Civil liberties (like the moon) belong to everyone

REMEMBER the statement ``Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue''? It sounds as though it came straight out of one of those ultraliberal tracts that George Bush has been trying to connect Michael Dukakis with.

It becomes more familiar, however, when we are told that what preceded it was the sentence ``I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.''

Vintage Barry Goldwater. July 26, 1964. As you will recall, the Republican candidate for president was haunted by the words of his acceptance speech right up to his disastrous showing at the polls that November. His opponents branded him a right-wing ideologue, an agitator who would plunge the nation into war, a cultivator of bigots.

The times were different. The John Birch Society thrived in the mid-'60s, and so did reaction to it. Flag-flying and recitation of the pledge of allegiance made many mainstreamers uneasy. Goldwater may have been preaching civil rights when he talked about ``extremism in the defense of liberty,'' but the signal was one of a less responsible form of liberty. And the liberals had a field day taking the conservatives to task.

Now the situation is reversed. Dukakis's remark that he was a ``card-carrying member'' of the American Civil Liberties Union gave his Republican opponent a perfect opportunity to exploit his liberalness.

Again, the signal invited distortion. The Democrat is not merely liberal - but dangerously liberal, it flashed. He would be soft on communism, let violent criminals run amok on the streets, and encourage irresponsible young women to abort their babies.

It may be hard for some to swallow, but Barry Goldwater and Michael Dukakis - 24 years apart in their quests for the White House - have a lot in common. They are both deep believers in the American dream and the democratic process. They are both civil libertarians in their own ways and in their own right.

The point is, of course, that civil rights and individual liberties are not the exclusive property of either liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans.

You don't have to love the American Civil Liberties Union to be a firm believer in individual rights. Conversely, you can wholly reject the philosophy of the National Association to Keep and Bear Arms and still be a patriotic loyalist.

Interestingly, the Encyclopedia of Associations lists more than 120 groups under the categories of ``civil rights'' or ``civil liberties.'' They range from the homosexually oriented Alliance to End Repression, to the National Justice Foundation of America, which espouses ownership of private property and the right to bear arms.

Almost all of these organizations base their philosophies on constitutionally afforded rights.

Occasionally, they clash head-on, as do the pro-choice National Abortion Rights Action League and Alternatives to Abortion International, which champions a right-to-life view.

Some want more government control; some want less. Some would ban handguns; others would lessen restrictions on weapons in general. Some would restrain liquor production and distribution; others insist on their right to consume alcohol.

Admittedly, some causes sound silly - such as one that would clothe animals and another that would disrobe people.

The point is: Diversity is one of the strengths of a free system.

The right to speak out - and to hold deep convictions even if they are generally unpopular with the mainstream - is basic to this democracy. (It is even basic to those who insist that this is not a democracy at all - but a republic.)

The United States Constitution provides an opportunity to balance individual liberties with the rights of the greater populace. It is up to Congress and the courts and the president to help determine what that balance should be.

No purpose is served by bashing civil liberties or those groups - on either the left or right - that espouse them.

A Thursday column

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