04/07/2006 12:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death: Under the National Security State

If there is a consistent theme in the national security state under President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the post 9 /11 world, it is this: The citizens of the United States must give up some of the constitutional rights bequeathed by the Founding Fathers until and unless the U.S. has succeeded in eliminating every al Qaeda cell (and every other enemy that might be characterized as "terrorist") in the global war on terrorism.

When they taunt us with the mantra of "Had you rather fight them over there, or here at home?" unwittingly this arrogant Administration is laying the groundwork for destroying our system of government in order to save it! With distinct echoes of McCarthyism, they knowingly challenge the patriotism of those who oppose their war policies by asserting that we must choose security over liberty.

The White House would rule by holding up the specter of an unending war against an invisible enemy in every part of the world -- and under every peach basket here at home! They would lend undeserved nobility to their deranged leadership by equating the challenge today to that faced by America in the contest with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

Alas, today there is no John F. Kennedy to affirm that we can be "neither Red nor Dead" but "alive and free." There is no Dwight D. Eisenhower to warn of the octopus-like influence of a military-industrial-intelligence complex. That is, there is no national leader to cause us "to get a grip," weigh American values in the balance, and avoid going off the deep end in a quest for total security.

Appallingly, neither Bush nor Cheney in their political evolution have demonstrated that they assimilated the "civic religion" encapsulated in the Constitution, as amended. It includes not only checks and balances between separated institutions sharing powers, but also the protecton of freedom of speech and assembly afforded the people against the government.

SOMETHING WENT WRONG in the civic education of these men. The Presidency is no place to later absorb an appreciation of democratic, republican government. Thus, they mislead the people, lie to them, and break the law -- without losing a step.

We are being lectured that "the stakes are too high," in a world full of terrorists, to risk not sacrificing a few essentials. Well, this kind of patriotism is cheap and ignorant; the last resort of a wannabe imperial presidency. And there is that other worn-out slogan: "we must learn to fight fire with fire."

However, we have recent experience that our system of government is not so fragile, and is more resilient, in the face of great danger. After all, with the Cold War as a backdrop, there was widespread opposition to the waging of the Vietnam War; there were impeachment proceedings that led to a presidential resignation; and widespread surveillance and black-bag jobs against American citizens, by various intelligence agencies, were exposed under the leadership of Sen. Frank Church. (Sen. Gary Hart served on that extraordinarily courageous committee.) Through all this, over a period of five years, constitutional government held firm -- as will be the case in the burgeoning censure debate which may turn into an impeachment move after the November elections.

Over and over again, the public was warned by the White House, in the early 1970s, that to oppose the war, to undermine the Presidency, or to rifle through the deepest and darkest secrets of government skulduggery, was to "tie our hands" and give aid and comfort to the enemy. Secrecy was employed as a means of protecting those in power.

It was the constitutional balances among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches -- and civil liberties -- that delivered this country from threats to our system of government from within.

In weighing the competing risks today, the choice is clear for this citizen: liberty over security when we are saddled with a secretive and deranged set of leaders. EVEN IF it means that every single al Qaeda cell in this country is not rolled up! Or, sure enough, our enemies will have won. For the United States to reafirm its primal values at home is to be safer in the world we live in.