I’m Sure It Sounded Better In The Original German
You may have already seen the recent op-ed piece that Ralph Peters wrote for the New York Post on Howard Dean. If you haven’t, go read it; it’s an excellent case study in overheated rhetoric, shoddy logic, and poor argumentation. I used to have some respect for Ralph Peters, but this essay managed to put a halt to that situation pretty quickly.
I don’t mean to imply that it’s impossible to write an op-ed opposing Dean that I could respect. But I find it hard to believe that anyone could read this particular op-ed and come away from it with one’s opinion of the author enhanced.
Take, for instance, this little pearl of wisdom:
One secular gospel of the left preaches that the Patriot Act has drastically curtailed American freedom. Free speech, the teacup Trotskys claim, is a thing of the past.
Whenever one of my forlorn leftie pals raises the issue, I ask him or her to cite a single example of how the Patriot Act has limited their personal liberty. They never can. Instead, they rail about what-ifs and slippery slopes.
Ooh, I guess he’s got us! Since we can’t prove the Feds aren’t abusing their powers, we should just shut the hell up about laws that open the possibility that they could. Interesting.
On that theory, let’s take that same passage and put it in the Wayback Machine to 1933 Germany, swap in the hot legal issue of that time, and see how well the logic works:
One secular gospel of the left preaches that the Enabling Act has drastically curtailed German freedom. Political freedom, the teacup Trotskys claim, is a thing of the past.
Whenever one of my forlorn leftie pals raises the issue, I ask him or her to cite a single example of how the Enabling Act has limited their personal liberty. They never can. Instead, they rail about what-ifs and slippery slopes.
See? Nothing to worry about, citizen, move along! Never mind that the Enabling Act gave the Reichschancellor (a fellow named Hitler — you may have heard of him) the power to rule by decree, bypassing the legislature. Never mind that he used that power to push through laws abolishing all non-Nazi political parties, stripping Jews of their civil and human rights, dissolving local governments into the control of the central government, and legalizing the murder by the state of anyone deemed an enemy of the regime — all within two years of the passage of the Enabling Act, and all completely legally under German law, thanks to the Enabling Act.
Other than Hitler, who in 1933 could have pointed to the Enabling Act and known what was to come? If Herr Peters had been around to ask them, who could have opposed the Enabling Act with any arguments other than “what-ifs” and “slippery slopes”? And yet, those slopes turned out to be quite slippery indeed.
This has been the genius of the American people — they have understood that the key to holding on to freedom is not waiting for the secret police to show up at your door. You have to stand up for your liberties early on, precisely at the stage when most of the dangers are in the realm of the theoretical, because if you wait too long — if you wait, as Peters would have us do, for the day when every American is able to recite a list of which of their rights their government has trampled on — you have quite simply waited too long.
Yes, Ralph, Americans are upset about the PATRIOT Act. Mostly for real reasons, like its expansion of “sneak-and-peek” search warrants, or the way it lets immigrants be detained essentially forever without a hearing, or its expansion of Federal wiretap authority and limitation on judicial oversight, or the way it gives the FBI sweeping authority to pry into citizens’ privacy for any search they claim is related to “intelligence”; but also, yes, because we are determined not to slide down the slippery slope. We’re not going to wait to find out that someone has seized our records, or tapped our phones, or is coming to send us to Guantanamo Bay; since 1776, Americans have known the value of defending their liberty early and vigorously, rather than trusting the government to take care of it for them. It’s a shame that Ralph Peters is so blinded by his desire to find some issue, any issue, to take a swipe at Howard Dean with that he can’t seem to remember that.