Government is now so huge, powerful and callous that citizens risk becoming proverbial serfs without the freedoms guaranteed by the Founding Fathers.
Is that perennial fear an exaggeration? Survey the current news.
We have just learned that the Internal Revenue Service before the 2012 election predicated its tax-exempt policies on politics. It inordinately denied tax exemption to groups considered either conservative or possibly antagonistic to the president's agenda.
If the supposedly nonpartisan IRS is perceived as scoring our taxes based on our politics, then the entire system of trust in self-reporting is rendered null and void. Worse still, the bureaucratic overseer at the center of the controversy, Sarah Hall Ingram, now runs the IRS division charged with enforcing compliance with the new Obamacare requirements.
Some reporters at The Associated Press recently had their private and work phone records monitored by the government, supposedly because of fear about national security leaks. The Justice Department gave the AP no chance, as usually happens, first to question its own journalists. The AP ran a story in May 2012 about the success of a Yemeni double agent before the administration itself could brag about it.
In fact, the Obama White House itself has been accused of leaking classified information deemed favorable to the administration — top-secret details concerning the Stuxnet computer virus used against Iran, the specifics of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, and the decision-making behind the drone program — often to favored journalists. The message is clear: A reporter may have his most intimate work and private correspondence turned over to government — a Fox News journalist had his email account tapped into — on the mere allegation that he might have tried to do what his own government had, in fact, already done.
Now, the civil rights divisions of the Education and Justice departments have issued speech codes for campuses, focusing on supposed insensitivities to sex. The result is that federal bureaucrats can restrict the constitutionally protected rights of free speech for millions of American college students — including during routine classroom discussions — in ways they feel are proper and correct.
Eight months after the Benghazi mess, Americans only now are discovering that the government, for political reasons, failed to beef up security at our consulate in Libya or send it help when under attack. It also lied in blaming the violence on a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an Internet video. That pre-election narrative was known to be untrue when the president, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice and White House press secretary Jay Carney all peddled it.
The problem with an all-powerful, rogue government is not just that it becomes adept at doing what it should not. Increasingly, it also cannot even do what it should.
Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell may well turn out to be the most lethal serial killer in U.S. history. His recent murder convictions gave only a glimpse of his carnage at the end of a career that spanned more than three decades. Yet Gosnell operated with impunity right under the noses of Pennsylvania health and legal authorities for years, without routine government health code and licensing oversight.
In the case of Boston terrorist bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his loud jihadist activity earned him a visit from the FBI and the attention of the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security. All that government monitoring was for naught, though. Tsarnaev was not detained, but allowed to visit Dagestan and Chechnya — in the supposedly dangerous region that prompted his family's flight to the United States in the first place.
In all of these abuses and laxities, there is one common theme. Bureaucrats, political appointees, regulators, intelligence officials and law enforcement personnel wanted to fall in line with the perceived correct agenda of the day. Right now, that party line seems to be protecting the progressive interests of the Obama administration, going after its critics, turning a blind eye toward illegal abortions, in politically correct fashion ignoring warnings about radical Islam, and restricting some rights of free speech to curtail language declared potentially hurtful.
Conspiracy theorists, left and right, are sometimes understandably derided as paranoids for alleging that big government steadily absorbs the private sector, taps private communications, targets tax filers it doesn't like, and lies to the people about what it is up to. The only missing theme of such classic paranoia is the perennial worry over the right to bear arms.
I went to several sporting goods stores recently to buy commonplace rifle shells. For the first time in my life, there was none to be found. Can widespread shortages of ammunition be attributed to panic buying or production shortfalls caused by inexplicably massive purchases by the Department of Homeland Security at a time of acrimonious debate over the Second Amendment?
Who knows, but yesterday's wacky conspiracist is becoming today's Nostradamus.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
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