WASHINGTON, DC—Responding to the threats facing America's free democratic system, White House officials called upon Americans to stop exercising their democratic freedoms Monday.
"In this time of national crisis, a time when our most cherished freedoms are threatened, all Americans—not just outspoken talk-show hosts like Bill Maher—must watch what they say," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "Now more than ever, if we want to protect democracy for future generations, it is vital that nobody speak out about the issues of the day."
"We must all do our patriotic duty to protect our country's great ideals," Fleischer continued, "and we have to be careful about what opinions we express if we are to defend our Constitution, a sacred document behind which all Americans must stand united as one."
Fleischer's sentiments echoed those of many executive-branch officials, who, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, have called for broad-based limitations on civil liberties—and urged all patriotic, freedom-loving citizens to support those restrictions—in defense of the American way of life.
"We live in a land governed by plurality of opinion in an open electorate, but we are now under siege by adherents of a fundamentalist, totalitarian belief system that tolerates no dissent," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "Our most basic American values are threatened by an enemy opposed to everything for which our flag stands. That is why I call upon all Americans to submit to wiretaps, e-mail monitoring, and racial profiling. Now is not the time to allow simplistic, romantic notions of 'civil liberties' and 'equal protection under the law' to get in the way of our battle with the enemies of freedom."
In the past, Ashcroft said, efforts by federal agencies to restrict personal freedoms were "severely hampered" by such factors as the judicial system, the Bill Of Rights, and "government by the people." Since the attacks, however, some such limitations have been waived, finally giving the CIA, FBI, Pentagon, and White House the greater powers they need to defend freedom.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who advocated permitting the CIA to engage in various illegal activities during a recent Tonight Show With Jay Leno appearance, stressed the importance of not merely submitting to freedom-curtailment policies, but also blindly agreeing with them.
"Now is not the time for such divisive, destructive things as dialogue and debate," McCain said. "Now is not the time for, 'My opinion is just as valid as yours,' and 'What are my country's leaders doing and why?' and 'I have a question, Mr. President.' Now is the time for one thing and one thing only: The defense of the American democratic ideal. Any and all who disagree with this directive, or who have different ideas about how it should be accomplished, should learn to shut their mouths."
As the U.S. prepares to mobilize forces against Afghanistan, the military is seeking strong limitations on the press. According to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, such a Constitution-flouting move would not be unprecedented, citing the suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War and the order to round up 110,000 Japanese-Americans in detention camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
"Remember, under the oppressive Taliban regime, people live in constant fear of an oppressive order to which all must submit," Rumsfeld said. "Under their system, it is illegal to practice a different religion or support a different political system. It is against the law for women to work or leave their homes without their faces covered. There is no freedom of speech, press, or assembly, as dissent of any kind is not tolerated. It is even forbidden to smile or laugh in public, and all who fail to unquestioningly obey are punished with reprisals of brutal violence. We must not allow such a regime to threaten our great democracy. We must stand for something better than that."
"It is therefore urgent," Rumsfeld continued, "that all Americans be quiet, stop asking questions, accept the orders of authorities, and let us get on with the important work of defending liberty, so that America can continue to be a beacon of freedom to all the world."