Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Barack Obama vs. Thomas Jefferson


This week’s newspapers are being dominated by three stories:

1.     The IRS targeting of “conservative” groups for harassment, particularly groups with the words “tea party”, “government debt”, and “constitution” in their names.

2.     The 12 separate revisions and re-writings of the infamous talking points on Benghazi.

3.     The Justice Department’s seizure of phone records of over 40 reporters from the Associated Press.

The Left in this country constantly accuses their enemies, especially we Libertarians, of political paranoia. We are told by the party of government that those who distrust the State are simply rubes and anarchists. Indeed, those who cast aspersions on State power secretly loathe the concept of self-rule, and long I suppose for the salad days of nomadic tribes scouring the fruited plain for food and shelter unhindered by taxes. The President said as much in a commencement address at Ohio State University:

     Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”

The headlines this week seem to suggest that our “brave, creative and unique” experiment in self-rule could use a few grown-ups. To equate, as the President does, self-rule with a gargantuan, bloated beyond recognition, bureaucratic leviathan that is involved in every area of its citizen’s lives from the size of our Big-Gulps to the size of our paychecks is a rhetorical reach of epic proportion. So, if we observe a government racking up over a trillion dollars a year in debt, watch it harass unfriendly reporters, then discover that its tax collecting agency is singling out dissident groups for special harassment, we are to simply rejoice in the miracle of self-rule?

For me, suggesting the very real possibility of tyranny in our future is not a repudiation of self rule, but an acknowledgment of the record of history. The previous century was a blood-soaked nightmare brought about by governments convinced of their infallibility, and endowed with great power over their citizens. To warn of mankind’s awful tendency towards the totalitarian impulse is not to “gum up the works” as our President so eloquently described it, but rather, the faithful tradition of the wise skepticism of our Founders, one of whom, Thomas Jefferson, said this:

 “Even under the best form of government, those entrusted with power, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

With all due respect to the current occupant of the White House, human nature in 2013 is unchanged from the 1776 variety. I’ll take Jefferson’s skepticism over Obama’s Pollyannaish optimism any day of the week, especially a week like this one.