In his second
inaugural address, George W. Bush preached that freedom (mentioned 27 times)
and liberty (15 times) are powerful medicines – they "break the reign of hatred
and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes
of the decent and tolerant." And he warned that unless we prescribe freedom
and liberty globally, through peaceful conversion or combat, America will never
be secure. "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the
success of liberty in other lands."
Yet the "Author of Liberty," as the president surreptitiously
alluded to himself, having pronounced that voting will set us free, did not
instruct a shocked and awed nation as to how they were to determine how free
they really are.
I'll take a bash.
For a start, let's keep it concrete; don't equate freedom with
symbols, and rhetoric with reality.
Freedom will have arrived when elections don't matter. I'll consider myself
free when I no longer must fret about who wins my state's endless election for
governor, Christine Gregoire or Dino Rossi. Or when I can sleep through a federal
election, because, Kerry or Bush, Democrat or Republican – in a free society
neither will be able to unjustly tamper with me or take what is rightfully mine.
Freedom will have arrived when there is no need to celebrate Tax
Freedom Day. And when the government ceases its stalemated War
In a free society, the "vision thing" is left to private individuals; civil
servants are kept on a tight leash, because free people understand that a "visionary"
bureaucrat is a voracious one and that the grander the government ("great purposes"
in Bush Babble), the poorer and less free the people.
Free people grasp that our "great institutions" – Bush's words – are
not the "Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights,"
but rather the institutions of private property, freedom of expression and worship,
and the right to defend hearth and home.
A Friend to Liberty Everywhere, Not Its Guarantor
Bush also paid lip service to "reaffirming all
that is good and true that came before – ideals of justice and conduct that
are the same yesterday, today, and forever." Evidently those no longer include
the ideals of our Founding Fathers. An all-powerful, globe-girdling government
is inimical to republicanism and limited government. Or so Pat Buchanan reminded
Joe Scarborough, Andrew Sullivan,
and Larry Kudlow. He was rudely informed that he was imprisoned in a pre-9/11
If appeals to the Founders and the Constitution are no longer
valid in post-9/11 America, let's try a tack our internationalists ought to
find less disagreeable.
Bush is certainly correct in his assertion that every person
has the natural right to be free. And that, "Every man and woman on this earth
has rights ... because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to
be a slave."
We must, however, distinguish between the right of people
to be free and the obligation of others to free them. We have a solemn
duty not to violate the rights of foreigners everywhere to life, liberty,
and property. But we have no duty to protect them from dying, being raped,
robbed, or falsely incarcerated.
What then of Bush's claim that, although difficult to fulfill,
"Our country has accepted obligations that … would be dishonorable to abandon."
As philosopher David Conway has pointed
out, "People can have no duty severally or collectively to do what is impossible
for them to do." Since it's clear we are losing in Iraq (although it is entirely
possible Iraqis may win without us), one might add that persisting
in what is impossible to achieve constitutes a transgression against our sacrificed
soldiers and suffering taxpayers.
Those with messianic complexes should reconsider what is meant
by tikkun olam. Starting with the barefaced Thomas Friedman, Jews and
non-Jews alike have bastardized this beautiful, but modest, Jewish obligation.
In an attempt to lend spiritual credibility to hubristic insolence, Friedman
has praised Tony Blair for "always [leaving] you with the impression that for
him the Iraq war is just one hammer and one nail in an effort to do tikkun
olam, to repair the world."
Developed by the scholars and sages of a dispersed people,
tikkun olam was intended as a humble and modest thing – it is the duty
of the Jewish individual to help, bit-by-bit, to bring about a better world
in unassuming, day-to-day righteous acts.
The People's Voice Is Not God's Voice
If we don't "support the growth of democratic
movements and institutions in every nation and culture," and if we don't aim
to end "tyranny in our world," we're in big trouble, Bush declares. Why? Because
tyranny is the root cause of the terror campaign against us.
"For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and
tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence
will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended
borders, and raise a mortal threat."
Bush argues that tyranny abroad gives rise to the resentment
against us. The resentful say our meddling does. Who is right?
It seems irrational and exceedingly authoritarian to foist on others one's
own interpretation of their motivation. After all, they ought to know why they
do what they do. Furthermore, understanding the reasons for our enemies' hatred,
however unjustified we believe these are, is not tantamount to excusing their
But what is the excuse for our failure to translate real-life
observations into precautions that will protect American lives? Border protection
and immigration reform, for starters. These our politicians and their intellectual
enablers refuse to discuss. Instead, they prefer to blather on about root causes:
the old favorites poverty and ignorance, plus a new contender, lack of democracy.
Such explanations lend themselves conveniently to governmental intervention:
carrot or stick, foreign aid or foreign bombs.
root-causes thinking is clearly compatible with neoconservative philosophy.
Why wouldn't it be? Being both therapeutic and authoritarian, it offers countless
possibilities. We can patronize and pulverize.
Most important, root-causes thinking allows us to dismiss reason.
Our Demagogue-in-Chief insists that democracy will both empower and pacify
Muslims. He seems to have forgotten that democracy means majority rule. Democratic
elections across the Muslim world would see the pan-Islamists take power everywhere;
then elections would cease. It is impossible to see what democracy in Saudi Arabia,
Iraq, or Algeria (the last democratic vote there gave a majority to the Islamic
Salvation Front), for example, will do other than bolster the reign of
hatred and resentment.
Be careful what you wish for, Mr. President.