We applaud President Bush on his naming of Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania, to the new cabinet-level post overseeing the Office of Homeland Security.
Ridge has shown himself to be smart, tough and compassionate in a career of public service that has included combat duty in Vietnam, a seat in the U.S. House representing Western Pennsylvania and the governorship of Pennsylvania. He has also demonstrated an ability to be both idealistic and pragmatic as the occasion demanded.
Taking on his new job will require all those attributes and more. It will challenge even a man such as Ridge, a Harvard-educated lawyer who represented a blue collar, rustbelt district of Pennsylvania.
Balancing act: His new job will require him to coordinate anti-terrorist activities of more than 40 government departments and agencies. He will have to balance the efforts of the immigration service against the Coast Guard against the FBI, against the GAO, against the FAA -- you get the idea. This isn't going to be easy, especially since those various agencies now spend about $11 billion a year to combat terrorism, and each will want to protect what it's getting now and make a bid for more.
We believe that there is another priority that Ridge should bear in mind as he goes about the work of protecting the heartland, and that is protecting the heart of our democracy, the Constitution.
Ultimately, of course, the job of protecting the Constitution falls to the Supreme Court of the United States, but there is no reason why Ridge and others involved in the fight against terrorism can't ask themselves whether new security initiatives pass constitutional muster.
Threats: There have always been forces in this nation that have not fully appreciated the freedoms of speech, assembly and press that the Constitution gives Americans, along with protections against unlawful searches or seizures and the guarantee of public trials.
Just as a handful of greedy service station operators tried to profit on the night of Sept. 11, some politicians and bureaucrats may try to use the panic of the moment to chip away at important freedoms that Americans have had for 225 years and -- with proper care -- will still have 225 years from now.