July 12, 2020

Beware the deceptive slogan

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Beware the deceptive slogan

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Beware the deceptive slogan. In the wake of the revelations about government tracking of personal communications, there is a resurgence of the phrase: “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” It is a mantra repeated over and over with the repeaters not comprehending that they are spouting the words of fascism.

In 1875, Karl Marx wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” It sounded good, but it formed the basis of one of the worst political systems the world has ever known: communism. A similar sounding, but beneficial phrase is that “we are our brother’s keeper.” The first phrase undermines incentive by instituting equality of outcome; the second phrase encourages incentive by implying equality of opportunity and the duty of the successful to aid the needy.

But, let us return to the “If you have done nothing wrong” fallacy. This is countered by Martin Niemoller’s famous mantra: “First they came for (fill in the blank) and I didn’t speak out, then they came for . . ., then they came for . . ., then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The fact is that a democracy governed by the rule of law and the guarantee of minority rights must protect the ultimate minority: the individual. President Barack Obama believes we have a constitutional right to privacy, and this is widely accepted, but it has yet to be codified in the Constitution even though some legal scholars claim it is inherent in the 14th Amendment. Meanwhile, the country trudges along, swaying back and forth on the subject, and nothing makes this fact more evident than Obama’s own conflict with himself.

Here, the president asserts a right to privacy while defending the government’s right to track our private communications. He explains the dichotomy by claiming that tracked messages can only be read by the government when a court order is granted. And for the sake of national security, this may be necessary. If so, it is equally necessary to establish a constitutional baseline, an unequivocal amendment establishing a right to privacy that defines precisely what that right does and does not entail.

But to continue as we are is to swing from the extremes of President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, who with pre-World War II naivety said, “Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail,” to Nixon era Watergate abuses of government-sanctioned break-ins. Presumably, Stimson changed his views once hostilities began in Europe and he became President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of War.

And just as Stimson witnessed a changing world’s increasing complexity, our world has become so much more complex that he would not recognize it any more than the Founding Fathers would. They did their best, but they were not omnipotent, and it is for us to resolve the issue of privacy in the modern world.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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