Monday, December 19, 2011

The Safety Epidemic: Dear Mister President...

Dear Mr. President,

I hope this letter finds you and your lovely family well.

I wanted to share a story with you about something I noticed recently about our country. This should be of especial interest to you since, if memory serves, your daughter Malia suffers from allergies.

I was shopping recently when I flipped the bag of nuts over and found a warning label, alerting consumers that this bag of nuts, may contain nuts.

Quelle surprise.

The packaging might have been more effective if it read: "Fair Warning: Our lawyers may be nuts, and if you sue us for finding nuts in your nuts, you may be nuts too."

Don't get me wrong, I have allergies. They have put me in the hospital several times recently. Some of these allergies are terrible and could, conceivably, kill me. I and my wife carry epinephrine injectors with us at all times, just in case the worst should happen. And I want there to be product labeling that warns me when something might be hidden in my food that could kill me.

And I worry that too many senseless warnings are making us numb to the real threats. Can't we just agree that coffee is hot, knives are sharp, a jar of nuts may will contain nuts, and if it causes cancer in the state of California, it causes cancer everywhere?

I ask because I'm not sitting down to write you a letter today about healthcare, or FDA mandated warnings, or allergies. I want to talk about safety and risk.

America seems addicted to safety and our politicians - you included - are unapologetic enablers.

One of the reasons that our national anthem pairs "land of the free" with "the home of the brave" is that the two cannot exist without one another. Risk is inherent in freedom. In a free society, there are always risks. Free speech means the risk of someone saying something we disagree with. The right to a presumption of innocence means that a guilty person might go free in order to ensure that the innocent person does as well.

And we accept those things.

Because we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Before I started my writing blog, I spent some time in the trenches as a political blogger. I wasn't very good at it, because I was and remain far too reasonable to succeed in that field. I'm not a firebrand for either the right or left, I'm just a guy trying to raise a family and carve out some space to write his books. This blog was meant to be a place where I don't need to be political. A place where I could talk about writing and nothing but writing.

Then my government tried to pass a law that would turn my homeland into a battlefield and simultaneously strip me of my unassailable right to due process. A law that could condemn me or one of my countrymen to indefinite detention if someone with sufficient clout were to accuse me of being a terrorist. Not prove me a terrorist, mind you, just the accusation would require indefinite military detention.

No trial, no confronting my accuser, no airing of the evidence against me, no jury of my peers. Detention in a military prison 'for the duration of hostilities' in a war in which there are no clear goals or metrics for measuring victory, and therefore no end in sight.

Why would my government do this? Why would you sign it?

Because our government, because your office, has become so accustomed to the idea that the citizenry wants to be endlessly protected to the point of absurdity. Because you seem to genuinely think that we want to be so coddled that we need a warning label on a bag of nuts telling us that it may contain nuts. Because the public has been trained to believe that safety is a right that must be defended with tear gas and infinite detention. That freedom is fragile rather than resilient, that it is so important to protect the Constitution that we should keep it under glass -- where we can see it, but safely out of reach.

I don't want to be that safe.

I want to take up my rights in one hand and my obligations in the other and I want to strive for the ideal that made this country free and brave.

I want to make something abundantly clear: I do not for a minute think that you or anyone in our current government means to misuse this law. I have no doubt in my mind that this is undertaken with the best of intentions.

But if the last eleven years has taught us anything, it's that you cannot predict, nor can I, what the world or the country will look like eleven years from now. Or twenty. Or thirty. And the laws that you sign today have force and effect beyond the limits of your term in office and any of our terms on this Earth. None of us can say for certain how future politicians will use this bill or whether and how this interminable "War Against Terror" might end.

The precedent being set here is chilling. If not for me, then for those who follow me. The implication that the unalienable rights endowed by our creator, supposedly enshrined in our constitution can be set aside in the passion of an historical moment us nothing short of a violation of your oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

I voted for you in hopes of better.

My forefathers risked everything for this country. Grandparents and great grandparents fought and died for the preservation of this country. They were challenged by their government to stand up and fight, to accept the risk inherent in their citizenship and the obligation to the world and to those who would come after them. This is not to say that our country has always done the right thing. Japanese internment and HUAC spring to mind. A law similar to this one was vetoed by Harry Truman in 1950 and then overridden by congress. But every time we have done the wrong thing, the thing that later generations regretted and had to apologize for, it was done out of fear.

The British humorist Douglas Adams once noted that human beings are unique in their ability to learn from their mistakes, as well as their apparent unwillingness to do so.  But then, he also said that anyone capable of getting themselves elected president should on no account be allowed to do the job.

You have a chance to prove him wrong on both counts.

As a constitutional scholar, you know these things, and yet here we are anyway. You are faced with an historic chance to stand alongside the great leaders in history who brought their people a sense of shared sacrifice for a common ideal, or to become another also-ran.  You are facing reelection soon, and what I am asking for is a definite risk to your quest for a second term, but you once said you would rather be a great one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. It's time to prove it to us.

I think that most Americans are waiting for the chance to step up and the vocal few who want to hide under their bed until someone from the defense department sounds the all clear... well, I'm not willing to live by their standard. This country may contain nuts; It's right there on the package.

I believe that America can be both free and brave at the same time. I believe that we must.

Just as I accept that I may be killed by a psycho who slips through the system because the rights of the accused are protected in this country, so too do I accept the idea that I might be killed by a terrorist because I refuse to shred the founding documents that made this country worth defending.

I once told the Bush administration that if torturing someone will save me, don't bother, I would rather die. So too do I tell you: if my absolute safety comes at the expense of our Bill of Rights, then don't bother to save me. Because whether or not I ever stood before a magistrate and took the oath required of naturalized citizens, I understand that it applies to me anyway. I know that I can, should, and must support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; bear true faith and allegiance to the same; bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; and perform other work of national importance.

And I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Veto the NDAA and any subsequent bill that comes to your desk stripping Americans of their right to due process. Because there really is such a thing as being too safe.

Yours sincerely,

Scott Walker Perkins
Photo by Scott Perkins, ©2008 


  1. I think that you just did something that could readily be classified as "other work of national importance." If this was read by him, and actually acted upon in the manner you and I both hope for, I'm not sure I'd believe it. A young man of 21 years of age, I have seen little hope in our government as of late, it seems to be a twisted perversion of what it seemed to be in the days of patriots picking up the flag from the mud and continuing to march proudly forth, unrefusing to let the land they love and cherish so greatly be taken from them by the hands of malicious monarchies.

  2. "I'm not sure I'd believe it." As soon as I posted that, I felt a need to clarify my statement. What I intended to portray by stating that is it would seem too good to be true.

  3. I sent it to him. We shall see what happens, if anything.


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