Local Grassroots Group Vets Ron Johnson, Part 4: The Patriot Act Polka

Recap: In Part 3, Johnson:

  • Recommended that voters read his speeches to know he’s trustworthy
  • Reiterated that he couldn’t offer any guarantees as to his trustworthiness
  • Made flimsy excuses about why there’s still so little of substance on his website
  • Failed to grasp why bad policy never seems to change, regardless of who’s in power

Next up? His willingness to risk your civil liberties.

The Devil You Know

Having thoroughly bumbled his way through a mere half-hour of questioning, Johnson’s handler decides the candidate has skinned himself up badly enough. At the beginning of this next segment, it’s announced that Johnson will only take one further question. Note that Johnson’s Republican competition, Dave Westlake, and the Constitutional candidate, Rob Taylor, both submitted themselves to several hours of questioning by this same group…without flinching.

The Rock River Patriots took the announcement in stride, but clearly decided to make their last question count.

“Do you support the Patriot Act?”

Ruh roh…

You can tell Johnson would prefer not answer this one. But, after a long pause, he’s off and running in his run-on sort of way.

“I’ll put it this way: So much of the Patriot Act exists in law, and they just put it within that law. I certainly share the concerns of civil liberties. Now if you have Barack Obama in charge versus George Bush—I wasn’t overly concerned with George Bush in power. I’m a little more concerned about the Patriot Act when you have Barack Obama. I think it was very wise for Congress to make that renewable, o.k.? I’d like to see the whole thing renewable—every couple years, and be forced to do that. But no, I think it was necessary to update—part of the Patriot Act was updating laws to account for cell phones and that kind of stuff, so that we could actually track terrorists overseas and stuff. I think it was a necessary—Our nation was at risk. When you’re at risk by things like international terrorism and stuff, you have to react to that. And you sometimes have to give up a little bit. But again, I like the fact that it should be of a temporary nature and be something for renewal.”

Here’s a tip for you, Ron: A law that compromises civil liberties is problematic no matter who’s in power. When you expand government control to such an immense degree, when you grant permission to abuse people’s rights, sooner or later those rights will—not might, will—get abused. By Republicans. By Democrats. By the Pink and Purple Octopus Party. I don’t care how benevolent and necessary it all appears initially, it’s playing with fire.

This deal where we can feel good about legislation as long as we’re “dancing with the right partner” but have to worry when one party waltzes out of office and another foxtrots in…? This legislation compromises constitutional liberties regardless of the names filling one’s dance card. It’s a polka law-abiding citizens should be able to sit out…ENTIRELY.

On this one, I’ll give the Left their due. They were rightfully screaming about the dangers of the Patriot Act under George W. Bush. Of course, now they’ve largely stopped screaming about it. Apparently they’d rather scream about what a bunch of hypocrites conservatives are because so many of us weren’t screaming with them way back when. Pointless. But o.k. The bottom line is, they had a good bit of this issue right, and it unfortunately took conservatives a while to catch up.

Except Ron Johnson hasn’t.

That he’s comfortable with the Patriot Act in one administration’s hands but not another—and that he’d keep it around anyway—demonstrates how far from the Constitution Johnson’s actually standing. He doesn’t grasp the very real danger that lies in passing and growing accustomed to any law that grants government unconstitutional powers over the People.

He’s using shortsighted, fairyland thinking—the kind we’ve been using for too long, the kind that has put us at the brink of losing not just some but rather all of our Constitutional freedoms. It is a kind of thinking we must no longer engage.

Except Ron Johnson still does.

The Devil They Define

Continuing to make the most of their last question, group members follow up by asking if Johnson supports Patriot Act provisions such as warrantless “sneak-and-peek” searches and indefinite detention. The want to know where he stands on fusion centers—the numerous and highly controversial state-level hubs that now warehouse collected public and private data.

Before giving him a chance to reply, one group member raises concerns about the February 2009 report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC). Part of the fusion effort, MIAC labeled local grassroots groups, Ron Paul supporters, members of third parties, and Christians, for example, as potential terror threats. Another person in the audience remarks on proposed legislation that would enable the federal government to hold people indefinitely for providing material assistance to any entity deemed a terrorist group.

They’re doing their level best here, the Rock River Patriots, to educate RoJo on the looming potential menace the Patriot Act and similar legislation pose not to foreign terrorists but to law-abiding citizens who stand in opposition to an out-of-control government. It’s not like they’re without reason to consider the possibility. Its attacks on 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, our most fundamental liberties, suggest that the current administration is working from every angle possible to minimize or eliminate the proper authority of the People.

But despite RoJo’s admission that he’s not entirely comfortable with the Obama administration possessing so much power over the lives of citizens, he clings to his faith in government’s ultimate trustworthiness in relationship to the Patriot Act. He seems to think that if we can just get Republicans back in office, the Patriot Act is still okeedokee.

What’s the mark of a progressive again…? Ah yes: Regardless of party affiliation, a progressive will expand the size and scope of government, believing that it—rather than the People—holds the answers to society’s problems.

If the shoe fits, Ron…

“I understand the concerns,” Johnson claims, “but I also think you have to take a look at what’s happened since [the Patriot Act] was passed back in 2001 or 2002. I’m not aware of a single instance of a civil liberty violation that’s been prosecuted or even alleged. But there are checks and balances. Again,” and here he starts to sound impatient, like he’s talking to children, “I understand the concern about civil liberties. I do. Again, that’s why it should be renewable.”

A group member asserts that the potential for abuse does exist.

“There are possibilities for all kinds of things,” Johnson shoots back.

Yes. There are, Ron. But this is not Never-Never Land we’re talking about here. Widespread constitutional abuses have actually happened.

Right here.

In the United States.

More than once.


For starters, Woodrow Wilson and his goon squads made every effort to quash any resistance to U.S. involvement in World War I.

Want more proof, Ron?

FDR rounded up Japanese-American citizens—not illegal aliens, CITIZENS—and threw them in detention camps simply because they might consort with the enemy. Worse? After FDR understood that these law-abiding citizens were not a threat, he didn’t release them right away—because he felt it would cause PR problems for his administration. Now there’s upright, moral thinking for you.

These are exactly the sort of unconstitutional abuses to which AMERICAN CITIZENS are vulnerable under the Patriot Act, should their government turn on them.

And if you imagine for one moment, Ron, that a Republican president wouldn’t be capable of the same kind of abuse as a Democrat’s administration, think again. Democrats didn’t get us into our current constitutional crisis all on their own.

When the government holds the prerogative to trample 1st and 4th Amendment rights—just for starters—without so much as a judge signing off; when it can view someone as a potential terrorist simply due to personal faith or membership in the grassroots, then I’m pretty sure the risks outweigh any potential benefits. I’m all for nabbing bad guys. But I’m not for laws that allow government to

  • Circumvent the courts and the Constitution
  • Operate with impunity
  • Create enemies lists
  • Preemptively silence citizens from whom it doesn’t wish to hear
  • Monitor, punish, or otherwise infringe upon citizens against whom there is no viable proof of wrong-doing

The Constitution matters—even when it’s inconvenient.

“We do have checks and balances in these things,” says RoJo almost blithely.

Begging your pardon, Ron, but which ones…? Because I’ve been watching our federal system of checks and balances circle the drain.

Apparently the Rock River Patriots have, too, because one of them quickly reminds Johnson that the reason our Founding Fathers included the 2nd Amendment in the bill of rights is to protect against an out-of-control government.

…Brief flashback…

Let’s return for just a moment to Ronny’s answer on the 2nd Amendment question in Part 2 of this series. Remember that little disclaimer he made at the beginning—later repeated for emphasis—that he’s not a hunter and has never owned guns? Remember him saying that he hadn’t thought much about the 2nd Amendment? Remember me warning that he perceived fear of an out-of-control government as quaint and outmoded?

Ruminate on all of that as you consider the next bit of dialogue.

The Government Taketh

One of the Rock River Patriots paraphrases the following 18th-century quotation, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who published an edition of the letter from which it came: “Any society that would give up a little liberty for a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”


But no, aphorism be damned, RoJo’s got it all worked out.

“I understand, but we’re talking about a day and age now where we’re talking about terrorists potentially getting ahold of nuclear power or nuclear bombs,” Johnson states. “You know, suitcase bombs from the Soviet Union and stuff. I mean, we do have to have tools. Our security systems have gotta have tools for monitoring.”

The gentleman posing the concern heads next to exactly the question I would ask, “Understood. But apart from our military, can you think of one thing the federal government has actually done well for us? And we should entrust them with this [authority]?”

“I’m as skeptical as you in terms of the effectiveness of the federal government,” Johnson retorts.

Are you Ronny? Are you really…?

Because if you were, wouldn’t you be searching for a better way to face our security challenges than to put so much power over the lives of citizens in the hands of liars, cheats, thieves, and incompetents?

After a brief sidetrack, a former policeman in the group adamantly insists that if he needs to search someone’s home, he can get a search warrant by waking a judge up in the middle of the night—that the Patriot Act does nothing but wrongly compromise civil liberties. Oh, and by the way, Ron, it’s spending a whole helluva lot of our hard-earned tax-payer dollars to do that. How, might I ask, does that square with your stated fiscal definition of freedom?

RoJo chooses respectfully to disagree with him. “I think there are some very scary things out there that we better be keeping an eye on, we better be listening to conversations with terrorists overseas. You know, whether it’s biological weapons…”

Ron clearly isn’t tracking. The concerns weren’t about the Patriot Act’s impact overseas. The former policeman refuses to let him off the hook. He lays it out in the plainest of terms: “I’m not concerned about the terrorists overseas. I’m far more afraid of my own government.”

Clearly exasperated, Johnson sighs heavily, then pulls himself together to say politely, “I respectfully disagree with you, Sir.”

And there it is…

Ron Johnson does, in fact, think that fear of an out-of-control government is outmoded. He’s failed to grasp what the Rock River Patriots already know—what most RedState readers already know: No foreign foe will every destroy the United States. If we are going to fall, we will destroy ourselves from within—just as Alexis de Tocqueville predicted. It’s exactly what we’ve been doing. Not least by handing more and more control to a government that was never meant to be as powerful in the lives of American citizens as it has become. It’s precisely what must now stop.

Plain and simple, the Patriot Act undermines the concept of inalienable rights. It makes government the arbiter of whether you have a right to expect privacy or respect or protection. And as Gerald Ford so neatly pointed out back in 1974: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take away everything you have.”

Johnson understands neither this simple fact nor the currents of history. He wrongly places more confidence in a bloated, corrupt government to administer an unconstitutional program in order to guarantee what he would call security than he does in the ability of a wise people to confront challenges in a way that permits them to maintain what they would call liberty.

He has fallen into a very unconstitutional hole, the belief that government knows best.

It’s exactly why it would be poor judgment at best to entrust Ron Johnson with a senate seat. His mentality is part of the problem. It represents the status quo…not the will to overcome it.

The questioning concludes.

It’s clear Johnson can’t wait to get out of the hot seat.

If he thinks this was bad, I wonder what he supposes Washington will be like.

Maybe he imagines his handlers will bail him out there, too.