Liberal Grace

Monday, June 12, 2006

One Question Interview with J.R. Norton

The conservatives have been demagogin this issue for years: they are trying to bring America back to it's roots. It's an almost daily claim on conservative media and recently gained prominence in the appoitments of

But is this true? Or is it just more hot air from the right?

J.R. Norton has done America a great service by addressing this exact issue in his book Saving General Washington. Read more about it in the
Liberal Grace Reading Room.

Mr. Norton has kindly agreed to participate in a Liberal Grace One-Question Interview

Liberal Grace: Can you identify a key political assumption by modern conservatives that sets them apart from America's founding fathers?

J.R. Norton: There are quite a few, but I'd say the key one is the modern conservative assumption that if the president and self-identifies as conservative, there is no amount of power or extra-legal privilege that his branch of government can be granted that is any way a threat to American civil liberities or the Constitutional system of checks and balances. The baseline assumption is: we give the executive branch more power, or we give in to the terrorists. Government will take care of us if only we let it override the laws and protections that once held it back. Constitutional protections only apply during times of peace.

The Founders were viscerally aware of what it was like to live under an authoritarian government that justified its uncheckable power by invoking the idea of public safety during a time of crisis, so they deliberately built a system that denied uncheckable power to any branch of government -- but particularly the executive. They explicitly preferred more freedom to the false sense of security offered by a police state -- probably because they knew the police state, and knew that not only did you sacrifice your liberty, but you also risked wrongful arrest and draconian persecution.

The Founders were wise dudes. I wouldn't say that modern liberals are necessarily as in touch with their legacy as they should be, but I'd argue that modern conservatives have gotten America's founding principles completely ass-backwards.

J.R. Norton is senior producer for the Al Franken Show. From 2002 to 2004 he was Middle East Editor for The Christian Science Monitor
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