Monday, January 23, 2006

FIRST AMENDMENT: Al Gore's MLK Day speech; video and excerpts



Reference to the Alien & Sedition Acts: at 35:00 minutes.



On Monday, January 16, 2006, former Vice President Al Gore marked Martin Luther King, Jr., Day with a speech co-sponsored by ACS, "Restoring the Rule of Law." Mr. Gore argued that the Bush Administration.s domestic surveillance program threatens "the very structure of our government." The speech was co-sponsored by the Liberty Coalition, a "transpartisan" organization whose member organizations include The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, Amnesty International and Gun Owners of America. Mr. Gore's address was also carried live by C-SPAN, and received coverage from a broad host of other media outlets, including both The New York Times and The Washington Post. Prepared remarks are available, as is streaming video.


"2,200 American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped
into a solid reality, and indeed, whenever power is unchecked and
unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to gross mistakes and abuses.
That is part of human nature. In the absence of rigorous accountability,
incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded. It is
human nature, whether for Republicans or Democrats or people of any set of

"It is often the case--again, regardless of which party might be in
power--that an executive branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power
responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given
still more power. Often, the request itself is used to mask
accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has."

"The Congress we have today is structurally unrecognizable compared to the
one in which my father served. There are many distinguished and
outstanding senators and congressmen serving today. I am honored to know
them and to have worked with them. But the Legislative Branch of
government as a whole under its current leadership now operates as if it
is entirely subservient to the Executive Branch. It is astonishing to me,
and so foreign to waht the Congress is supposed to be."

"Moreover, too many members of the House and Senate now feel compelled to
spend a majority of their time not in thoughtful debate on the issues, but
instead raising money to purchase 30-second television commercials."

"Moreover, there have now been two or three generations of congressmen who
don't really know what an oversight hearing is. In the '70's and '80's,
the oversight hearings in which my colleagues and I participated held the
feet of the executive branch to the fire--no matter which party was in
power. And yet oversight is almost unknown in the Congress today."

I call upon members of Congress in both parties to uphold your oath of
office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start
acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government you
are supposed to be under the Constitution of our country.


But there is yet another constitutional player whose pulse must be taken
and whose role must be examined in order to understand the dangerous
imbalance that has accompanied these efforts by the Executive Branch to
dominate our constitutional system.

We the people--collectively--are still the key to the survival of
America's democracy. We must examine ourselves. We--as Lincoln put it,
"[e]ven we here"--must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and
not preventing the shocking decay and hollowing-out and degradation of
American democracy.

It is time to stand up for the American system that we know and love. It
is time to breath new life back into America's democracy. Thomas
Jefferson said: "An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the
public will."

America is based on the belief that we can govern ourselves, and exercise
the power of self-governance. The American idea proceeds from the bedrock
principle that "[a]ll just power is derived from the consent of the

The intricate and finely balanced system now in such danger was created
with the full and widespread participation of the population as a whole.
The Federalist Papers were, back in the day, widely read newspaper essays,
and they represented only one of 24 series of essays that crowded the
vibrant marketplace of ideas in which farmers and shopkeepers
recapitulated the debates that played out so fruitfully in Philadelphia.

And when the Convention had done its best, it was the people in their
various states that refused to confirm the result until, at their
insistence, the Bill of Rights was made integral to the document sent
forward for ratification.

And it is "we the people" who must now find once again the ability we once
had to play an integral role in saving our Constitution.

And here there is cause for both concern and for great hope. The age of
printed pamphlets and political essays has long since been replaced by
television--a distracting and absorbing medium which seems determined to
entertain and sell more than it informs and educates.

Lincoln's memorable call during the Civil War is now applicable in a new
way to our present dilemma: "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we
shall save our country."


Forty years have passed since the majority of Americans adopted television
as their principal source of information, and its dominance has become so
extensive that virtually all significant political communication now takes
place within the confines of flickering 30-second television
advertisements--and they're not the Federalist Papers.

The political economy supported by these short but expensive television
ads is as different from the vibrant politics of America's first century
as those politics were different from the feudalism which thrived on the
ignorance of the masses of people in the Dark Ages.

The constricted role of ideas in the American political system today has
encouraged efforts by the Executive Branch to believe it can and should
control the flow of information as a means of controlling the outcome of
important decisions that still lie in the hands of the people.

The Administration vigorously asserts its power to maintain secrecy in its
operations. After all, if the other branches don't know what's happening,
they can't be a check or a balance.

For example, when the Administration was attempting to persuade Congress
to enact the Medicare prescription drug benefit, many in the House and
Senate raised concerns about the cost and design of the program. But,
rather than engaging in open debate on the basis of factual data, the
Administration withheld facts and actively prevented the Congress from
hearing testimony that it had sought from the principal administration
expert who had the information showing in advance of the vote that indeed
the true cost estimates were far beyond the numbers given to Congress by
the President, and the workings of the program would play out very
differently than Congress had been told.

Deprived of that information, and believing the false numbers given to it
instead, the Congress approved the program and tragically, the entire
initiative is now collapsing--all over the country--with the
Administration making an appeal just this weekend asking major insurance
companies to volunteer to bail it out. But the American people, who have
a right to believe that its elected representatives will learn the truth
and act on the basis of knowledge and utilize the rule of reason, have
been let down.

To take another example, scientific warnings about the catastrophic
consequences of unchecked global warming were censored by a political
appointee in the White House who had no scientific training whatsoever.
Today, one of the most distinguished scientific experts in the world on
global warming, who works at NASA, has been ordered not to talk to members
of the press, ordered to keep a careful log of everyone he meets with so
that the Executive Branch can monitor and control what he shares of his
knowlege about global warming. This is a planetary crisis. We owe
ourselves a truthful and reasoned discussion.

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of
information has been by consistently resorting to the language and
politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda
forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. President
Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in
suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and
opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once
wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their
endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of
our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full
Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the
British Army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous
than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear
missiles ready to be launched on a moment's notice to annihilate the
country? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide
fascism on the march--when the last generation had to fight and win two
World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much
on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did.
And yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to
do the very same thing.

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' rights, not only to
life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore
vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to
safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the
intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the
President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, and I quote, "The President
has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of
the Constitution, I hope they will."

A special counsel should be immediately appointed by the Attorney General
to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from
investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the
President. We've had a fresh demonstration of how an independent
investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence
in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown
neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch
has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the
bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of this
special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by the warrantless
wiretapping of Americans by the President, and it should be a political
issue in any race, regardless of party, section of the country, house of
Congress, for anyone who opposes the appointment of a special counsel
under these dangerous circumstances when our Constitution is at risk.

Secondly, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established
for members of the executive branch who report evidence of
wrongdoing--especially where it involves abuse of authority in the
sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both houses of Congress should of course hold comprehensive--and
not just superficial--hearings into these serious allegations of criminal
behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the
evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive Branch in its
proposal to extend and enlarge the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act should under no
circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and
enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the
American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government
with access to private information concerning the communications of
Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist
their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of
American citizens.

Freedom of communication is an essential prerequisite for the restoration
of the health of our democracy.

It is particularly important that the freedom of the Internet be protected
against either the encroachment of government or efforts at control by
large media conglomerates. The future of our democracy depends on it.

In closing, I mentioned that along with cause for concern, there is reason
for hope. As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America
is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will
be reestablished by the people and will flourish more vibrantly than ever.
Indeed I can feel it in this hall.

As Dr. King once said, "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it
is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be
sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond
the darkness that seems so close around us."

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