‘Freedom from fear’ not in Bill of Rights
Published: Friday, February 4th, 2005
In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Bush finally started spending some of what he has called the “political capital” he earned with his re-election. It was good to see him begin to tackle difficult domestic issues, but we’re still troubled by his seemingly open-ended commitment to defeat tyranny everywhere and spread global democracy. On the domestic side, he called for keeping increases in discretionary spending at the level of inflation. If he can pull that off, it should significantly cut the budget deficit that for fiscal 2005 will be a record $427 billion. And he began to lay out his plans for Social Security reform. “Social Security on its current path is headed toward bankruptcy,” he said. “And so we must join together to find the most effective combination of reforms.” As a preliminary proposal, the president wants to start moving workers under age 55 partly to private retirement accounts. We appreciate his willingness to move in the direction of private solutions. Perhaps a sign of his resolve on this issue was the 15 minutes of his 55-minute speech he devoted to it. Democrats immediately objected. “We ... strongly disagree with the president’s plan to privatize Social Security,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. On the foreign policy front, President Bush, to the longest applause of the night, highlighted the success of the Iraqi voting last Sunday. The emotional moment of the evening came minutes later when, in the gallery with the first lady, the mother of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq embraced an Iraqi woman who had just displayed her stained index finger, the now familiar emblem of an Iraqi voter. It was moving, to be sure, but seemed almost a violation of their privacy to be watching. On wider foreign policy issues, the president’s rhetoric too closely mirrored the nearly utopian calls he made in his inaugural address last month. “We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy and chief among them is the freedom from fear,” the president said Wednesday. The freedom from fear? America’s Bill of Rights details specific freedoms — the right to peaceably assemble, the right to worship, the right to a free press, the right to due process and so forth. The 10 amendments are protections from the government, not a wish list of things Americans should expect from it. Yes, the federal government has a role in defending the nation. But the government cannot guarantee anyone freedom from fear. A government that offers that promise misunderstands its role. “In the long term, the peace and stability we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder,” the president added. He is right. But, as always, the devil is in the details. The United States can and should “promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East,” but the United States should not try to achieve those noble ends through the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power. This president always offers firm resolve but sometimes a soft understanding of the founding principles.
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