"Man is conceived in sin and born into corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something." -From Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men."
As homeland security heats up and federal officials consider extending the government's plans to -oh, let's just go ahead and say it - spy on Americans, patriotic citizens who value civil liberties might want to start practicing a few words that could prove useful in the coming weeks and months: "Not no, but hell no."
They should start saying it soon and loudly in the direction of Washington, D.C., as a new domestic surveillance plan takes shape at the Pentagon. Officials there are in the process of researching a program, titled "Total Information Awareness," that should send chills down Americans' spines.
If implemented, TIA would permit the federal government to gather and collate all sorts of personal data in the name of national security. Big Brother, no longer a fictional character in a scary futuristic sci-fi novel, would know where you go, with whom you chat and e-mail, what Web sites you visit, where you travel, eat and sleep. And did I mention "with whom"?
Not that you or I have anything to hide.
Unfortunately, Americans correctly fearful of terrorist attacks (they're coming any day now, we're constantly told), are complacently willing to surrender all manner of personal freedoms in order to be safe. Law-abiding citizens, after all, have nothing to fear. The government is after the bad guys and we have to give up a little personal freedom in the process of being safe, right?
All together now: Not no but …!
Unfortunately, that's not what Americans are saying. For the most part Americans are nice, cooperative people who don't want to cause trouble. They want to get along and be helpful. So we trip all over ourselves to avoid saying the obvious -that we're being spied on, Stalinized and slowly robbed of everything that's worth defending -and trust that America will be more or less the same when we wake up tomorrow.
But tomorrow is yesterday and already America is not the same. Incrementally, we've grown accustomed to invasions of privacy that we wouldn't have tolerated before Sept. 11, 2001. Until then, we knew what the limits of government should be. We knew, for example, that when security inspectors at the New Orleans airport started running their hands over blond women's breasts to make sure their bra underwires weren't really explosive devices that someone was stepping over the line.
Note to flat-chested (I mean, mammary-minimalist) brunettes: Your day has arrived.
Two women with whom I recently had dinner, both well-endowed blondes, recounted being pulled aside at the airport and manually inspected, literally hands-on. More disturbing to me than the free grope was the women's benign acceptance of life's little inconveniences.
"They were nice about it," said one. Oh, well, OK then.
"They're just doing their job," said another. Silly me.
And this from one of the un-mauled -"I say if the boobs bleep, wand 'em."
Now I get it. If they don't feel us up, the terrorists win.
In other words, post-9-11, we know nothing. It's as though the terrorist attacks erased the "Civil Liberties" file from our national memory banks. When federal security agents physically harass people who are clearly not terrorists in furtherance of the random-search hoax, we blithely submit because, well, that's the way it is. We have no choice.
Precisely. They have guns and our nail clippers. We have blondes with underwires. They have the force of the federal government; we have too few cowboys, if you ask me. Anyone displaying a "hell no" attitude, once an admired American trait, is suspect.
Not to be paranoid, but how much longer before such words are deemed suspect, too? Ah, but that could never happen in the United States because we have the First Amendment. True, but we also have the Fourth: "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."
I guess it all depends on what your definition of "reasonable" is. Stay tuned.
The slow but steady progression from national security to TIA has been insidiously sinister if not necessarily intentional. I don't believe, in fact, that George W. Bush and John Poindexter, the TIA's Dr. Frankenstein, sat down and mapped out a strategy for stripping Americans of their privacy and personal freedoms.
Yet experience tells us that freedoms once lost are difficult to regain and that government policies once in place take on lives of their own. If ever there were a time for a pre-emptive strike, this is it. Best to say "Hell no" before it's no longer permissible to protest.