Tension cleverly evaded, if left unresolved. It's little surprise that Kevin Drum of Mother Jones flagged that same column. But I must say that I was surprised and disheartened by the particulars of the rebuttal Drum offered. In fact, it's emblematic of an attitude that helps explain our out-of-control surveillance state.
The headline: "Today's Chin Scratcher: Why Are People So Distrustful of Big Government." Here's Drum, channeling Krauthammer:
To summarize: People are groundlessly suspicious of vital
panopticonish surveillance programs, and this is all due to Barack
Obama's weaselly ways, not to the Republican Party's relentless 30-year
campaign to destroy the public's faith in domestic programs of all
sorts, mock the very idea that government accomplishes anything useful,
and pander to the black-helicopter conspiracy theories of the Glenn Beck
Sorry Charlie, that's not going to fly. If you spend decades
inventing scandals out of whole cloth and insisting that big government
is a menace to liberty, don't be surprised when it turns out that an
awful lot of people no longer have any trust in government. You reap
what you sow.
It isn't that Drum's comments are totally off-base. Conservative elites do sometimes verge into frivolous, conspiratorial nonsense when they vilify government. It is ironic when they complain that a rank-and-file they've taught to mistrust government is too distrustful of government efforts they favor. At the same time, regardless of whatever nonsense Glenn Beck is spewing this week, it is perfectly rational to mistrust big government, particularly in the realm of national security.
Drum writes as if that isn't true.
Elsewhere, he's been diligently trying to nail down the facts about exactly what the NSA is doing. But like so many American commentators, he proceeds as if Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and others are wrong to proceed from the premise that "big government" is untrustworthy. In doing so, he is the one who isn't following the facts where they lead.
Why should reality-based, empirically minded Americans like Drum be distrustful of big government, insist on transparency, be on constant guard against abuses, and object to the NSA's surveillance capabilities, even if, technically, there are policy safeguards in place to prevent abuses? For the same reason an alcoholic with three years dry raises red flags when he stocks his liquor cabinet with promises that he'll never have more than one drink: It always ends badly.
Forget the ideological battle between liberals and conservatives about the size of government, the social safety net, the commerce clause, and all the rest. That's not the kind of big government this column is about. Let's review some hard, indisputable facts about recent American history:
- The U.S. government is currently imprisoning dozens of people believed to present no threat to national security at Guantanamo Bay, where mere innocence has never been sufficient to be released.
- Innocent Muslim Americans in New York City were subject to a secret program of racial profiling and spying, initiated by the Bloomberg Administration and known to the Obama Administration -- indeed, Obama's top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan defended the effort.
- In recent years, the FBI has repeatedly violated surveillance laws, misstated facts in National Security Letters it submits, and tried to cover up its unlawful behavior after the fact.
- The U.S. government instituted an official program of torture in secret. Its architects were never seriously investigated or charged, despite the obligation to do so under a duly ratified treaty -- and even worse, many people complicit in the torture staff the national-security state even today.
- When indisputable evidence emerged that the Bush Administration conducted illegal warrantless surveillance on American citizens, and that various telecom companies violated the law by aiding government efforts, no one was prosecuted. By providing retroactive immunity to the lawbreakers instead, President Obama played a direct role in this injustice.