Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

'Freedom isn't for the timid'

Watching Dick Armey walk away as Senate majority leader leaves me with mixed emotions. The crusty Texan, a 17-year veteran of Congress, has sometimes been backward in social issues. On the other hand, you have to smile at a guy on a Congressional salary who used to sleep on a cot in his office because he was too cheap to rent a room.

I have to take my hat off to Armey, however, for his stands on freedom and privacy issues. If it weren't for his efforts, the government would right now be recording your every Internet move, along with a frightening array of attempted inroads on personal freedoms that he has stopped or fought to cut back.

Armey's retirement speech last week was such a stirring warning that I'd like to share some of it with you. If citizenship in this country came with an operator's manual, the last three paragraphs of Dick Armey's goodbye should be the required reading. Here it is:

"I believe that we must now recommit ourselves to what I consider to be the greatest promise of America. We must recommit ourselves to that promise... 'Secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.'

"The blessings of liberty, personal, individual right, is what America's about and what sets America aside. I believe those blessings of liberty are at peril in America today. I believe we are in danger of having liberty crowded out by what seems to be another, more urgent concern, and that is the concern for personal safety.

"America has always been a marvelous nation. I always say it. We have always loved freedom so much that we have been willing to sacrifice our peace to defend the freedoms of others. No other nation ever did that.

"And in doing so historically, we have always had the luxury of sitting safely here at home in America and sending our heroes abroad to fight for freedom.

"But today we face an insidious threat that comes right into our neighborhood. We live with it every day, this threat of terrorism. Our need, our anxiety about personal security is at a level that we've never seen before in America, and for the first time in America we call upon ourselves, each and every single one of us, to be a hero for freedom right here at home where I live, in my community.

"And so the courage of America is being called upon more than at any time in my lifetime. And what I fear I hear is an echo chamber of voices in America that are saying, 'Give us greater dominion over your personal liberties and we will make you secure.'

"Now, I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, we'll be safe if we have a cop on every corner. We will be safe if we have a spy camera in every hall. We'll at least be safer. We will be safer if we have an elaborate system by which we, in the ordinary business of life, spy on one another and report it to the proper authorities. We will probably be safer if we have a national identification card. We may be safer, in fact, if we could snoop on the Internet and read everybody's e-mail.

"There are many authorities that we can extend to the government of this country that'll make us safer. But will we be free?

"We seek a balance on this. We worked hard on that with the PATRIOT Act. We worked hard on that with homeland security. And I think in terms of the law that has been written, we've cut a fine line that respects our freedom in the interest of our safety.

"But our freedom will only last through the implementation of these laws. And once again we are restored to that oldest adage: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

"We, the people, had better keep an eye on we, the people; that is, our government. Not out of contempt or lack of appreciation or disrespect, but out of a sense of guardianship. How do you use these tools we have given you to make us safe in such a manner that'll preserve our freedom?

"That is a duty to our very essence as a nation. Who we are, what is it about us that has set us apart in the history of the world is our love for freedom.

"As I said earlier, freedom is no policy for the timid. And my plaintiff plea to all my colleagues that remain in this government as I leave it is, for your sake, for my sake, for heaven's sake, don't give up on freedom."