Power, arrogance, and dissent
Over at RedState, Erick Erickson highlights the breathtaking arrogance of Barack Obama, citing as an early example his claim to be “a better speechwriter than his speechwriters” and “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.” (This was long before he was re-invented as the innocent naif who didn’t know a thing about any Mexican gun-running operations or Benghazi terror cells, and just can’t understand why American businessmen keep letting him down by refusing to hire people.)
Erickson then moves on to more recent developments:
Couple that with the amazing admission from Dan Pfeiffer, the White House Communications Director, “that we don’t have a political system or an opposition party worthy of the opportunity.”
Forget the part about the “opposition party.” Dan Pfeiffer (and kudos to Daniel Halper for catching it) states on the record that the United States does not have a political system “worthy of the opportunity” to work with Barack Obama. It’s not just the Republicans, but the system.
That arrogance indicates an intention for overreach. In fact, the whole Washington Post article suggests Barack Obama intends to stretch his legs to the limits of Presidential power to secure a legacy. They want big things. They expect big things. He himself will worry about the politics of achieving those big things.
Erickson cites the 2010 rout of House Democrats as evidence that such overreach can result in devastating blowback. I don’t know if that’s the best example of blowback, because in the end the Left got what it wanted. The pendulum of American political culture was moved further Left; the relationship between citizen and State was forever re-defined; and the Party recovered from its 2010 drubbing to consolidate power in 2012. What does the loss of a few Democrats from the House matter, compared to that?
Let us stipulate that the exercise of power will always seem arrogant to those on the wrong side of it. But it becomes particularly irritating when the expansion of government is expressed as a moral crusade, and those who resist are therefore defined as villains. Arrogance becomes an inseparable component of power, when it accumulates to certain levels, because the expansion of the State leaves us with less room for dissent.
“Dissent” doesn’t just mean carping about government actions we are powerless to oppose. A properly humble and ethical republic allows for meaningful dissent. It’s not enough to say that if we don’t like the way things are going, we can try to muster effective opposition at the voting booth in four years. We’re told with increasing frequency that even that is not possible – much of Obama’s inauguration speech was dedicated to insisting that the power of the State has been forever expanded, and dissent is no longer even politically feasible in many areas. That’s what “progressivism” is all about: irrevocable movement toward a larger State. It’s okay if some of the steps taken are small, as long as they are irreversible.
How can the government assert control over the private lives and commerce of its citizens without arrogance? The whole racket is premised on the notion that Barack Obama, the unitary executive, is the world’s greatest consumer of intelligence. He’s also the world’s greatest doctor, investor, and auto maker, not to mention our top expert on firearms. In areas where his excellence is less than absolute, he has the very finest minds on speed-dial, and they’re all a lot smarter than the millions of greedy, callous, disobedient citizens they rule.
“Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” President Obama declared during his second inaugural speech. That’s a relatively unobjectionable sentiment when you’re talking about a limited Constitutional republic attending to its minimal duties by putting together police and military forces… but it becomes an Orwellian horror when the size of the State is inflated to Obama levels. “Collective actions” don’t work if the public refuses to obey the ruling class. Dissent becomes intolerable. The people might get a bit of input when those great national actions are drafted, especially if the planning occurs in close proximity to an election… but once it’s “go time,” there is increasingly less room for individual reluctance to cooperate.
The Daily Caller recently uncovered some college work from a guy who really understands all this: Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan.
In his 1980 graduate thesis at the University of Texas at Austin, John Brennan denied the existence of “absolute human rights” and argued in favor of censorship on the part of the Egyptian dictatorship.
“Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship,” Brennan wrote. “Inflamatory [sic] articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence, especially in developing political systems.”
[…] Central to Brennan’s presentation was a relativist view of human rights, which he said include “security, welfare, liberty, and justice.”
“These four rights reflect not only my own moral concept of human rights [but] also my interpretation of the Western human rights perspective,” Brennan wrote in his introduction.
“I don’t feel that the possible forfeiture of rights under certain circumstances precludes their inalienability.”
Chew on that last statement for a moment. He’s saying that inalienable rights can be alienated, if the State thinks it’s really important. One example would be the urgent need to make people buy condoms for each other, even if it violates their religious conscience. There will be many more to come.
1980 was a long time ago, and the young Mr. Brennan was writing in defense of the prior Egyptian dictatorship, which his new boss decided to scuttle in favor of a new dictatorship that is more hostile to America. But what he wrote about “developing political systems” is equally applicable to degenerating ones, like ours. Or perhaps we could view things from Obama’s perspective, and view the United States as a “developing political system” too.
In any event, Obama’s America certainly does not allow for inflammatory articles provoking mass opposition – nothing will deflate “collective action” faster. And the benevolent statist always views his opponents as prone to violence. Just ask anyone from the Tea Party about that.
Wayne LaPierre of the NRA – another organization that knows all about the statist tendency to accuse opponents of incipient violence – delivered a “rebuttal” to President Obama’s inaugural speech on Tuesday, in which he spoke up in favor of the absolute insistence upon inalienable Constitutional rights. “Obama wants to turn the idea of absolutism into a dirty word… just another word for extremism,” accused LaPierre. “He wants you, all of you, and Americans throughout all of this country, to accept the idea of principles as he sees fit. It’s a way of redefining words so that common sense is turned upside down and that nobody knows the difference.”
LaPierre is especially concerned about the Second Amendment, of course, but he touches on the issue of government arrogance in general, by presenting the antithesis to Brennan’s college thesis. If absolute insistence upon Constitutional rights is wrong, then none of those rights are truly “inalienable,” which means there is no hard limit to the power of the State. When the government decides it must seize some new measure of our liberty, citizens are only allowed to negotiate their losses down a bit. We might be able to secure a small discount, but in the end we will pay the State what it demands.
Two of Brennan’s human rights, “security” and “welfare,” require the abrogation of the other two, liberty and justice. The ruling class will decide what the proper mix is, and they don’t want to hear a lot of complaints from flyover country about the resulting flavor of citizenship. The founders of the United States had different ideas – they celebrated the “pursuit of happiness,” not empowering the State to decide what happiness is, and redistribute it by force. But they were humble men. The burden of humility has been transferred entirely to the American citizen, because once we became criminals by doing harm to our fellow men, but now we are criminals if we disobey their self-appointed advocates.