It’s not every day that there is something concrete you can do to save democracy in one powerful stroke and make sure your kids don’t come of age in an American in which we are no longer protected by the rule of law. I have been writing about the terrifying and precipitous assault on our liberties and our very system of checks and balances; I have crossed the country with this message — today I am in Boston — and I have heard across the nation that (as usual) the people are ahead of the leaders and the pundits. Americans of all backgrounds are alarmed and outraged and ready to take action against these vicious assaults on the rule of law. But what I hear again and again is: “What can we do?”
Here is what you can do, and it is big, big news. If we do this together in our millions we are safer; and if we fail to act we miss an historic opening and risk far worse to come.
There are two new organizations that are driving a grassroots push to restore the rule of law: the American Freedom Agenda was started by leaders who are conservative: Bruce Fein, who was a Reagan administration official in the Department of Justice, and others. The American Freedom Campaign was started by progressives. Both groups advance comparable 10 point legislative agendas that would stabilize democracy long enough for us to forestall the worst and regroup for more long-term reparation of the Constitution and the rule of law. Both would, if passed, protect Americans from the scary stories of abuse and recrimination I am hearing every single day — journalists intimidated, prisoners tortured, innocent citizens spied on by the State in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Both would make it illegal for any administration to commit the kinds of crimes against America and its constitution that we have seen under this one: the innocent lawyer Brandon Mayfield’s home broken into, the innocent software engineer Maher Arar kept prisoner by U.S. agents in an interrogation cell in a U.S. airport and prevented from calling his lawyer, and journalists reporting on abuses by the government threatened by the state with prosecution that could keep them in jail for a decade. Urgently it would close the horrific legal possibility for the president to call you or me an “enemy combatant” tomorrow — JUST BECAUSE HE SAYS SO — and lock us up in solitary confinement for years.
Passing the legislative agenda of either group would make it clear that American citizens — in spite of a heretofore craven and compliant Congress — refuse to stand by silently while a group of criminals systematically violates the core structure of the democracy our Founders put in place for us.
The big news is that this idea can now become a law and a law creates a reality.
On Monday, Rep. Ron Paul, the outsider Republican presidential candidate who has long upheld these values and who was an early voice warning of the grave danger to all of us of these abuses, introduced the AFA’s legislative package into Congress. (The mainstream press has an irrational habit of disparaging outsider candidates — as if corrupt money and machine endorsements equal seriousness of purpose — even though the Founders hoped that the system they established would lead citizens, ideally those unembedded in the establishment, to offer their service to the nation.) It is the American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007 [PDF], and you should read it in its entirety: just as accounts of the recent abuses send chills down your spine, this beautifully argued document feels historic and has the ring of great power to correct great injustice.
What does it do? According to an alert put out by the American Freedom campaign, it would accomplish the following:
“The American Freedom Agenda Act would bar the use of evidence obtained through torture; require that federal intelligence gathering is conducted in accordance with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); create a mechanism for challenging presidential signing statements; repeal the Military Commissions Act, which, among other things, denies habeas corpus to certain detainees; prohibit kidnapping, detentions, and torture abroad; protect journalists who publish information received from the executive branch; and ensure that secret evidence is not used to designate individuals or organizations with a presence in the U.S. as foreign terrorists.”
Ron Paul was the first of all the presidential candidates, red or blue, to step up in this way — and all credit is due to him for getting there first. May the others of both parties race to follow his lead. These days, as we have seen from how reluctant some candidates have been — even on the Democratic sign — even to sign a mere pledge to uphold the Constitution, it takes some courage to stand fast against the assaults of this administration — and their manipulations of the terms “patriotism” and “terror threat” — and insist with legislation on the Founders’ vision and on restoring democracy.
A groundswell of millions of Americans of all parties rising up to insist on passage of the AFA legislation means that we are awake — we get it — and that we assert that an alert citizenry, not a whipped-dog Congress or a violently abusive executive, decides what happens in this nation still. I am not a voter on his side of the ballot — but I will move heaven and earth to support the passage of this lifesaving agenda. (Interestingly when I run into Paul’s supporters — who are deeply alert to the abuses of democracy — and I demur by saying I am a Democrat, it is they who rightly assure me that these issues transcend party).
There is no way to overstate how crucial this piece of legislation is. We are at a turning point, and without the restoration of the rule of law the “blueprint” for what I have called a “fascist shift” — the closing down of democracy — calls for scarier recriminations against citizens, greater tightening of social controls — the ever-growing, disturbingly political TSA watch list is, alarmingly, due to go from the airlines’ administration to that of the TSA itself — and more corruptions of the electoral process. Blackwater is a truly terrifying wild card. Without the rule of law we will be powerless as each of these assaults on liberty continue to escalate. With it we can fight back.
This is the answer both to those who say “What we can do?” and to those who claim (actually, sometimes whine) “there is nothing we can do.” And if we don’t act on this now we will get the democracy we deserve — which is no democracy at all.
Put aside your partisan ideal world — sometimes issues simply transcend partisanship — and if ever there is an issue that is above and separate from party politics, it is the restoration of the democratic system we inherited. There are good people and passionate patriots across the political spectrum.
We at the AFC are putting out a call to pass this set of laws. Pick up the phone — every day. Email your representative — every day. Let them hear from millions of Americans a day. Let them hear from twenty. Please play hardball — the times demand it and nice girls and boys have managed to get this Congress to do literally nothing at all to protect liberty.
Congressmen and women say off the record that they can’t support liberty, much as they’d like to, because they are scared of “looking soft on terror” and they want to run out the clock — a naive and self-serving posture in a time of crisis. Make them more scared of you if they don’t. Tell them you will bombard their donors with the message that they have sold out liberty. Tell them you will denounce them as traitors to the Constitution in your local and regional letters to the editor and op-eds. Tell them they are unpatriotic to stand by while liberty is disemboweled. Tell them you will stop at nothing to ensure their future defeat unless they support this and make it the law of the land.
Let’s do it. There is no excuse now. The restoration of democracy is up to you — as the Founders intended it should be.