Our American way of life survived wars, including two worldwide affairs and a particularly bloody internal one. It survived the Great Depression, recessions and attempts at repression. Joe McCarthy comes to mind. So do the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Our American way of life survived protests, both peaceful and riotous, political assassinations and attempted political assassinations. It survived political scandals from Teapot Dome to Watergate to Bill Clinton's sexual antics in the Oval Office.
Our American way of life survived bigotry most overt — Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan and Japanese internment camps. It continues to survive overt bigotry in Arizona today and bigotry that tries to be covert — Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their fellow talking heads of the airwaves.
And our American way of life will survive the threat of international terrorism if we don't wave the white flag of surrender by continuing to erode our basic rights in the name of public safety — which is what President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, reacting to intense criticism from the right, propose to do.
You see, when you dig way down to the bedrock foundation of our American way of life, you find there the "unalienable rights" of human beings our founding fathers recognized, fought for and won against the incredible odds of taking on the world superpower of their day and bringing it to its knees in surrender.
But "unalienable" is a somewhat vague term. And even "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" lack a bit of specificity. So, before they agreed to form a more perfect union by ratifying the Constitution, some of our rebellious ancestors extracted the promise that it would be amended to enumerate several of these rights.
One protects us against being compelled to be a witness against ourselves in any criminal case. In due course, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that suspects must be advised of this right, and their right to be represented by an attorney, when they are arrested.
Later, the court carved out an exception that allows police to delay advising suspects of what we know as our "Miranda rights" when immediate threats to public safety are involved.
Obama and Holder want Congress to broaden this exception to give authorities greater flexibility in questioning American citizens who are suspected terrorists. But no expansion of this exception seems necessary.
Under the existing exception, authorities questioned the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing for nearly an hour before Mirandizing him. The suspect in the failed Times Square bombing didn't hear his rights until he had undergone several hours of questioning.
How far do Obama and Holder want to take this exception? To the point that American citizens — and we are talking about American citizens accused of terrorism, wacko though they may be, not foreign terrorists — can be held for days or weeks without being advised of their rights?
That would be an unacceptable trashing of the Bill of Rights.
More important than the lack of necessity is the fact that, each time we let the threat of terrorism cause us to dial back on those unalienable rights won through such great sacrifice more than two centuries ago, we hand the terrorists a win. We've already ceded them a big victory with the ill-considered Patriot Act.
We can't let the terrorists keep winning. We can't let fear of attack cause us to keep changing an American way of life that has survived so many other trials over the course of more than two centuries. We can't keep diminishing our rights out of fear for our safety. Because when we diminish our rights, we diminish America's soul.