Monday, July 03, 2006

Why the Left is Responsible for NSA Surveillance, Guantanamo Bay, and Other Abuses of Executive Power

The latest edition of The New Yorker has an article entitled "The Hidden Power," about David Addington, a top adviser and chief-of-staff to Vice President Cheney, who happens to be the legal mind behind the Bush Adminstration's legal strategy for the War on Terror. [The article isn't available through any of my on-line sources...sorry.] In the article, a reference is made to "the New Paradigm," which is the argument that emerged after 9/11 that the president has "inherent authority" to take almost any steps necessary to protect and defend the nation against the threat of terrorism. This is the paradigm that gave rise to the NSA domestic surveillance program, the policies at Guantanamo Bay, and other components of the War on Terror, many of which raise the hackles of civil libertarians and Democrats.

The title of this post argues that, ultimately, it is the Left that is responsible for these policies. Yes, that Left. The Left of the ACLU and Sen. Harry Reid. The Left that foams at the mouth when forced to think about George W. Bush. The Left that sees these very policies as assaults on the liberties that make this country great and underpin our very freedoms. But, how can that be?, you ask. Bush is certainly no Lefty, nor is Cheney, nor any of the main advisers. So how can I claim that the Left is reponsible for these transgressions of American civil liberties?

Several months ago, I wrote a letter to the New York Times which was never published. The letter was in response to a NYT editorial which opposed the Bush Administration's attempt to use the Controlled Substance Act to prohibit physician-assisted suicide (this attempt was ultimately struck down by the USSC, but that's not important here). Here's the text of my letter:

To the Editor:

I find it interesting that you oppose the government’s expansion of the Controlled Substance Act to prohibit doctor-assisted suicide (editorial, Oct. 5), but that you are happy to allow the commerce clause to be broadened to include the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

When you agree to expand the powers of government to produce a desirable outcome, you should not be surprised when those new powers are used for purposes with which you do not agree. Perhaps we need to remember why the Founders believed in limiting the powers of the federal government in the first place. Power once given is exceedingly difficult to take away. Just as we allow Nazis to march and the Boy Scouts to exclude gays to protect our First Amendment rights, we sometimes have to accept unwelcome policy outcomes to preserve the constitutional guarantees of freedom from excessive governmental control.


The point I made in the unpublished letter is the same I want to make here, and the reason I believe that responsibility for the assault on freedom and liberty undertaken by the Bush Adminstration ultimately lies at the feet of the Left. Since the days of the New Deal, the Left has had one answer to all of society's problems: government intervention. Every problem we face -- poverty, unemployment, the environment, smoking -- has been handed over to the government to be solved, and government just keeps growing in size and power to deal with all of the problems we cede to it for solving.

Is it any surprise that when faced with a serious threat from international terrorists, the Right (which has more or less capitulated in its effort to shrink the size and scope of government) turned to Big Government to deal with the problem? I do not believe, and I think it is disingenous to claim, that Bush and Cheney and the current administration is trying to undermine our civil liberties for their own personal gain, or even just for fun. This is not 1984, and the Bush Administration is not Big Brother. The NSA surveillance program, the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at Camp X-Ray,the use of military tribunals; all of these things are intended to protect the country.

This is the reason that true libertarians (and I don't mean the wackos in the Libertarian Party) fear giving power to government to solve problems; even problems for which we all agree on a solution. You may like what Big Government does today, when your preferred elected official is in office. But what about tomorrow, when the other party holds power? And how do you stop government from taking as much power as it believes it needs to protect the country? The next time you find yourself calling for government regulation, remember where it can lead. Big Government is inherently and necessarily a threat to liberty and freedom.

UPDATE: My friend Geoff Manne over at Truth On The Market makes an excellent point; one that we've discussed many times and I wanted, but forgot, to include in my post. Here's his argument:

So here’s my question (this version is really for the left, but there are analogues for the right): Why, if “Big Oil,” “Big Pharma,” Wal-Mart and Microsoft are so scary, does it make sense to turn to the biggest of the big, the most oppressive of the oppressive, to constrain those other big baddies, to keep them from getting too big, too powerful? Is there anyone who really has so much faith in our democratic process that despite, say, the legal monopoly on the use of force and the ability to print money, he is worried less about “Big Government” than about “Big Tobacco”? I don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong: I realize the biggest of the big is a really effective hammer with which to pummel all those pesky nails. But is it so hard to see the broader, bigger, long-term implications of consistently handing over that power to the government?

2 comments:

smilerz said...

I've made similar points in the past and am frequently met with black stares.

A while back Theresa hayden was on the losing end of an FDA ban of a drug she used. She cursed Nader up and down and sideways, but mention that perhaps the FDA's usefullness is overstated and the discussion turned ugly.

The left thinks that if they just get enough people to agree with them they will finally get enough like-minded people in power to overcome the evils of government - since that evil is sourced within conservative thought.

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