Tuesday, June 11, 2013
The All-Seeing State
The inevitable corruption of the permanent bureaucracy
By Mark Steyn
A few years ago, after one corruption scandal too many, the then Liberal government in Canada announced that, to prevent further outbreaks of malfeasance, it would be hiring 300 new federal auditors plus a bunch of ethics czars, and mandating “integrity provisions” in government contracts, including “prohibitions against paying, offering, demanding or accepting bribes.” There were already plenty of laws against bribery, but one small additional sign on the desk should do the trick: “Please do not attempt to bribe the Minister of the Crown as a refusal may offend. Also: He’s not allowed to bribe you, whatever he says.” A government that requires “integrity provisions” is by definition past the stage where they will do any good.
I thought of those Canadian Liberal “integrity provisions” passing a TV screen the other day and catching hack bureaucrats from the IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division reassuring Congress that systems had now been put in place to prevent them succumbing to the urge to put on Spock ears and moob-hugging blue polyester for the purposes of starring in a Star Trek government training video. The Small Business/Self-Employed Division had boldly gone where no IRS man had gone before — to a conference in Anaheim, where they were put up in $3,500-a-night hotel rooms and entertained by a man who was paid $27,500 to fly in and paint on stage a portrait of Bono. Bono is the veteran Irish rocker knighted by the Queen for his tireless campaign on behalf of debt forgiveness, which doesn’t sound the IRS’s bag at all. But don’t worry, debt forgiveness-wise Bono has Africa in mind, not New Jersey. And, as Matthew Cowart tweeted me the other day, he did have a big hit with “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which I believe is now the official anthem of the IRS Cincinnati office.
It took Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina to get to the heart of the matter: “With all due respect, this is not a training issue,” he said. “This cannot be solved with another webinar. . . . We can adopt all the recommendations you can possibly conceive of. I just say it strikes me — and maybe it’s just me — but it strikes me as a cultural, systemic, character, moral issue.”
He’s right. If you don’t instinctively know it’s wrong to stay in $3,500-a-night hotel rooms at public expense, a revised conference-accommodations-guidelines manual isn’t going to fix the real problem.
So we know the IRS is corrupt. What happens then when an ambitious government understands it can yoke that corruption to its political needs? What’s striking as the revelations multiply and metastasize is that at no point does any IRS official appear to have raised objections. If any of them understood that what they were doing was wrong, they kept it to themselves. When Nixon tried to sic the IRS on a few powerful political enemies, the IRS told him to take a hike. When Obama’s courtiers tried to sic the IRS on thousands of ordinary American citizens, the agency went along, and very enthusiastically. This is a scale of depravity hitherto unknown to the tax authorities of the United States, and for that reason alone they should be disarmed and disbanded — and rebuilt from scratch with far more circumscribed powers.
Here’s another congressional-subcommittee transcript highlight of the week. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois asks the attorney general if he’s spying on members of Congress and thereby giving the executive branch leverage over the legislative branch. Eric Holder answers:
“With all due respect, senator, I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue.”
Senator Kirk responded that “the correct answer would be, ‘No, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress.’” For some reason, the attorney general felt unable to say that. So I think we all know what the answer to the original question really is.
Holder had another great contribution to the epitaph of the Republic this week. He went on TV to explain that he didn’t really regard Fox News’s James Rosen as a “co-conspirator” but had to pretend he did to the judge in order to get the judge to cough up the warrant. So rest easy, America! Your chief law officer was telling the truth when he said he hadn’t lied to Congress because in fact he’d been lying when he said he told the truth to the judge.
If you lie to one of Holder’s minions, you go to jail: They tossed Martha Stewart in the slammer for being insufficiently truthful to a low-level employee of the attorney general’s. But the attorney general can apparently lie willy-nilly to judges and/or Congress.
This, incidentally, is at the heart of the revelation (in a non-U.S. newspaper, naturally) that hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records have been subpoenaed by the United States government. In 2011, Eric Holder’s assistant attorney general Todd Hinen testified to the House Judiciary Committee that “on average, we seek and obtain Section 215 orders less than 40 times per year.” Forty times per year doesn’t sound very high, does it? What is that — the cell phones of a few Massachusetts Chechens and some Yemeni pen-pals? No. The Verizon order will eventually be included as just another individual Section 215 order, even though it covers over a hundred million Americans. Ongoing universal monitoring of mass populations is being passed off to Congress and the public as a few dozen narrowly targeted surveillance operations. Mr. Hinen chose his words more carefully than his boss, but both men are in the business of deceiving the citizenry, their elected representatives, and maybe the judges, too.
Perhaps this is just the way it is in the panopticon state. Tocqueville foresaw this, as he did most things. Although absolute monarchy “clothed kings with a power almost without limits” in practice “the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.” What would happen, Tocqueville wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to bring “the details of social life and of individual existence” within the King’s oversight?
Eric Holder and Lois Lerner now have that power. My comrade John Podhoretz, doughty warrior of the New York Post, says relax, there’s nothing to worry about. But how do I know he’s not just saying that because Eric Holder’s monitoring his OnStar account and knows that when he lost his car keys last Tuesday he was in the parking lot of Madam Whiplash’s Bondage Dungeon?
When the state has the power to know everything about everyone, the integrity of the civil service is the only bulwark against men like Holder. Instead, the ruling party and the non-partisan bureaucracy seem to be converging. In August 2010, President Obama began railing publicly against “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity” (August 9th, a speech in Texas) and “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” (August 21st, radio address). And whaddayaknow, that self-same month the IRS obligingly issued its first BOLO (Be On the Look-Out) for groups with harmless-sounding names, like “tea party,” “patriot,” and “constitution.”
It may be that the strange synchronicity between the president and the permanent bureaucracy is mere happenstance and not, as it might sound to the casual ear, the sinister merging of party and state. Either way, they need to be pried apart. When the state has the capability to know everything except the difference between right and wrong, it won’t end well.
The decay of Progressivism in America
Culture is the culmination of everything happening in a society, the collective stew of the nation. A good stew, a healthy stew, has all the flavors melting together to create something better than the sum of its parts – garlic is great, but it’s much better on something than simply eating a bulb of it. Our stew, our nation, is reversing course and coagulating to the point that some parts are actively working against the whole and making the stew inedible.
No, I’m not talking about the president as a man, or any elected Democrats. Their tactics sometimes cross the line – up to and including voicing support for fascistic oppression of speech (Media Matters) or violent thugs (the Occupy gang) – but they are hardly the problem.
Political differences are a good thing in a free society, so you’d think people espousing a philosophy they claim to be rooted in “democracy” and righteousness would revel in the opportunity to engage those with whom they disagree on the field of intellectual battle. But for modern liberals, nothing is further from the truth.
Liberalism was once a philosophy based in Constitutional respect and American exceptionalism, but it’s been a long time since that was the case. Perhaps not since John Kennedy has there been a national Democrat who believed in this vision of America, one in which individual liberty and personal responsibility brought about collective greatness, not a partisan legislative agenda and the systematic silencing of dissent. The left says Ronald Reagan could not be elected in today’s GOP; there is no way JFK could be elected by today’s Democrats – not for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts and especially not as a president. It has changed that much.
The progressive philosophy is based on the idea of the supremacy of a few, a “better class.” It’s history is rooted in racism, eugenics and genocide, but that is for another op-ed. Members of the “better class” are self-declared intellectuals who know your needs better than you. Everyone judges, and it’s normal to feel this way when offering advice to friends. But friends are free to take or reject the advice. That’s not good enough for progressives. They legislate their advice; you have no choice but to take it.
The Democratic Party was infected by the progressive philosophy at the dawn of the 20th century [i.e. from the late 19th century on], as was the Republican Party and the world. Republicans largely rejected them (McCain and Dole being noted [recent] exceptions), but they found a willing host with the Democrats. The concept sounds great – government can make things better…only it can’t and hasn’t. Soon, they had metastasized through the Democratic Party and won the White House with Woodrow Wilson. Wilson abused his power and sought to imprison opponents whose only crime was criticizing his administration. (On top of his rabid racism, another staple of the progressive movement no one likes to talk about.)
Since Wilson, most all Democrats have displayed varying degrees of the progressive addiction to power. But until recently, there was always a check within the party to counter it.
President Clinton had some progressive tendencies, staff and wife. But he was, at heart, a traditional Democrat. He was a proud member of the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council, which was so hated by progressives for its unwillingness to embrace the progressive philosophy that it was shut down a few years ago. With the last semblance of a moderate faction in the party gone, the parasites’ transition to host was complete.
Now we find ourselves dealing with the aftermath of a major political party’s inability to deal with the extreme elements in its midst. These extremists now run the show and the results are splashed across headlines from shore to shore.
The laundry list of stretching and abusing power makes War and Peace look like a Cliff Notes version of a 30-second commercial. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, IRS, seizing of journalist’s phone records and a spying scandal so vast it would have the old Soviet leaders spinning in their graves from jealousy, just to name a few.
All of this and more is personified in the progressive “news” network MSNBC. They used to say the Internet would kill journalism; little did they know an insider – the Peacock – would do the job itself.
With hosts masquerading as journalists, the once-great NBC News has done more damage to discourse and civil society than anything our greatest enemies could’ve dreamed of. People such as Al Sharpton, the discredited and disgraced Pied Piper of race-baiting bigot of Tawana Brawley and Freddie’s Fashion Mart infamy, now enjoys a lucrative contract and a prime slot at 6 p.m. As National Review’s Jonah Goldberg put it. “In a more just society Al Sharpton would probably be out on parole by now.”
Or Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Senate staffer turned Hollywood wannabe with the intelligence for neither. This week, the anchor of MSNBC’s primetime line-up tweeted, “Giuliani attacked POTUS last night for Benghazi, so I am forced to remind Giuliani how many firefighters were killed on 9/11 because of him.” Forced? Really? Why? Because his compulsion to protect the president required him to lie about a man who has probably buried more friends than any living person. Disgraceful. Larry didn’t go all “southie” accented and challenge Rudy to a fight like he did Mitt Romney’s son, probably because Giuliani would take him up on the offer.
And then there’s Martin Bashir. Unemployable elsewhere, Bashir makes his home in the land of mediocrity aspirants as their king. Someday he may rise to the level of being a disgrace, but he must first acquire an accomplishment of any sort in his chosen field. Unlikely. Bashir recently declared Republicans are using the term “IRS” as a code word for the N-word by lying about an interview of Lee Atwater from 1981. Bashir is a one-trick-pony who sees racism and bigotry everywhere, which must mean he lives in a home without reflective surfaces.
MSNBC is a megaphone of the progressive movement, the modern Democratic Party. But it’s not the only one. It’s a disgusting propagandist outfit on par with history’s most despotic. It imposes itself on the culture through a willful minority eager to believe the trials in their lives are not the result of their actions but some unforeseen force against which they’re powerless without a government looking out for them. They’re content to not look behind the curtain and see it was that government and the attitude it foments that has been holding them back all along.
The progressive philosophy is coagulating in our national stew, just as it has everywhere it’s woven its destructive self into the fabric of a culture. It is manifesting itself in the ever-growing list of scandals we are seeing today and is personified by the activists parading as journalists on MSNBC who seek to silence and destroy those who dare challenge their claim to moral superiority. To that claim, and every other attempt to curtail individual liberty through manipulation of news and culture, conservatives must stand tall and offer an alternative.
Andrew Breitbart always said, “Politics is downstream from culture,” and he was right. It’s the most important fight in which anyone can engage right now, and one in which lovers of individual liberty sorely lag. Thankfully this is a marathon, not a sprint. And to those “journalists” at MSNBC so fond of code words, all I can say is “Go ‘IRS’ yourselves.”
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Posted by JR at 12:37 AM