Give me liberty

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I have run the Boston Marathon twice, once in 2008 and again last year. My wife and mother were with me in 2008, and they cheered hard for me when I made the final turn onto Boylston Street and shuffled to the finish line. Last year I ran one of the best, smartest races I’ve ever run in 87 degree heat.

It wasn’t my best time ever recorded, but I had enough left in the tank to pump my fist in the air, finish with a strong kick, and hold back a few tears of joy while waving to one of my best friends, who was standing on Boylston Street–just a few hundred yards from Monday’s bombing–to cheer me on.

My moments near the end of the Boston Marathon are among the best moments of my life, I suspect the same can be said for many Boston Marathon finishers. Turning onto Boylston Street, seeing the finish line, and picking family and friends out of a huge crowd of supporters brings an overwhelming wave of joy and complete peace.

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For hundreds of runners and families directly affected by the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and for the tens of thousands who finished before the bombing or in some way were impacted, the moment of pure joy has been transformed into a hellish nightmare. 26.2 life-changing miles for the runners, their families and friends, and then it all ended in 12 seconds of tragedy.

The marathon itself, which is a race that has been important to me for many years, will never be the same. I cringe thinking about the security nightmare for future Boston Marathon runners and fans. The first and foremost thought on every Boston Marathon runner’s mind each year should be about what they’ve accomplished by just being part of the field (because it’s the only marathon to require time qualifications). Monday’s bombing has caused new headaches to enter the picture: The excitement of being at Boston will be hampered by the hassles of increased security, and fear will now be in the background for many as well.

Sadly, heightened security at Boston is just the tip of the iceberg. Sporting events, parades, and other forms of civic engagement will be more heavily policed. More cameras and more invasions into our private lives are almost certain.

My biggest concern, though, relates to the effects we cannot see or forecast yet. Will our momentary and understandable policy reactions to tragedies like the Boston bombing be like 09/11?

Our response to 09/11 has left us less free. Well-meaning policies regulating air travel have snowballed from metal detectors to body scanners and pat-downs; the Transportation Safety Administration has grown faster than almost any other government program, and the shirking of their staff is obvious for anyone who travels. Rather than being protective of our liberty, many people are fine with greater privacy invasions and have grown complacent with the “new normal.”

Others are tired of security fears being exploited, and I hope we have learned from our mistakes and not repeat the 09/11 over-reaction. I fear we haven’t learned from 09/11, and worry that our frustration with what happened on Monday will turn into tough, “do something” political action that leaves a lasting legacy. Americans are far worse off today for the liberties we gave up to George W. Bush in the days and years after 09/11. Some have tried to push for a bit more liberty, but rolling back what’s been done–TSA, rights to wiretap, emergency powers that have become perpetual powers–is a near impossible policy task.

We need to mourn, and there needs to be justice for the gruesome bombing at Boston. But, in our pursuit of justice and search for answers, we also need to remain protective of our liberty and mindful of Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that “a society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

Scott Beaulier is Director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.