Monday, May 16, 2005

Fear Itself

" A new survey to be released Monday reveals a wide gap on many media issues between a group of journalists and the general public. In one finding, 43% of the public say they believe the press has too much freedom, while only 3% of journalists agree. Just 14% of the public can name “freedom of the press” as a guarantee in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in the major poll conducted by the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy."
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One of the essential paradoxes of a democracy is that the citizens of a democracy can freely choose to dismantle it. We haven't quite reached that point in America. The majority still accept the necessity of a free press and, beyond that, the courts have remained consistent in their defense of the press.

Be that as it may, when I see that such a large number of people are willing (and, perhaps, eager) to allow the government to curtail the press, I wonder. My concern is multiplied by the realization that prominent members of the legislative majority have been making calls to restrain the judiciary.

I believe that this is a perilous time. Fear has always been poisonous to democracy. FDR was not speaking hyperbolically when he said that the only thing we have to fear it fear itself. Since 9/11, we have been existing in a state of fear. We have an executive branch that has been actively capitalizing on that fear to advance its own ends. It is during such times as this that people are most willing to compromise their freedoms for the sake of perceived necessities. It is precisely at these times that we must be most strenuous in resisting these urges for comfort and safety at the expense of our precious freedoms. I fear the fearfulness of the people.

I would urge my American readers to stand up and speak out. When you hear coworkers, friends, neighbors and family suggesting that we should be willing to give up a little freedom in order to achieve a sense of comfort, do not be silent. Remind them that our freedom has been bought at a very steep price and that it dishonors those who died to grant us our rights if we cast those treasures aside so easily and timidly at the first hint of danger. Even more importantly, write to your representatives. Do not email them, write them and tell them, in your own words that you are not willing to sit idle while our Constitutional guarantees are eroded. Insist that they do their jobs as the stewards of our democracy.

Democracies can die suddenly or they can die the death of a thousand cuts. Let us keep ours from either fate.

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