It is always fascinating to hear a longing expressed for the American government to rekindle the sort of unity it displayed after 9/11. That this statement is often mouthed by self-described conservatives is disturbing to say the least. For years after the September 11th attacks, Republicans have cynically played the “national security” trump card to ensure their own version of raw government power was able to be unquestionably wielded.
Despite denouncing Democrats for instituting their nanny state measures and own version of draconian intervention by the State into our private lives, post-9/11 Republicans were more than happy to embrace drastic police state measures which torched constitutional protections as much as any handout promoted by a liberal politician. On domestic policy, Democrat politicians never failed to capitalize on each heart wrenching story of the uninsured to make the case for universal health coverage. But on foreign policy, Republicans, particularly those carrying the banner of the militaristic, post-9/11 brand, were just as willing to trot out some injustice needing correction by the federal government. But in their version of conservative statism, this manifested itself in the form of a select dictator that needed toppling or some country which needed the entire fabric of its society to be uprooted; to make it safe for “democracy,” of course. Even worse, the police state conservatism that reared its unwanted head following September 11th was not content to simply invade and socially engineer foreign lands; occupations which illustrated that many Republicans forgot that government intervention overseas ends with the same unpredictable results which intervention at home causes.
Ranking as one of its most heinous contributions, the state of apprehension that defined our daily lives in late 2001 and early 2002 produced its crowning domestic achievement with the Orwellian named “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” The Patriot Act, for us common folk.
If not for the fearful environment that understandably descended on America after the 9/11 attacks, such a behemoth piece of legislation would never have been accepted by American’s normally vigilant citizens. The same outrage which was shown towards the Obamacare health care monstrosity should have been meted out towards this bill, but, in typical Rahm Emanuel fashion, the previous administration was unwilling to let a crisis “go to waste.” Reflecting on an atmosphere where too many Americans were willing to accept massive government intrusions into their private lives in exchange for feeling “safe,” it is curious that so many conservatives often make positive statements when reflecting on this time in our history.
The recent uprising among House Republicans which temporarily blocked extension of several of the Patriot Act’s key provisions would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. But the mind set is changing, as our current Tea Party atmosphere has caused many conservatives to realize that battling unbridled government intervention is critical in both the domestic and overseas sphere. Simply attaching the word “terrorism” or “national security” to legislation is no longer enough to placate conservatives who were previously willing to excuse massive excesses when these phrases were included. No longer willing to be bullied by the GOP leadership into accepting restrictions on privacy for some imprecise promise of safety, insurgent constitutional conservatives are slowly taking back the definition of conservatism.
This mantle was seized by a network of overtly militaristic Congressmen and Senators in the post-9/11 confusion, whose actions made many equate saber rattling and unproductive jingoism with being a “conservative.” But in the days of record debt and a born again interest in finding out what the government actually is and is not allowed to do, the authoritarian conservatism that arose after 9/11 is in its final throes. A return to a Barry Goldwater-style, traditional Republicanism that emphasis liberty over fear and freedom over falsehoods is emerging, and it could not come a moment too soon.