the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

January 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ben!


Today is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin. One of his most quoted statements (at least it’s probably his) is particularly appropriate nowadays:

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Of course Bush supporters claim that the liberty we’re giving up isn’t all that essential, but the real reason Franklin’s caution doesn’t exactly apply is that we’re not even getting temporary safety. We’re trading liberty for the illusion of safety. For an example, see the latest New York Times article about the administration’s illegal eavesdropping:

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans. […]

“We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism — case closed,” said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. “After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.”

The most important point about the eavesdropping program is that it’s illegal and an example of unchecked presidential power, since Congress prohibited such warrantless investigations. But it is worth noting that, as this story indicates, the program doesn’t even appear to have been effective in the goal of making us safer from terrorists.


  1. the goal of making us safer from terrorists

    I think even this is somewhat overgenerous to them.

    In this particular case, it may be that the actual goal (at least in the mind of the Bush administration) was to make us safer. But generally speaking, I think making us safer almost never comes into it.

    That’s not to say they don’t care AT ALL whether we live or die. If you were to make a list of their top 100 priorities, whether we live or die might come in as high as number 96. The problem arises when us living or dying conflicts with their 95 higher priorities, in which case we’ve got to go.

    Jon3:04 pm

  2. The “First Fruits” program targeting journalists I think is a good example of John’s point.

    StealthBadger10:12 pm

  3. True, Jon. I didn’t intend to ascribe the goal to anyone in particular, least of all the administration. I should have just written “the program apparently hasn’t even made us any safer from terrorists.”

    Keith10:56 pm

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