December 8, 1999
Senator Warns Of Future Threats To American
The United States, having won the Cold War and watched the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is now the only true "super power" left in the world. With the Soviet Union gone, the greatest threat to freedom comes from inside our borders, according to U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell.
Speaking to the Commerce Kiwanis Club last Thursday in a program provided by Scott Tolbert, the state's senior senator spoke about the "three pillars" of American liberty and the threats that face them as the 20th century draws to a close.
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"I don't believe any of us expected in 1999 that the United States would be the only super power in the world," Coverdell stated. "I suspect most of us, when we think or contemplate about our liberty being challenged, in our minds would envision an outside force powerful enough to deny us our liberty. I do not believe that is likely in the foreseeable future. But I do believe American liberty is nonetheless at risk, and I think it is at risk because of decisions and policy conclusions that are happening right here in our country."
Coverdell said he reached the conclusion, after some study, that the pillars of American freedom are economic opportunity, safety for the citizens and their property and education.
"These are the three principals that make it work. These three things must be intact and in good health for American liberty to work, or liberty anywhere for that matter," Coverdell said.
The concept of economic liberty dates back to the American Revolution, Coverdell explained, when the colonists, who were "already the highest paid workers in the world," revolted to gain liberty.
"Economic liberty fosters independent minds. It is the root of entrepreneurship, of focus, of confidence. It is probably the most important attribute of economic liberty," Coverdell stated. "The American people, by and large, don't think there is anything we can't solve or lick. It comes from the confidence built up through economic liberty, one by one, citizen by citizen."
By contrast, Coverdell said that after the Berlin Wall came down, he was in Eastern Europe, where he saw the result of the lack of economic liberty.
"The one thing you saw that was so obviously missing," he said, "was confidence. When they walked down the street, people would look away, not at you. When you talked to them, they could not look you in the eye. They would bow their heads; they had lost their confidence.
"We're not who we are because of our genes, we're who we are because we've been free."
The danger America faces, Coverdell indicated, is an oppressive tax system. He stated that while his father was allowed to keep 80 percent of his income in the World War II generation, two generations later Americans keep only 40 percent of their "lifetime wages."
"This is a situation we cannot allow to deteriorate. In fact, we need to turn it around. Workers and businesses have to keep more of their money," he said. "An American worker is paying the highest taxes since World War II. They keep about half of their paycheck after every government marches through their checkbook ... We've taken too many resources from our workers, and it makes them less independent."
But free societies cannot prosper without safety either, the senator said.
"Free societies cannot function if their people are at risk or their property cannot be effectively protected," Coverdell stated.
He related a story of Nicaragua's quest for foreign investment at a time when the country was reeling from 25 years of civil war. The leader understood the need for foreign investment, but such investment did not occur.
"The answer (to her requests) was always the same," said Coverdell. "When it's safe for people to be here, when there's a civil system that deals with resolution and dispute, it will come. But until then, it won't, and it didn't until they overhauled their judiciary and created a civil police force instead of a military police force.
"Capital and people do not go to insecure places. They leave insecure places as quickly as possible."
While Coverdell believes the country has made some progress in dealing with crime, he also believes it must do more to stop the "drug Mafia" that is at the root of so much crime. He called the discovery of more than 100 bodies on a farm near Juarez, Mexico, "a grim reminder of just how evil this force is."
In response to a question from the audience, Coverdell said the "Coverdell-Feinstein Anti-Narcotics Act" passed in the late hours of the last session of Congress would use United States "assets and intelligence and direct them at the perpetrators, the institutions, at kingpins and at individuals" in the drug business. One aspect of the legislation, he said, is that the U.S. Treasury Department will compile a list of corporations involved in "foreign assault of the United States" through their participation in or support for the drug trade.
"Once on that list as a foreign threat to the U.S., no U.S. business, no U.S. bank, no telecommunications company, no service organization will be allowed to do business with them," Coverdell stated. "It is designed to isolate them from the organizations they need to conduct their business."
Coverdell said he will co-sponsor anti-money laundering legislation next year, and proposed increasing interdiction efforts along the U.S. border and conducting a public education campaign on the dangers of narcotics.
The third pillar of economic liberty, Coverdell said, is education.
"The data coming out of education is troublesome," he stated. "There are too many kindergarten through high school students whose reading skills are not sufficient. Coming out of high school, most tests show about a third of that population as not being able to effectively read.
"There is only one way you can create a caste system in America and that is to leave vast numbers of people without proper educational skills. If we do that, we will do enormous damage to American liberty."
The good news, he said, is that there appears to be a movement to shore up the educational systems.
"I believe there is a renewal in education," he said. "In a decade, you won't recognize the system. There will be more alternative methods that have emerged."
Coverdell still believes in the need to have a strong defense, including a ballistic missile system.
Still, "the struggle over whether American liberty stays healthy or not is going to happen in the next quarter century right here at home," he said. "Everybody in this room, in their own way, no matter what (they) do, has a role to play and nurturing and protecting these fundamental principals. We are the current custodians of this democracy, the greatest in the history of the world, and each of us can play a very important role in our own way."
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