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Political Animal

Not so Private Parts

By Brian Morton | Posted 5/17/2006

Many people who are, as the saying goes, “unclear on the concept” like to use the following argument when talking about politics: “You know, [whatever issue] isn’t mentioned in the Constitution.” But if you think about it, a lot of today’s hot-button topics aren’t mentioned in the nation’s guiding document. RU-486, the internet, porn—you could draw yourself up a pretty long laundry list of things the Constitution doesn’t touch. But the reason those people aren’t clear on the concept is the Constitution doesn’t deal with issues; it deals with, well, concepts.

But there is one glaring concept that isn’t addressed in the Constitution head on, and it has befuddled us ever since: privacy. It touches on privacy, it dances around it, it sideswipes it every now and then, but the word itself is never mentioned. We can be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects in terms as concrete as the Fourth Amendment can lay down, but it still says you have no privacy. And did the Founding Fathers ever foresee cell phones and e-mail? Of course not—this is why we call the Constitution a “living document.” The Supreme Court, even one with someone like Antonin Scalia on it, can interpret modern issues through its prism and come up with mostly sound decisions.

Yet somehow President Bush has found a way to convince himself that collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans in some effort at throwing Jell-O at the wall will result in one or two actual terrorists sticking when the mess finally hits the floor. Wake up, people—you can finally realize that at this point, under this president, the Constitution is moot. You have no privacy anymore. You’ve given up your liberty for security, and you’ve given up your security in the name of “liberty.” And, like Ben Franklin put it so many years ago, you now deserve neither.

George W. Bush has, via his belief in “signing statements,” said that he can torture, send people away to other countries to be tortured, eavesdrop on your calls both foreign and domestic, disappear people at will, and hold citizens and noncitizens alike incommunicado while shuttling them back and forth through the court system, shopping for a favorable venue.

The May 11 USA Today story that revealed the administration has collected data on the calls of millions of Americans comes with the disturbing information that the government went to our phone companies and demanded information, and those companies—with the sole exception of Qwest Communications—all handed over the records with nary a qualm. The White House says the intercepts are focused on al-Qaida and solely on al-Qaida, which should give the tens of millions of American not members of al-Qaida some pause.

Every time I open the paper nowadays, I’m flabbergasted as to what the administration considers legal and aboveboard. Go look at the Bill of Rights again. First Amendment: Ask me about that “War on Christmas.” Second: Well, John Ashcroft made sure potential terrorists aren’t subject to Brady background checks, so that one might stand a while longer. Fourth: Fuggedaboudit. Fifth Amendment: Ask anyone in Guantanamo Bay about how that’s working out for them. At this rate, I’m wondering when the administration will start quartering soldiers in our homes, because that’s the only amendment Bush and Dick Cheney haven’t found a way around yet. But just so they know, at my place, the cat has first dibs on the sofa—after that, there really isn’t much room here for a couple of Army privates and a Humvee.

The only thing to worry about now is how much more the Bush administration will attempt to get away with before January 2009. The GOP just passed the sixth set of tax cuts in six years, larding up the rich with even more perks in the tax code; at this rate, when all of the back-loaded gimmicks kick in, by the time a Democrat actually takes the White House (it’s got to happen someday, folks), we’ll all just be mailing our money directly to Sam Walton’s family instead of having to shop in their big crappy stores. And you’ll finally have something in common with Paris Hilton—at that stage, both you and her will have no privacy whatsoever.

So perhaps it’s time to look at privacy as another one of those outmoded reality-based concepts that have gone the way of dollar-a-gallon gas and dry New Orleans streets. The Bush administration has shoved us into the new millennium the hard way, but maybe the way to cope with it is to smile and surrender. Privacy never was in the Constitution—perhaps if you grin and bear it, you can fool yourself into thinking you never deserved any. And then liberty and security can be next.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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