Every four years, when a presidential election comes lumbering into view, some tiny, precious percentage of the talk that vomits out of the television turns to actual policy. Among the endless blather about personality and character, and amid the steady stream of attacks and lies, there is some small bit of information that attempts to define how a particular person will actually govern. It’s helpful, for those that can fish it out of the torrent of muck, in picking who you would like to see steering the ship of state for a while. An understanding of policy is vitally important in making an informed choice.
And this is the first election where I don’t care about it at all.
For the first time in my life, policy is playing no role in who I’m going to vote for come November. Before, it was always an over-riding factor: Who has the better plan? Who has the better tools? Who will get us to where we all want to be, smoothly and safely?
But this year, something more profound is at play. This year, for the first time in my life, I feel like those in power have fundamentally different goals than I do, not only in means, but in ends. I’ve disagreed with dozens, even hundreds, of policies of previous administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, but always felt as if they were just details, to be worked out politically. They’re the standard back-and-forth of a functioning society. Policy is the tool used to head towards where we all want to be. I can live with policy, even those I don’t agree with.
But this year is different.
9/11, the saying goes, changed everything. But it shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t have changed what this country is fundamentally about, and what we fundamentally believe. It should have reaffirmed it, not only in patriotic bumper stickers and American flags, but in our hearts. We believe in our principles, we could have said to the world, no matter what you do.
George Bush chose a different road. Instead, he began sacrificing those principles, in ways great and small, for political gain. He has used the tragedy of that day to change not only how we as a nation are moving, but where we are headed. And that saddens and frightens me more than I can say.
Anonymous, indefinite detentions; warrentless surveillance; Total Information Awareness; pre-emptive war. This is the record of the Bush Administration, of its fundamental capitulation of the principles of this nation. Lines, hundreds of lines, are being crossed; some tentatively, some enthusiastically; some overtly and some in secret. And each transgression chips away at the foundation of what this country is and what it stands for.
And that is profoundly wrong. These are important, even sacred, lines; ideals and philosophies that people died to defend. These are lines that define us as a nation and as a people. They are not tools of policy and they are not debatable. No “safety” can mitigate this betrayal, no “security” can sooth this loss.
Here’s something I haven’t seen said in a long time: The principles that this country were founded on are more important than the country itself. I would rather see the Constitution preserved than the nation. I would rather fight for what we believe in and lose tomorrow than see the United States of America last a thousand years at the cost of our values. Because our principles cost lives, and as soon we are no longer willing to pay that bill, then we’re just another Hobbesian nightmare, waiting our turn on the ash heap. Every sacrifice we make “to protect our freedom” becomes the sacrifice of a piece of our soul.
The Bill of Rights is worth three thousand lives — even three thousand innocent lives. More than worth it. It’s worth my life. It’s worth yours. It’s worth the lives of the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people who have died to defend it in the past two hundred and thirty years. It worth all of it, and more. The defense of the Constitution is the most profound act that any citizen can undertake, and any attack on the Constitution — no matter the motivation — the most fundamental treachery.
For George Bush to sacrifice any of the rights of that document in the name of “safety,” of “security,” should automatically disqualify him from the office he seeks to retain. It is not a question of policy, but of the national soul.
And whatever else the people of this country achieve in however long it survives, none will match our founding document. Because it is not just a thing, but an idea, and a transcendent idea at that. It has made everything else possible. And if you start to chip away at that foundation — for whatever reason, no matter how noble the cause — there’s really no reason to keep what’s built on it. Because it will be a structure created on sand and dust and failure. It can’t survive, and doesn’t deserve to.
Policy will not play into my decision who to vote for this year, because we are past policy. We are past politics. This is a fight for the fundamental principles of this country, the fundamental ideas. And I refuse to let our uniqueness, our place in history, our greatness be murdered at the alter of fear and expedience.