the GOP and especially conservative Christians who have obviously and perhaps hopelessly lost their way are these: whatever happened to “In God We Trust”? When did “In God We Trust” become “In government we trust” or, (farcically) “in Gingrich we trust?” Do conservatives understand what the implications are for a nation that claims to operate under the approbation of God yet despises the rights of His children? Is America ready to further sacrifice its liberties to a government too incompetent to balance its check book in exchange for “safety”?

God forbid! For woe, woe! to an America that puts its faith in government to “protect” it at the cost of the liberties and inalienable rights endowed by her Creator.

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