Steve Chapman

The administration ultimately rejected both options, possibly because it feared being overruled by the courts for violating the clear commands of the Constitution. But the advocates are not scrupulous about such obligations. They believe those have to be curbed to defuse dangers our shortsighted founders didn't foresee.

But they did. They just weren't willing to put public security above individual rights. "Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct," warned Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. "Even the most ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates." He and his colleagues designed the Constitution to avert that temptation.

The willingness to trample on rights rests on the dream of being utterly immune to our enemies. That fantasy was behind the invasion of Iraq, a faraway country with a puny military that posed no threat to the United States. It manifested a stubborn national impulse.

"For more than two centuries, America has aspired to a condition of perfect safety from foreign threats," wrote James Chace and Caleb Carr in their 1988 book, "America Invulnerable." But every time we complete a major effort to attain that security, we have "found ourselves exposed to a new array of foreign threats." The safer we are the more we yearn for protection.

The same holds for terrorism, foreign or homegrown. Americans are amazingly safe from these attacks, which are rare and getting rarer. But as we grow more secure, our tolerance for any remaining risk, or even any potential risk, gets smaller.

It's a losing game. We can't reduce the risk to zero no matter what we do. So we might as well maintain our liberties, muster our courage and take our chances. Because, as David Ortiz might say, it's our (expletive) Constitution.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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