The New Jersey governor’s remarks about growing concerns that the balance between security and liberty has shifted too much toward security were revealing in one respect. They suggest that he sees no trade-off between liberty and security at all. Christie is the walking antithesis of New Hampshire’s motto: “Live Free Or Die”. His view, it appears, is: “Live Unfree Or Die”.
There is, of course, a solid argument for tilting the balance in favor of security over liberty. That’s why I couldn’t quite muster the outrage of many of my libertarian and liberaltarian friends about PRISM. Too much relaxation of security could lead to a successful attack which could make future defense of pre-9/11 liberty even harder to defend. This is a tough area, especially for those of us not privy to intelligence about various threats. But there is none of this in Christie’s remarks, and I fear that this is one of his hallmarks – total, black-and-white certainty in areas where gray is inherently the dominant color. Note also the anti-intellectual populism at work:
“These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have. The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put …”
He stopped himself at that point for some reason. But look: it’s a very strange thing for a Republican to call constitutional rights “esoteric”.
They aren’t. They’re basic. In a democracy, they are as core a set of values as we have. To reduce the difficult trade-off between preventing terror and maintaining civil liberties to a stark conversation with the victims of 9/11 is to load the emotional dice so heavily you are dismissing the entire debate as worthless. It’s Cheney-esque.
Then there’s this canard:
“President Obama has done nothing to change the policies of the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. And I mean practically nothing,” he said. “And you know why? Cause they work.”
We now know that the central anti-terrorism policy of the Bush administration was a program of brutal, indiscriminate torture of suspects. The second pillar was the invasion and occupation of two countries for a decade. Obama has abolished the former and, by the end of his term, will have ended both wars, whose consequences are still being felt in a bankrupted federal government, a wave of terrorist blowback and a collapse of America’s global credibility and moral standing.
The silver lining in this is that, for the first time in a while, these unreconstructed Cheney-style bromides are being challenged within the GOP, by Senator Paul in particular. And on a core question in our democracy – do we sacrifice our core liberties because of a network of religious terrorists? – we now know where Christie stands. Against freedom. And for his own power.
(Photo: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images.)