Thought for Today
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism… “From the American Declaration of Independence
“Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed…” Lenin
These days arrogant pundits have a tendency to sneer at the very thought of “conspiracy theory”. This reminds me of Verbal’s pithy pronouncement from the movie “The Usual Suspects” (not for family viewing, by the way) that “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” When I’m tempted to let snide punditry influence my thinking I more often call to mind the above quoted words from America’s Declaration of Independence.
They reminds us that people who want to preserve their liberty must be willing to keep in mind the possibility that the actions of their government leaders may be part of a “design” (that is, a consciously contrived plan of concerted actions) aimed at establishing despotic rule over them. If the American Founders left room for a little conspiracy theory, why shouldn’t we? Indeed, in the cyber age we should be more open to it than ever. After all, when it comes to human activities, “conspiracy” is just another word for systematic programming. The key question in that context: What is the goal?
I’ve been asking myself that question as I consider the Alleged Usurper’s recent power grab involving the Census Bureau. And I’m not just referring to the obviously partisan purposes it may serve. What struck me more was the unnecessarily arrogant fashion in which the Obama faction declared control over an activity that the Constitution clearly states shall be determined by law. Existing law places the Census bureau under the supervision of the Secretary of Commerce.
A change must be made in the law before the White House can constitutionally alter that arrangement. Admittedly, with a Democrat majority in both Houses, Obama will have things his way. But at the very least, appearing to issue orders not authorized by law (as the Constitution requires) smacks of a hasty if not dictatorial temperament. However, my concern isn’t about temperament, either.
Years ago, I wrote my doctoral dissertation at Harvard. I focused on Alexander Hamilton’s contribution to the U.S. Constitution. As I researched and pondered this subject, I was struck by the dangerous abuses of executive power that might arise, under certain circumstances, because of the assumptions the Framers made with respect to the characteristics of the American people. The Constitution’s famous system of checks and balance works on the assumption that the different branches of government will jealously guard their own Constitutional prerogatives and the prerogatives of the people they are supposed to represent; and that they will therefore adamantly resist encroachments upon them.
If one branch or another takes unconstitutional initiatives, the judiciary has means to forestall the effects in some cases. In others, the legislature has the power to remove the offending officials. The executive can simply refuse to carry out unconstitutional actions. But, by the same token, only the executive has frequent opportunity to carry on an unconstitutional initiative until it produces a concrete result that can be challenged only after the fact. An individual might, for example, be unconstitutionally arrested, tortured and killed under the auspices of executive authority long before either of the other branches even hear about the action, much less have any chance to intervene.
The first safeguard against such abuse is the character of the one vested with executive power. But if that person has the disposition to move beyond the law until met with hard resistance (to probe with bayonets, as Lenin put it), great and perhaps fatal harm could be done before such resistance sufficed to stop him. There will be a special danger in this regard if the executive in question has enough support in the Congress to make him confident that his abuses will not be challenged, or that such challenges will never have sufficient support to remove him from office. Can we say with any confidence that we are not in this situation of special peril to liberty?
The present occupant of the White House assumed residence while refusing to provide credible evidence that he is in fact constitutionally qualified to serve as President. Neither the judiciary nor the Congress, nor any other government officials, showed any disposition to defend the terms and authority of the Constitution. Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger and others, Obama took the initiative to run for President despite whatever knowledge still impels him to withhold from public view the document that would rebut the substantial allegation that he is not a natural born U.S. citizen, and therefore unqualified to serve. Following Lenin’s dictum, he probed. He met no resistance. He has so far gotten away with it.
Does his dictatorial presumption with respect to the administration of the census reflect the same tactical disposition? If he so casually crosses the line of respect for Constitutional formalities with no shred of cover from the circumstances of his action, what will he do when some emergency actually seems to authorize extraordinary measures? He has already called for a domestic security force as large and well funded as the military. He has already begun to tout the economic crisis as something that can only be solved by centralizing more and more power under his control. His supporters have already begun an effort to replace allegiance to the Constitution with personal allegiance to him. Taken alone, such things might be meaningless. But altogether, like the threads of a tapestry, they begin to suggest a design.
Someone who plays the party dictator when nothing is at stake may just be practicing for the moment when everything hangs in the balance. And if Congress is willing to tolerate such infringements of the Constitution when there’s nothing to fear, what must we expect if and when some catastrophe calls for armed forces in the streets, and the prerogatives of disaster arm executive whims with raw power to do things far more threatening than the partisan rearrangement of the bureaucracy?
Let’s not pretend that we live in times when such events are at all unlikely to occur. On the contrary, the last terror attack hit upon our soil in a time of relative prosperity. If the next one wrenches us in the midst of an economic depression, will the twin demons of fear and economic misery leave people with much heart for liberty? Or will it seem a pointless distraction from the imperatives of survival.
Such times call for a leader whose heart will be the repository of America’s love of freedom, keeping the flame alive in spite of all. But human history suggests that they are more likely to spawn leaders that seize the opportunity to do what their ambition, their ideology, or their resentful disposition has inclined them to do all along: seize the day; seize the power; and use that power to snuff out the flame of liberty, and scatter its dying embers.
I know that there are some Americans so far gone that they look without concern upon the prospect of such despotism. For them, the so-called economic stimulus boondoggle is like the distribution of money a new Roman Caesar would make to woo the support and loyalty of the Praetorians and the Roman rabble. Like such Romans, they are doubtless the ones who will gladly serve as servile henchman of despotic ambition, as it works to cow, seduce and subdue the rest of us. But are they so many that the little harbingers of tyranny, carried upon the winds of so-called change, have no audience capable of understanding and responding to their significance? Are there no Americans left willing to see with an eye jealous of our freedom, and stand, with hardy, God struck spirits upon the rights He has designed for us?