One of the most encouraging fights happening in the Republican Party right now is the GOP-controlled House’s efforts to strip President Barack Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act of its indefinite detention provision. However, not everyone in the Republican establishment is pleased with the move. In a report last month, The Washington Times notes that House Republicans working to bring an end to the indefinite detention of terror suspects face a “conservative backlash.”
Facing a “conservative backlash?” Didn’t conservatives support the Patriot Act and pretty much all the other Draconian laws passed during the Bush years to “keep us safe?”
The Washington Times later adds, “Conservatives fear that the detention provision could result in unfettered power for the federal government, allowing it to detain American citizens indefinitely for even a one-time contribution to a humanitarian group that’s later linked to terrorism. They argue that would be a violation of long-held constitutional rights.”
Amen. Conservatives are supposed to fear government and want less of it. That’s the core point of being a conservative. Thankfully, Republicans in the House aren’t the only people who feel this way. Grassroots conservatives are up in arms as well.
While the Patriot Act allows foreign terror suspects to be arrested and held without trial, Obama’s NDAA allows American citizens to be arrested and held without trial if they are suspected of being terrorists. Obviously, anyone who had constitutional concerns about the Patriot Act should be doubly concerned about the NDAA. Yet many of the Democrats who were the most outspoken against Bush’s anti-constitutional measures — seriously, how do Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sleep at night? — are now silent as Obama signs even more troubling legislation. Just a few years ago, the Republican Party believed granting the federal government new police powers was being “tough on terror,” but today many of them are rightly frightened that the federal government is becoming too tyrannical.
This fear represents a GOP far more in tune with what traditional conservatives have always believed. There have always been both authoritarian and libertarian tendencies in the conservative movement, positions that are largely incompatible, and yet the philosophical contradictions are rarely discussed on the Right. Conservatives who want “law and order,” or perhaps enhanced protection from potential terrorist acts at all costs, are diametrically opposed — however little they realize it — with conservatives who believe constitutional protections and limits on government are of primary and vital importance. Authoritarian-minded conservatives whose top priority is a safe and risk-free society could — and would — create an Orwellian police state. But would this be America?
Libertarian-minded conservatives who understand that a free society involves some risk often find themselves on the defensive when they admit this obvious component of liberty. Those who value safety first often denounce libertarian arguments as “weak.” Those who value freedom first note that true liberty cannot afford guaranteed safety.
But there is a happy medium. It’s called the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution does not prevent us from having a strong national defense or security safeguards, but it does prevent the government from throwing its own citizens in jail without trial in the name of national defense and security safeguards.
The House Republicans who are now challenging the NDAA and indefinite detention represent a conservative movement that is rediscovering its traditionally conservative constitutional fidelity. This is the conservatism of Sen. Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan, not the right-wing authoritarianism of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that was mistaken for conservatism from 2001 to 2008.
And it is the Left that now becomes the most authoritarian. Once a critic of our foreign policy and highly questionable “national security” measures, Obama has signed into law an act so unconstitutional it makes Bush and Cheney look like ACLU lawyers. When signing the NDAA, Obama declared, “My administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.” So in other words, while Obama concedes that the NDAA does indeed give him the power to lock up citizens without trial indefinitely, we can trust him not to do it. I don’t trust him. I know few liberals who would have trusted Bush or Cheney with such powers either.
There are a good many liberals who oppose the NDAA and this Democratic president’s most recent violence against the Constitution. I applaud them. I also applaud the House GOP members who oppose NDAA for acting like conservative Republicans.
Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz on 1250 WTMA.
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