Joseph McCarthy - McCarthy Hearings circa 1950
There is only approximately 13% of the U.S. population that was around and remembers first hand the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's. I am one of them and I remember being in high school and running home from high school to turn on the television and watch this man, Senator Joseph McCarthy, badger the suspected Communist Party sympathizers.
This simple man from the mild mannered state of Wisconsin was a master at casting a spell of fear over our country at that time. The Soviet Union and the followers of communist party beliefs were the dreaded enemy of the United States. He had us believing that communists were everywhere! They were infiltrating our lives from Hollywood to Moscow.
By the late '50's and early '60's with the help of the John Birch Society we began looking under our beds and being suspect of favorite family members. We had gone communist-hunting-crazy, we had become extremists, but as Barry Goldwater reminded us, it was not a vise, as long as it was in the defense of liberty.
Well fast forward forty years or so to the aftermath of 9/11 and the quick passage of the Patriot Act. America was caught by surprise, reportedly so, and in a state of fear that was even more intense then that of the McCarthy era. Fear can evoke extreme measures and clear thinking individuals may even patriotically acquiesce in defense of liberty.
The Obama Administration has declassified documents from the N.S.A. on its collection of phone call data on domestic calls in the United States. See New York Times article July31, 2011.
I mention this because today 87% of our population is under the age of sixty-four. I mention this also because our young population lives in an electronic world that didn't exist in the 1950's. Their lives are an open book as they Tweet, Facebook, text message and to a lesser degree email each other on an almost minute by minute basis daily.
The fact that our government monitors us bothers me because I am old-fashioned and I believe that the government does not have a right to snoop without just cause. When the Patriot Act was passed with its sweeping and broad powers it was an extreme measure and if the American people had not been scared motionless it should not have occurred.
Oh I know there are those of you who maintain that if you are not doing anything wrong why should you care? I care because I remember very clearly this man named Joe McCarthy and the number of lives his "extremism in the defense of liberty" that he turned upside down.
We have individuals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden who are paying a price for leaking information they believe should be known. And we have an individual Michael Hastings that may have been killed because of his belief that certain information should be leaked and reported on.
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no virtue, we need to be very careful about the kind of power we evoke when we are very afraid. Governments of all flavors flourish when they have the power and sadly our government is no different.