Support 40 More Years of Executive Branch Skepticism


After Sept. 11, 2001, many publications and opinion journalists chose deference to the U.S. executive branch over getting too worked up about the very civil liberties and openness that made America so powerful in the first place. Not reason. In the first issue after the attacks, the magazine asked "Will civil liberties be a casualty in the War on Terrorism?", warned presciently over the attempts by some to launch a new Cold War, and began a sevenyear run of responsibly questioning executive power-mongering in the struggle against Islamic extremism.

This was no new approach for reason. For 40 years now, from Lyndon Baines Johnson to Richard Milhous Nixon to George Walker Bush, the magazine of free minds and free markets has been equally free with skepticism whenever the White House argued that with great power comes great liberty. For instance, Reason Enterprises co-founder Manuel Klausner, along with Henry Hohenstein, published an interview with Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg as far back as June 1973, conducted when the former Defense Dept. analyst was still facing trial, and a potential life sentence, for espionage. (A trial at which a freshly returned ex-POW named John Sidney McCain had agreed to testify for the prosecution.)

As part of our week-long webathon, where we are asking those of you enjoy reason to vote early and often with your pocketbook (see a complete list of donation levels, and various goodies you'll receive, here) we'll be presenting some of these Greatest Hits. Click here for the Ellsberg interview. A taste:

REASON: Did you also have a purpose in disclosing the Pentagon Papers of trying to show any detriment in the Government's policy of classifying information?

ELLSBERG: Yes. A very important secondary objective-second only to the objective of getting a change in our Vietnam policy-was the hope of changing the tolerance of Executive secrecy that had grown up over the last quarter of a century both in Congress and the courts and in the public at large. It seemed to me that our Vietnam policy reflected an accumulation of Executive power, which in turn had exploited very critically this tolerance of Executive secrecy. In other words, I felt that without the widespread willingness to allow the Executive to keep secret the mass of information about its own operations and intentions, it wouldn't have been possible for the Executive to steal away so much power from the Congress and the public and to free itself from the kinds of checks and balances that were intended in the Constitution. Precisely because Congressmen realized over the years that they lacked the information on which to criticize Executive policy or to suggest changes, they have opted out from an active role in the field of foreign policy. But by the same token, it was the Executive Branch itself which was denying them this information. So that what we saw was one more confirmation of the axiom on which I think our Constitution was originally built, which is, "power corrupts-even Americans."

No matter who wins the presidency in November, you can count a president who will learn to love the Executive. That's why you'll need reason as much in 2009 as you did in 2002, or even 1972. Here's my video pitch for reason-style journalism:

Once again, please donate today!