Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will be remembered in Washington for two notable quotes: One was a response to pressure put on President Obama by the Congressional Black Caucus. That quote was short and Anglo-Saxon, starting with the letter "f." The other quote was simple yet eloquent in its political point: "Never let a good crisis go to waste."
And although Emanuel (now running for mayor of Chicago) has publicly stated that his philosophy should not be applied to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others last Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., there will be plenty of those who will — subconsciously or intentionally — use the tragedy as an opportunity to impose more substantial, and perhaps un-American, changes onto the national fabric.
Just as the intrusive and controversial Patriot Act was signed into law soon after Sept. 11 while America was still wrestling with its response to the terror acts, once again we're hearing proposals that threaten to diminish the freedom we currently enjoy and expect as American citizens. Even the best intentions go astray.
With the Patriot Act came the argument that the federal government would be better equipped to protect America with a series of potential "inconveniences" (and the loss of a few personal liberties). Now the grass roots are telling us that America will be safer still with more gun-control regulations; and legislators are clamoring for a national Internet ID card so that we can better track potential terror threats, and arguing that America will be more serene politically with the reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine.
I don't buy it. We have learned that the small measures to ensure airport security post-9/11 have proved beatable (as both the "Shoe Bomber" and "Underwear Bomber" showed) and massively exploitative (see the recent flap over full-body scanners). Any decision to move forward with new laws to increase gun control, implement Internet tracking (or, as it may be called, "safety") and restrict free speech in the media should cause the American public to be skeptical.
If we are going to maintain our status as the bastion of the free world, we must remember that we are always going to be susceptible to personal and national attacks, regardless of the safeguards we put in place. As much as Tea Party patriots and others get attention for complaining about tax rates and government spending, most Americans — including the vast majority of conservatives — fear that tragedies will become excuses to chip away at the liberties that millions of us died to protect.
In this Era of Terror, a Reagan axiom (first attributed to President Gerald Ford) should be remembered and applied: Any government big enough to give you something — including absolute safety in the streets, on the Internet and on the airwaves — is a government big enough to take everything you have, including freedom. This is not just a Tea Party sentiment; it is one that we should all take to heart.
We should be remorseful about last week's shooting. We should be committed to improving our nation at all times — if not at all costs. Yet we must also be diligent in preserving America by keeping its unique freedoms. After all, some crises teach us that the best way to use them is not to make wholesale changes but to act carefully while maintaining the spirit of America.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister at 5 a.m. on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.