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Ed Driscoll

The Scowling Face of the State

June 14th, 2013 - 11:53 am

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Beginning with his headline, George Will gets off quite a stem-winder on Lois Lerner, the disgraced former (hopefully former…) IRS chief. That he does so in the Washington Post is all the more amazing. Although likely, the JournoLista in the Post are only angry that she got caught. Presumably, if you do believe, as the Post did when Barack Obama took office that “We Are All Socialists Now,” you don’t mind breaking eggs (never mind the omelet) and becoming East Germany on the Potomac:

Lerner, it is prudent to assume, is one among thousands like her who infest the regulatory state. She is not just a bureaucratic bully and a slithering partisan. Now she also is a national security problem because she is contributing to a comprehensive distrust of government.

The case for the National Security Agency’s gathering of metadata is: America is threatened not by a nation but by a network, dispersed and largely invisible until made visible by connecting dots. The network cannot help but leave, as we all do daily, a digital trail of cellphone, credit card and Internet uses. The dots are in such data; algorithms connect them. The technological gathering of 300 billion bits of data is less menacing than the gathering of 300 by bureaucrats. Mass gatherings by the executive branch twice receive judicial scrutiny, once concerning phone and Internet usages, another concerning the content of messages.

The case against the NSA is: Lois Lerner and others of her ilk.

Government requires trust. Government by progressives, however, demands such inordinate amounts of trust that the demand itself should provoke distrust. Progressivism can be distilled into two words: “Trust us.” The antecedent of the pronoun is: The wise, disinterested experts through whom the vast powers of the regulatory state’s executive branch will deliver progress for our own good, as the executive branch understands this, whether we understand it or not. Lois Lerner is the scowling face of this state, which has earned Americans’ distrust.

According to a Rasmussen poll, “57% Fear Government Will Use NSA Data to Harass Political Opponents.” 

Which is why paranoia can run deep, as Michael Malone illustrates today in Forbes:

The other day, my college age son quietly went around the house and put electricians tape over the camera lenses on the displays of all our home computers.  I laughed when I discovered what he had done. . .then paused:  after all, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone to remotely turn that camera on and secretly watch me and my family.  I left the tape on.

This is what it has come to.  The revelations of recent days about the NSA being able to spy on the phone calls of millions of everyday Americans, without warrant, in search of a few possible terrorists has made everyone just a little more paranoid – and a little less trusting of the benign nature of our Federal government.  The reality is that we may not yet be paranoid enough.

Michael adds, “No doubt once again there will be a mad scramble in the Capitol to do something – new regulations, new oversight, new attempts to protect civil liberties.  But, thanks to Moore’s Law, the technology will have already moved on.  Is it too much to ask, just once, that Congress get ahead of this mess before all of those newly-purchased copies of 1984 turn into tour guides?”

Well, yes, but I’m not holding breath, given that Congress is primarily interested in winning elections and staying in power — although another swell aspect of the Obama era may thin the herd a little bit at the end of the year, Jonathan S. Tobin writes at Commentary:

Though Democrats have mocked the more than three dozen attempts by House Republicans to repeal [ObamaCare], the party leadership views the impending deadline with horror since the prospect of being forced into ObamaCare insurance has set off a mass exodus of members and their senior staffs. As Politico reports, there could be a surge in resignations before December 31 since doing so will allow representatives, senators and other congressional employees to retain their old federal insurance plans. That has led the same Democrats who pushed for the passage of ObamaCare to demand that it be changed to let the inhabitants of Capitol Hill of the hook. But even though Republicans have just as much incentive to want to amend the bill to save their own members and their staffs, their answer should be no. If Congress doesn’t want to cope with the far higher costs and poorer coverage that ObamaCare will ensure, they can scrap the entire misbegotten bill rather than just change it to suit their own interests.

If a Democratic leader like Connecticut’s John Larson thinks it’s unfair to expect his employees to be put in the same boat as his constituents, then maybe he should rethink the entire measure that he played a pivotal role in passing when his party controlled Congress.

Really? Congressional aides won’t be able to afford ObamaCare?! But Obamastenographer Ezra Klein says that it’s such a cost saver! He couldn’t be wrong, could he? Tobin’s Commentary post is titled, “Congress Can’t Weasel Out of ObamaCare.”As Tobin writes, “Republicans may be as miserable as Democrats about this mess, but they need to understand that if they vote for a fix that will exempt Congress they are signing their own political death warrants.” Something to watch for this year.

All of these train wrecks are reminders why “The libertarian idea is the only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years,” Jonah Goldberg writes today:

It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another — fascism, Communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit.

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding.

Indeed, what’s remarkable about all of the states Lind identifies as proof that libertarianism doesn’t work is that they are in fact proof that it does. What made the American experiment new were its libertarian innovations, broadly speaking. Moreover, those innovations made us prosper. Even Sweden — the liberal Best in Show — owes its successes to its libertarian concessions.

I’m actually not a full-blown libertarian myself, but it’s an ideal I’d like America to move closer to, not further away from as we’ve been doing of late — bizarrely in the name of “progress,” of all things.

Don’t let Lois Lerner — or her equally scowling boss, who “joked” about siccing the IRS on his enemies in 2009 — hear you saying something like that.

(George Will column found via JWF.)

Update: FBI Director Robert Mueller: We have top men working on investigating the IRS. Who? Top. Men.

Elsewhere: “Sir, the Iranians are rigging the elections again…”

Oh, and maybe Michael Malone’s son was onto something covering his laptop camera with electrical tape: “Sharyl Attkisson: CBS confirmed my computer was hacked ‘on multiple occasions.’”