Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Kerry on Democracy and Citizenship

The last chapter of John Kerry's book, A Call to Service, is entitled "The Challenge of Reviving Democracy and Citizenship." To some degree, this is a catch-all chapter, as its theme is broad enough to allow Kerry to touch on a number of issues not previously mentioned. I've previously discussed two of these issues; rights for gay and lesbian Americans and his pro-choice position.

He begins by talking about the various responsibilities of citizenship. He speaks of "greater vigilance toward civil liberties." Since the war on terrorism, we have to be vigilant in keeping "a proper balance between our government's responsibility to protect all Americans from violence, and its responsibility to protect all Americans from violations of their constitutional rights." This leads in to his discussion of the Patriot Act;

I voted for the USA Patriot Act in the Senate right after 9/11 to advance our security at home but I am concerned that Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department is abusing the powers conferred on it by this act, especially in targeting immigrants for scrutiny and detention. More generally, I think the Bush administration is relying far too much on extraordinary police powers and not enough on regular policing in its homeland security efforts, a result of its ideologically driven obsession with eliminating federal assistance to local law enforcement.

And I'm genuinely alarmed at what I've seen of the Patriot II Act, which the administration has not formally unveiled as of this writing. One of its provisions would apparently enable federal authorities to strip U.S. citizens of their rights of due process. More broadly, it would create a separate, very shadowy justice system for terrorist suspects in which most of the rights and procedures normally guaranteed criminal suspects can be abrogated at the discretion of the government...as president, I wouldn't propose it, and if it were passed I would veto it.
-A Call
, p. 178.
As you might recall, a draft of the proposed Patriot Act II was leaked, and was so severely criticized by both the right and the left that the Bush administration quickly backed away from it. This doesn't mean it's dead, however. Some suggest that it is quietly being implemented under various new manifestations.

Kerry concludes with "a call to service" to every American;

...we need a seamless web of service in which every American - young and old, rich and poor, of every race, religion, and background - can enlist in a new army of patriots who will serve on all the frontlines of our future. These include guarding our nation from danger abroad, strengthening our homeland security, reducing illiteracy, preserving our environment, providing after-school care, helping our seniors live in dignity, building new homes for those who need them - and through all these activities, building a nation that is truly one America.
-A Call
, p. 190.
He is proposing a number of initiatives to rally volunteers, such as a new "Service for College" program. Personally, I'd like to see such service mandatory for every citizen. I don't think we can attract real diversity with voluntary programs. Why not require two years of civil service for every citizen? No loopholes, no excuses. Is that too much to ask for the privilege of being a citizen of this great nation?

My admiration of John Kerry and my support for his bid for the presidency have been greatly increased by reading this book. Even when you strip away the political propaganda (re-read that last quote; there's a classic "shotgun" approach...shoot off enough issues, and at least one will find its target!), I still see a man who loves his country, and has a vision for America that I can share.

Let me allow Senator Kerry to have the last word in this series;

It was my generation that in its youth heard that call (to service). We did not think we were special; we simply believed in doing our part. And in the end, I suppose that is all any of us can do, and I believe each of us must try.

Our great country, the world's oldest and strongest democracy, can become even greater if we commit ourselves to helping one another here at home and helping others beyond our borders achieve the values of freedom and democracy that we have championed to the envy of the whole world.

This is my call to service and yours.
-A Call to Service
, p. 200.

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