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Miss Alabama was applauded for defending phone surveillance.

Pop culture may have inspired a new American theme: Give me safety at any expense.

Americans should not expect dazzling brilliance from young people who compete in pageants decided mostly by the swimsuit contest. So bloggers and pundits should just calm down about Miss Utah's bungled response to a question, during Sunday's Miss USA contest, about gender-based wage inequality. The contestant was nervous.

Meanwhile, a lower-profile comment by Miss Alabama should raise grave concern. It speaks to the culture's lack of outrage when federal agents track civilian phone calls. It explains the lack of public indignation when IRS jackboots obstruct free speech and political action that challenges The Great Divider, President Barack Obama.

A pageant judge asked Miss Alabama about revelations of the government's mass monitoring of phone calls. The judge wanted to know: "Is this an invasion of privacy, or necessary to keep our country safe, why or why not?"

Miss Alabama's answer: "I think the society that we live in today, it's sad that if we go to the movie, or to the airport, or even to the mall that we have to worry about our safety, so I would rather someone track my telephone messages and feel safe wherever I go than feel like they're, um, encroaching on my privacy."

OK, so she's a 20-something who attends at a state university. In her world, safe trips to the mall could easily outweigh idealistic notions of liberty. Professors at the University of Alabama probably haven't mentioned the Constitution, much less protections from unwarranted searches and seizures that uphold our privacy.

The alarming aspect of her answer was the crowd's response. What an audience would have booed in previous decades found uproarious applause Sunday night. Then Miss Alabama almost won, finishing in second place.

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If this indicates the mood of our culture, we no longer have a "don't tread on me" relationship with a government created to wait on us. We may have a safety-at-any-cost relationship with a government that parents us.

We don't know Benjamin Franklin's full intent in his 1755 letter during the French and Indian War. We only know that Americans have traditionally used an excerpt from it to remind authorities that our country was founded on ideals more sacred than Uncle Sam protecting us. It goes like this:

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Americans have held this quote sacred because it reminds the governing class what's important to the governed. It tells public servants their primary role is to protect the liberty and sovereignty of individuals. It says don't spy on us, don't search our properties without due process and don't monitor our relationships. It tells politicians, bureaucrats and judges that Americans would rather assume considerable risk than live under oppressive guidance from on high. It's the public's version of a young adult reminding her parents she no longer lives under their curfews and dating restrictions.

If "make me feel safe" is what we're about, government should have no problem delivering. Authorities can greatly reduce crime, thus making us safer, if we free them from burdens such as presumption of innocence. Warrantless searches and ethnic/cultural profiling may keep us safer. A country that values safety over liberty benefits by eroding due process at every turn.

We wonder if a crowd that applauds "track my telephone messages" can also applaud Patrick Henry's eloquent demand: "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Millions of Americans have given their lives to defend individuals from oppressive governments. We should consider them before applauding mall safety as righteous justification for government abuse.

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