The BBC recently reported that “Mr. Bush has decided that FISA was too cumbersome an instrument” and that it could not keep up with the rapid demands of the war on terror. Beyond the Patriot Act, our president is making yet another move to extend executive power under the justification of security for the American People. As I am sure many astute people have already pointed out, there is an irony at work in Bush’s actions, and we Americans seem all to willing to go along with it. The question I think we need to ask ourselves is: what is it that we are trying to secure? The generic answer is “The American Way”, which is commonly understood as a society based upon a government that secures the rights of its citizens against the tyranny that rises from the concentration of political power. Little by little, however, we seem to be allowing infringement upon our civil rights for the sake of security. If left unchecked, one potential result from all this will be a safe and secure America, but at the expense of the freedom that we endeavored to secure in the first place.
Bush’s impatience with FISA as well as his impatience in general has a haunting quality about it, for history has shown that dictators are impatient with political restraints, and that they are enabled to arrest power by exploiting the fears and impatience of fellow citizens. By pushing to obtain more power Bush is demonstrating an inability to see himself in the mirror of history, he is failing to reflect upon his current course of action in light of history’ stern lessons. Moreover, all of us Americans will be complicit in his actions for our failure to voice our concerns about the freedoms we are losing. Honestly, I think that we are insensitive to the meaning of what’s happening before our eyes. In part I think this insensitivity comes from the nature of political rights which are largely abstract and intangible. Thus it is hard to have an immediate sense of loss when they are diminished or taken away. Also, many of us live our lives within boundaries where we don’t readily see how such rights protect us, and so when our rights are diminished we are able to live without feeling the effect of such losses. To come at this from another angle, if the executive branch was to issue an order that the American people could no longer shop at Walmart, and had to shop at Target, or if we were told that we could no longer drink Pepsi and had to drink Coca-Cola, then we might see an uprising and response that would be appropriate to the circumstances we are currently facing. We Americans would be more sensitive to this kind of restriction because our lives are more oriented upon consumerism than upon citizenship. If this is not the case, then why is dissent not more common among the American public?
In saying all of this, I want to be careful not to create a caricature of Bush. As is common to human existence, I imagine that he is subject to complex forces and motivations, at least some of which I believe to be good. Honestly, I don’t think Bush is conniving to become a dictator. I do think, however, there is something askew in his thinking. If I was to take a shot in the dark, I would say that he lacks the kind of humility that is appropriate to people in his position of power, a kind of humility that would give him more patience, and prompt him to think more deeply about nuances and complexities, as well as the ambiguous nature of justice and righteousness in a fallen world. Of course all of this is related to Bush’ worldview, which as a Christian is related to his theology, which is something that begs for a critical analysis. I will save that, however, for “Bush Part II”.