An incredible amount of attention this week has been focused on the Obama Administration and the recent scandals that have already tainted the president’s second term. The IRS last week admitted to unfairly singling out certain conservative groups applying for tax exempt status, arguably fortifying what many far-right conservatives have said for months about being targeted for political reasons.
Waters were muddied a little more earlier this week, when the Associated Press accused the Department of Justice of secretly obtaining the personal and work phone records of AP reporters – action the AP says was an unjust overreach of government that infringed on the news agency’s first amendment right to report news. According to the AP, records gathered are part of the DOJ’s investigation of a leak related to the foiling of a terrorist plot in Yemen a year ago, which Attorney General Eric Holder called a “serious leak” that “put the American people at risk.”
In the midst of all this, liberals and conservatives have engaged in an outbreak of finger pointing. One need look no further than The Evening Sun’s ‘30 Seconds’ reader reaction page to see the varied responses, some calling for impeachment of the president while others still blame George W. Bush for the Patriot Act. But regardless of any political standing, be it to the left or the right, these two incidents – in my opinion - bring to light a more pressing matter that transcends political discontent and pits national security against the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. In my mind, these two scandals bring up a philosophical question: Is the concern for public safety more important than the protection of civil rights?
My personal answer is simply, no. In most respects, I agree with the idea that if we restrict liberty in exchange for enhanced security, then we risk losing both (to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin ... I think). Both the IRS and the Department of Justice are guilty of violating this ideal and as federal agencies operating under the Obama administration, they should be pursued – something I know is easier said than done, partly due to the number of single-minded people at both ends of the political spectrum, each end equally quick to judge; and partly because of the amount of biased information portrayed through most news outlets (which, mind you, are organizations that are in the business of selling news).
But in fairness, questioning the value of national security and civil rights is a tough debate, like asking someone to give up either an arm or a leg. On one hand, a nation can not thrive with a persistent fear of violence. It only seems rational that life should be protected at all costs. But on the other hand, a successful democracy also depends on the guarantee of civil rights. Because both are equally valid points, it almost doesn’t seem reasonable to believe national security and civil rights shouldn’t exist hand in hand.
Even so, I hold to my initial belief. Rights such as those violated by both the IRS and the Department of Justice should be valued more than any vague sense of “national security,” as stated by the Department of Justice. And as investigations into these two matters move forward and continue to stall any hope of progress from the White House and Capitol Hill, I only hope the values regarding civil rights are taken more into consideration.
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