• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

In the wake of the attack on Sudan and Afghanistan, many people are
saying they support the president. I do not support the president. Let
me reiterate that — I do not support this president. I believe that
Bill Clinton should resign or be removed from office. And so do not
misconstrue anything I say about this latest action as support for Bill
Clinton, because as president he has already disqualified himself from
our support.

However, I believe that the action that was taken last week does
serve
the best interest of the country and, all other things being equal, we
should rally to support it. We should do so, among other reasons, so
that the terrorists of the world understand that nothing in our
situation domestically, and certainly not our necessary examination of
conscience and leadership when it comes to Bill Clinton’s problems, is
going to distract us from doing what is necessary to respond to their
heinous acts.

On the other hand, when people use these strikes as an excuse to
silence
criticism of the president, we need to call their position what it is –
namely, nonsense. These two things should have nothing to do with one
another, whatsoever.

Suggestions that we should refrain from criticizing the president’s
conduct because of the latest episode in our resistance to terrorism are
classic totalitarian bunk. It is the classic tactic of little tyrants
to stir up crises constantly, and then tell people that they have to
shut up while those crises are dealt with. This is a recipe for the
total suppression of all human rights and liberties. Any people wise
enough to preserve its freedom can see that, and therefore we need to be
careful not to go down that path.

But we also have to understand that the suggestion that criticism of
our
leaders is incompatible with national security is part of why terrorism
really does pose such a significant threat to us. Terrorism is not just
a threat to our physical lives; it is also a threat to our way of life,
because it is a threat to certain things that our way of life as a free
people requires.

For instance, I spent last weekend in the state of Iowa. I’m a
political person, sometimes, and I do this kind of thing. I talked to
people by the hundreds at the rallies we had. I addressed people in
Dubuque and I went to the state fair in Des Moines. All the political
leaders in this country do the same thing — we go out, we speak on
stages, we speak to people, we meet people, we are out mingling amongst
people, we talk back and forth. We are involved with and engaged with
the people of this country. And that is as it should be.

Now try to think what would happen to that process if, for instance,
a
terrorist group started systematically targeting political candidates in
America, and went from place to place killing them. They could do so
pretty much at random, because they would want only to raise a general
environment in which political candidates had to be afraid to step out
on stage. And by implementing that strategy, they could hope to force
us to abandon the open political process which characterizes the
relationship between our people and their candidates and their
representatives.

In and of itself, the necessary effort to defend against such a
terrorist threat could easily result in a fundamental and very negative
transformation of the tone and quality of our representative
government. That is why terrorism not only poses a threat to our
physical lives; it poses a threat to our way of life.

And we can already see this threat in various things that have
occurred
in the course of the years in which terrorism has become an increasing
threat — the security that must surround people in our government, the
security that must surround our government institutions, and the
increasing presence of physical barriers in our public places.

These barriers are meant to protect us against the terrorists. But
they
are also, in fact, barriers that symbolize growing walls between the
people and their representatives, and a growing separation between the
people and those who are elected to represent them. And that becomes a
symbol, I am afraid, of a growing separation into a separate and elite
class that ceases to be a representative class and becomes instead, a
political ruling class. Terrorism pushes us in that direction.

And we must remember that just as terrorism can be employed by our
external enemies in order to produce effects that destroy our way of
life, so the fear of terrorism could be exploited at home in order to
achieve the same result. Either way, as a direct threat or as a
manipulated fear, terrorism can result in things that undermine our
liberty.

This is the real nature of the terrorist threat. It is not just the
bombs that go off, and it is not just the physical lives that are
taken. It is the whole process of action and reaction that terrorism
sets in motion, gradually shutting down the processes of an open society
— closing the doors, building up the barriers, separating the leaders
from the people in ways that are incompatible with the maintenance of
the processes of our freedom.

We need to have leaders who understand this danger. When I look at
the
way that people sometimes talk about terrorism, I am not sure that they
do understand it. They have a tendency to be both superficial and
literal in dealing with threats like this, instead of thinking through
the fact that the ultimate threat is not to our physical life, but to
our free way of life.

If we can keep the ultimate stakes in the war against terrorism in
mind,
then I think we can achieve the necessary balance that dealing with it
requires — a necessary balance which will take decisive action in order
to show terrorists that we will not be intimidated, but that will also
preserve in every way possible the openness and liberty of our society.
We must not allow either foreign or domestic enemies to use terrorism as
an excuse to distort and shut down the processes of our freedom.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.