In his appearance before Congress urging adoption of a new Cabinet-level office of Homeland Security, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned: "There remain sleeper terrorists and their supporters in the United States who have not yet been identified in a way that will allow us to take pre-emptive action against them." He promised to be sensitive to concerns about civil liberties. "For those who say we have to make a choice between liberty and security, I always want to say: Liberty is what we're securing. If we're not securing liberty we've got our eyes on the wrong objective."
Fair enough. I am not especially worried about the use this president will make of these extraordinary powers. But President Bush will not be in office forever. Extraordinary powers over time (if not formally limited) tend to become ordinary ones. The history of liberty is largely the history of the observance of procedural safeguards. The existence of so many bogus civil liberty concerns should not blind us to real ones.
The rule we lay down now, in this emergency, will (absent thoughtful efforts to prevent it) become the rules for the indefinite future, the new American values.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.