Goodbye GOP

The Inlander | October 11, 2006
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. That said, 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 so-called detainee bill. It is even worse than the bill President Bush first 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 the Geneva Convention for foreign detainees.

It also breaks a nearly 1,000-year 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?

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 this 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, it’s pretty easy.

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, you can still support the GOP and its candidates, 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 Arlen Specter. That amendment would have restored habeas corpus. After the President’s visit, the Senate defeated Specter’s habeas amendment on a party line vote. In the final vote, sending the bill to the president, Specter rejoined fellow Republicans, and some Democrats, expressing hope the Supreme Court would strike down the provision. I hope he’s right.

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. Otherwise politicians of either party will succumb to future temptations to indulge momentary public passion at the expense of those basic 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 its provisions. We shouldn’t care. Our concern should be with what U.S. officials do in our names, not to whom they do it.

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 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 here at home. Averaged over reasonable time periods, the nearly 3,000 deaths on 9/11 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.

Coping with death is not easy; 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 to that question 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 — of a nation that is better than momentary fear and anger. I can no longer believe our current Republican leaders uphold that vision.

Robert Stokes is a retired University of Washington professor who lives in Spokane.

The Inlander

Founded in 1993, The Inlander has quickly become the most trusted source of news and entertainment information for the sprawling Inland Northwest. While the majority of our readership lives in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area -- a fast-growing part of the...
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