May 10, 2010
"The chief purpose of government is to protect life. Abandon that and you have abandoned all." Thomas Jefferson
One of the most compelling arguments made by the Federalists in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution was that a strong central government was necessary to provide for a robust and common defense of the security and liberty of American citizens. From that point forward, it has been understood that the preservation of the people's safety and the protection of their lives and property is Job One of the federal government. Recently, however, our leaders in Washington appear to have lost sight of this crucial duty. Two current national problems highlight this lack of focus and clarity of vision more than any other: The response of our government to increased threats from Islamic terrorists, and its response to the crisis unfolding along our porous southern border.
News of the recently failed terror attack in Times Square has proved unsettling, not just to New Yorkers but to all Americans. Thanks to the decisive action of an observant street vendor (and the incompetence of the would-be bomber), authorities were notified and disaster was averted. Despite some initial confusion, the identity of the culprit was determined and he was apprehended at JFK airport - having successfully boarded a flight to Dubai despite the fact that he was on the federal no-fly list and had been placed under surveillance, due to suspicious activity that included the abandonment of his home and family and a mysterious trip to Pakistan.
The similarity of this scenario with that of the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day 2009 is striking: A lone agent trained by and acting on behalf of a terrorist network based half a world away manages to evade detection long enough to execute an attack thwarted only by his own ineptitude. In both cases the government had identified the individual in question as a threat to national security but failed to act until it was almost too late.
There is every reason to believe that there will be more such attempts in the future. American lives were spared on Christmas Day and in Times Square not because of the decisive action of our Federal government, but because of sheer luck. How long can this luck hold out before one of these attempts is successful?
After the devastating terror attacks on 9/11, a major criticism was that government security and law enforcement agencies had failed to connect the dots - failed to identify and act upon the growing threat from Islamic extremists bent on the destruction of America. Almost a decade later, we appear to be hesitant to connect those same dots for fear of appearing "reactionary," "xenophobic," or "racist." The Federal government appears to be more afraid of being branded "politically incorrect" than of being ineffective in thwarting threats posed by Islamo-Fascists. Our leaders in Washington seem to have lost focus on the first duty of government, which is to protect the lives and liberty of its citizens. Assuring Americans that there need not be a "false choice" between protecting America and upholding her values, on the subject of terrorism the President continues to spin his well-oiled rhetorical wheels while the Attorney General stonewalls and obfuscates. These responses are poor substitutes for getting the job done.
Political correctness has also paralyzed the federal government's protection of the security of our borders. This was most recently evidenced by its response to Arizona's new immigration enforcement legislation. Secretary of Homeland Security (and former AZ governor) Janet Napolitano joined with President Obama in calling the measure "misguided," and insisted that a comprehensive federal immigration policy is the preferred solution to our nation's illegal immigration woes. The President has even called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the constitutionality of the law.
It most certainly is the federal government's responsibility to secure America's borders, but Washington has failed miserably in the discharge of that duty. And it is the federal government's gross dereliction of duty that prompted the State of Arizona to act. Does the Obama Administration seriously maintain that when the federal government abdicates its central responsibility of protecting the lives, liberty, and property of its people that the states are unable to take up the slack? Must state governments remain inert in the face of growing dangers while the Pooh-Bahs on the Potomac wring their hands over the most politically correct approach to dealing with terrorists and illegal aliens?
In this age of out-of-control spending, outrageous earmarks, and the funding of bridges to nowhere, the federal government has adopted a dangerously nonchalant attitude with regard to its first and most sacred commission: To establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. The fulfillment of these obligations should not be compromised for the sake of political self interest or sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. The United States of America is a sovereign nation whose borders are being infiltrated and its citizens threatened by a cast of characters that includes would-be terrorists, drug smugglers, and human traffickers. The American people should be able to look with confidence to their leaders in Washington to address these dangerous security breaches with swiftness and determination. Instead, we get an Administration and Congress more concerned with universal health insurance and caps on carbon emissions.
Something has gone terribly awry and priorities have become badly skewed. Heaven forbid that we have to undergo another tragedy like 9/11 before the government regains its focus and puts the safety and security of its citizens at the forefront of its priorities.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of "Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty" He is also Chairman of the Center for a Just Society.