The greatest threats to American liberty do not originate in the war rooms of foreign states or in the caves of central Asia, but in Washington D.C., where an odious bipartisan consensus is constantly scheming to erode the most fundamental precepts of the Constitution. Two consecutive presidents of different parties have assumed more and more power in the name of fighting terrorism, as a craven Congress has eagerly obliged. Most Americans seem willing to accept this trade-off of liberty for the illusion of security, while those who should care most about this sinister development — libertarians and progressives — find themselves on distinct sides of the ideological divide, mostly over economic issues. Libertarians seek less government involvement in this respect, while progressives favor interventions on behalf of economic fairness. But if the assault on civil liberties is to have any chance of being repelled, all true libertarians and true progressives must cast aside their differences on economic matters in order to prevent the continued destruction of liberty at home and to stop the prosecution of endless war abroad.
There are frauds in both camps, unfortunately. Some self-described progressives who vehemently opposed the Bush administration’s use of the PATRIOT Act are nowhere to be found now that Obama has asked for and received extensions of that legislation. They decried Bush’s war of choice in Iraq while heartily approving of Obama’s against Libya. They attacked Bush’s use of drones while ignoring or even defending Obama’s. Others, who genuinely lament the siege on civil liberties and the expansion of executive power, justify supporting Obama by raising the specter of a Republican presidency and explain just how awful that would be.
Yes, it would be awful, but by relegating civil liberties to a matter of only peripheral importance, they become of no importance at all and the bipartisan consensus is thus perpetuated. The problem with some self-described libertarians is much the same but in reverse.
So what issues can libertarians and progressives agree on? Here are just a few:
5) No wars that haven’t been declared or authorized by Congress. The Constitution explicitly states that Congress shall have the power to declare war.
4) No wars of choice. Being a global superpower, one would think the U.S. enjoys unprecedented security. It does, but that hasn’t stopped a parade of presidents from scouring the earth in search of enemies. The Vietcong, Latin American drug lords, socialists in Grenada, a ragtag Iraqi army, among others, have found themselves in the crosshairs of American guns, though they posed no great threat to the U.S.
3) No more supporting dictators. Aside from the immorality of propping up anti-democratic leaders, this support does not go unnoticed by the subjects of said dictators, creating resentment among the populations. The U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, whose royal despots it has supported for decades, was a key grievance of Osama bin Laden and an important recruiting tool.
2) Every citizen is entitled to due process. In delineating rights, the Constitution does not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens. But many constitutional protections that the government refuses to afford non-citizens are being refused to citizens as well. American citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi were held for years without charge by George W. Bush. Another U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki was outright assassinated by President Obama, who has refused to release information that would supposedly tie him to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His reason was essentially, “Trust us. He was a bad guy.” The fact that Awlaki was deemed a threat by a secret president-appointed panel does nothing to justify the act from a legal standpoint. And even if Obama had disclosed all kinds of incriminating information against Awlaki, that still wouldn’t change the fact that he’s entitled to due process.
1) Everyone is equal before the law. Sadly, this is now a controversial maxim. The U.S. has become a nation whose law is, as the title of Glenn Greenwald’s great book says, “With Liberty and Justice for Some.” Today, political and financial elites enjoy a degree of immunity from justice in America that would horrify the framers of the Constitution. Government officials who ordered torture and warrantless wiretapping, for example, not only go unpunished but aren’t even investigated. On Wall Street, massive amounts of mortgage fraud, foreclosure fraud, and general financial malfeasance go unpunished from a criminal standpoint. Not one banker has been charged in connection with the crash. If you think that’s because no one broke the law, there’s a vacation package to Atlantis I’d like to sell you.
There are others of course, and I invite you to add ones not included here in the comments.