This post was originally published on Matters of Principle by Sen. Gary Hart on September 21, 2009. Sen. Hart served as the Chairman of Council for a Livable World from 2006 to 2009.
The Founders of the United States not only designed a system of government, they also established principles which bind and guide their successors at home and abroad. To the degree we, their heirs, abide by these national principles we remain true to the vision of the republic they intended us to be and we earn the respect of those around the world who believe us to be a principled nation.
It is worthwhile periodically to remind ourselves what our guiding principles are. We are committed to the principle that all people (they said “men”) are created equal. We believe that every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our principles guarantee rights of speech and assembly and freedom of press and religion. We are dedicated to the proposition that all are entitled to equal justice under the law, that justice requires due process, not arbitrary, application of the law, and that no magistrate can place us in custody without charges. Our principles extend to the right of the individual, regardless of wealth or class, to be secure in his or her person and property from unwarranted search and seizure. Our political systems are based on checks and balances to prevent concentration of power and the principle of taxation only carried out by those we freely elect to represent us.
All this would seem elementary civics except for this: we do not always live up to these principles, especially in our dealings with other nations and peoples.
There is a direct correlation between fear and our willingness to suspend our principles. In wartime, both domestic and foreign, presidents have suspended the most crucial right of all, habeas corpus, that protects us from arbitrary arrest and that dates to the Magna Carta. This was true during the Civil War, World War II, and the war on terrorism.
And especially during the Cold War and the more recent war on terrorism our foreign policy has been based on the proposition that the enemy of our enemy, however dictatorial, undemocratic, and contrary to our principles it may be, is our friend. Most often this friendship has amounted to large financial payments or weapons deliveries in exchange for military basing rights.
We pay for this in more ways than one. Most often we pay for abandonment of our principles by the sacrifice of international respect. It was a basic belief of those who founded the United States that we could remain strong and secure by resisting expediency and by standing like a rock on our principles.