How is the Federal Government abusing its power? Let me count the ways.
· The IRS selected hundreds of citizens for special harassment and intimidation based on their personal beliefs, then called the abuse “poor customer service.”
· The FBI analyzed the phone records of perhaps hundreds of journalists, and the Department of Justice intimidated reporters and their families from a specific news network, in order to identify sources of “leaks,” while senior Congressional and Administration officials routinely leaked information helpful to their political positions without interference.
· After years of saying they are focused on arresting and deporting the most dangerous of illegal aliens, officials from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement directed the release of hundreds of those people from custody, to include some felons, in order “to save money.”
· The FAA used the same excuse to ensure sequester cuts strike the American people in a painful way, in order to discourage further budget measures.
· Some military contractors supporting our troops on the ground in Afghanistan have been told to work only 40 hours per week – DOD is only paying for the war from 8-5 each day.
· The head of Customs and Border Protection repeated the Secretary of Homeland Security’s claim that the border is the safest it has ever been, while media reports that members of Mexican drug cartels are settling in on US soil to create and control drug distribution networks in the American heartland.
· ATF(E) agents leaned on reluctant gun shops to cooperate in a scheme to sell weapons illegally, follow the purchasers, and prove American complicity in Mexican drug violence – a scheme that led to the death of an American law enforcement officer, the loss of hundreds of weapons, and no evidence of large scale illegality on the American side of the border.
· Members of the Department of Defense (and of Congress) used essential budget legislation to by-pass centuries-old prohibitions against the use of the US military for law enforcement on US soil, while cooperating in a push for greater use of drones and special operations troops domestically.
· The Departments of Education and Justice pressed for the adoption of “speech codes” on American campuses that would stifle political opposition to Administration positions on social issues.
· The General Services Administration expended more than $800,000 on a lavish conference in Las Vegas. (Apparently, this was only one of several such events.)
· The President’s Secret Service detail partied with Colombian prostitutes after an official state visit, in an event that has all the hall marks of being not a one time “mistake,” but a standard practice accepted by the agency culture.
The list of government abuse and over reach goes on and on. Everybody surprised by this turn of events raise your hand. Well, some hands are up and some are not. Why?
Because to build a working system of government, you must begin with a vision for how the world works, and why the men and women in the world behave the way they do. Over the last several centuries, Western political philosophers have identified four basic ways to think about interactions between citizens and government. One of those visions – and only one -- predicts what we are seeing today: that without extraordinary efforts and extraordinary leadership, concentrations of government power will always result in extraordinary abuse. That vision alone explains why our government appears to be spinning out of control. Let’s see what the various visions say, and why only one is not surprised by current events.
1) Aristocrats (and that includes elites created by money and politics as well as those created by birth) hold that the “little people” of society are incapable of ruling themselves or making political decisions. Elites must rule thorough force, laws, and regulations, else average citizens will crash the complex machinery of government and international affairs – machinery only they can run and which rewards them handsomely for their efforts. Elites love BIG GOVERNMENT because it is the means they use to exercise power. They focus on how to grow it, not on how to control it. And they never consider that their self-serving guidance might be wrong.
2) Liberals hold that society can only function fairly when everyone has an equal say in decisions and an equal claim on resources. That can only happen when all existing property rights and existing notions of morality are destroyed, and all voices representing the existing order are silenced. This view-point was born as a reaction against the horrible abuses of power by European aristocrats that generated the French Revolution. Like the French Revolutionaries, modern Liberals seek to destroy the old order so that a new, more benign order can emerge. And emerge it will (Liberals believe), because Mankind is basically good, and when stripped of the evil influences of the Old Order, peace and fairness will just naturally emerge. Of course, smashing the old order is no small task. It requires BIG GOVERNMENT, directed by a Liberal elite. If that sounds dangerous, don’t worry – Liberal beliefs and doctrine (their theology holds) will prevent the new elite from abusing power like the old.
(By the way, “Progressive” is just the new branding for “Liberal”, after that original brand was tarnished when China and the Soviet Union took their philosophies to a logical conclusion – and failed.) Liberals and Progressives love BIG GOVERNMENT because it makes BIG CHANGES easy. They don’t worry much about big abuses.
3) A third view of how the world works might be called “Constructivist.” It argues that Mankind is a blank slate, and people can be “constructed” into a more peaceful and perfect model if all aspects of society, from families to education to private industry, are shaped according to new controls over social interaction. There are many different visions for reconstructing Mankind. Differences between male and female, one vision holds, might be eliminated if gender neutral policies were made and enforced in every aspect of life. A different vision suggests that society might be improved by substituting female characteristics for male dominance in the ordering of things. Or society might be “constructed” differently by enforcing a new environmental consciousness on social activity. What these differing visions share is a conviction that people have no fixed nature. So completely reconstructing all social interaction will completely change human behavior. Of course, this big task requires BIG GOVERNMENT to enforce the many essential changes that pesky people refuse to make on their own. (As when men refuse to surrender their manhood, competition refuses to surrender to collectivism, and workers insist on ownership of what they have created and built.)
For those trying to reconstruct human nature, disruption and interference with the lives of ordinary citizens is not considered a danger. It is, in fact, the whole point of government.
And by the way, many big businesses assumed to be conservative in nature are actually constructivist in behavior. They want BIG GOVERNMENT support and protection in artificially inflating markets, while supposedly benefiting the world from their own growth and profits.
4) The fourth world view generated by modern Western thinking arose in America from a unique combination of location, timing and events that allowed the fusing of three important developments:
· The Renaissance, which brought the benefits of science, engineering and learning into everyday life.
· The Reformation, which taught that because Jesus died for each person individually, each person has individual worth.
· The Great Awakening, which established broadly the idea that every person has the free will to do either good or evil, and the responsibility to choose between them.
This vision might be called Traditional American Conservatism. It holds that citizens can use government to protect and even advance societal interests, but must be on guard lest the collection of BIG GOVERNMENT POWER and Man’s natural inclination to abuse that power, turn the master of the government into the slave of the bureaucracy.
Now here is why this matters to you today. Three of the four visions for government design and activity created over the last 300 years of Western history, call for the establishment of BIG GOVERNMENT to accomplish their purpose -- all without any thought for how to control the BIG BUREAUCRACY which is sure to follow. Conservatism alone sees the need to create checks and balances, and responsible leadership to take control over and responsibility for the steadily growing power of the government bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion about federal government arrogance, over reach and abuse making the rounds today is really a thinly disguised way to punish or protect the current occupant of the White House.
A better starting point for discussion would be “Does the nature of men and women make any large collection of power suspect – thus requiring responsible leadership inside the organization, and aggressive oversight from outside?”
In other words, do traditional Conservatives have a better vision of how government should be organized and constrained than do those focused on building BIG GOVERNMENT without a thought of controlling it?
One of the best soldiers I know said of the abuse at the Abu Grab prison in Baghdad, “This did not happen because President Bush and his generals conspired to create a scandal. It happened because low level soldiers in a big organization knew nobody would be checking on their behavior at 2 o’clock in the morning.” What does this tell us? That the checks, balances and leadership were not adequate to the task.
Ultimately, we may discover that President Obama and his closest advisers bear personal responsibility for ordering or covering up an abuse of trust granted them by the American people. Or we may not.
But what seems imminently clear is that regardless of who is in charge, big collections of government power require strong oversight and leaders we can hold accountable. Perhaps we should even avoid creating massive collections of power out of concern for the massive abuses of that power which will inevitably take place.
That’s a good lesson to remember as we consider the massive concentration of power being planned at DHS for domestic security, and at HHS for the implementation of Obama Care.