Wheatley: Paul’s Wisdom
By Louis Wheatley, Staff Columnist
Published on Wednesday, October 12, 2011
I have already read one book for pleasure this term, which amounts to one more book than last year. But the important part of this story is the book itself.
A nonfiction account of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Muslim man who embarks on an unimaginable journey as he becomes caught between Hurricane Katrina and the war on terror, Dave Eggers’ “Zeitoun” should motivate Dartmouth students to lend an ear to the Fourth Amendment musings of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a fiercely libtertarian candidate whose views on the invasion of privacy are dismissed as part of a radical, unelectable package. But extreme stories like that of Zeitoun and other innocent Americans prove that Paul’s message on civil liberties is far from extreme.
The protagonist of “Zeitoun” is a Syrian immigrant and longtime resident of New Orleans. In 2004, his family flees the approaching Hurricane Katrina but he stays in the city to watch over the family business. As he paddles around the city in a canoe, feeding abandoned pets and taking elderly neighbors to safety, Zeitoun is suddenly arrested and thrown into a makeshift military prison with many others. The city government treats him inhumanely, fails to charge him with a crime and does not allow him a phone call to contact his family or a lawyer. He is frequently accused of terrorism by the guards and is not freed for over 20 days. According to a February Washington Post article, Zeitoun was a victim of the Patriot Act’s “‘lone wolf’ provision that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.”
In another frightening scenario, an Oregonian attorney named Brandon Mayfield also found himself in judicial limbo in 2004 after the FBI linked his fingerprints to the Madrid train bombings. Though Spanish authorities later doubted the link, the FBI proceeded to arrest Mayfield and hold him without charge for more than two weeks until he was released. His investigation by the FBI under the Patriot Act was an egregious infringement on his privacy by the United States. He later received a formal apology and a settlement from the federal government, something Zeitoun never pursued.
Zeitoun and Mayfield are two high profile cases that spotlight how our policy of sacrificing civil liberties for national security is less patriotic than the name of the act would suggest. Paul has been the most vocal of the candidates to challenge this policy that has resulted in absurd governmental blunders, no matter the policy’s intentions. The facts could not be clearer. So why does Paul’s message of protecting civil liberties get thrown by the wayside?
The trouble with Paul is that he is a fascinating, multidimensional politician being documented (and often ignored) by media that use a one-dimensional lens. He is served up to the masses as raging libertarian who supports the legalization of heroin and therefore must obviously want people to use heroin. His common sense position on civil liberties does not fit the popular narrative, and thus gets ignored.
Being a figure that many GOP party elites reject for being too far right, Paul is quite the bipartisan politician. Paul has refered to the Patriot Act as “a great issue … because it can bring together a good group of people both from the conservatives as well as liberals because we do believe in this case that individual liberty ought to be protected.” It’s hard to imagine Paul and former progressive Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., agreeing on much, but they fall in line with each other on this issue. But as the Republican primary keeps pushing candidates to the right and focuses on the front-runners, the one candidate with something constructive to say before the debate bell rings gets left behind.
We have a lot to learn from Paul. His position on civil liberties is in every American’s best interest. Paul, however, cannot convey his message through the twisted media cycle. I encourage Dartmouth students to listen to him, if only to learn from his positions and how he is treated.