"Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Most Americans can cite the famous passages of the Declaration of Independence asserting that "all men are created equal" with a God-given right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But recent instances of government abuse and oppression have got me thinking more and more about the above passage from Thomas Jefferson's great manifesto. In case after case, we see a federal government in Washington evince a clear design to reduce us to absolute despotism, and ordinary Americans are showing they are ready to resist a clear abuse of power.
People don't like to hear it sometimes, but I think it's more and more clear every day we are facing the same kinds of strains and abuse of power that led our Founders Fathers to resist the authority of a king. Tyranny is defined as the arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power and the despotic abuse of authority. How else can we describe what is happening in so many parts of our country today, where I see the government stepping in to destroy people's lives, seize their property and deprive them of their livelihood?
We've all been following the events in Nevada, where rancher Cliven Bundy and his family are standing up to the Obama administration for the right to graze his cattle on the same lands his family has worked since the 19th century. People from all over the country can see what's happening, which is why so many have come to Nevada to help Mr. Bundy defend his right to make a living. The Bureau of Land Management has already put 50 of Mr. Bundy's fellow ranchers out of business.
It pains me to hear some conservative commentators echo the government's argument that Mr. Bundy "broke the law" and should stand down in deference to the principle of the rule of law. Mr. Bundy doesn't owe our government anything just because he is standing up for his rights. He and his fellow ranchers are the ones standing up for the rule of law as it was understood by the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Nevada has been in the headlines, but here are a couple of other examples of the kind of oppression and creeping tyranny that I see coming out of Washington.
In Oregon's Upper Klamath Basin, the government is pushing a deal to sharply reduce the availability of water for irrigation to farmers and ranchers from the Klamath River and turn control of the water over to local Indian tribes. The agreement would destroy four dams that have been providing power to 70,000 homes in the valley and rob countless local residents of their ability to earn a living. One reason for the power grab: to restore the habitat for the endangered sucker fish and salmon that the tribes hold sacred. So here we have the federal government putting the interests of some supposedly endangered species over the happiness and livelihood of the actual people living in the valley.
In Washington, D.C., the oppression and tyranny can best be seen in the intrusive and all-knowing bureaucracy that has been built up to monitor — and ultimately control — every aspect of our lives. I've talked of this blatantly unconstitutional bureaucracy many times before: a National Security Agency that monitors our email and phone calls; an IRS that has all our tax records and abuses its power for political ends; a Census Bureau that asks about the most intimate details our lives, including the size of the toilets in our homes; and an Obamacare structure that demands all our health records and refuses to keep them private. All can be abused by a lawless president.
One new agency that we all must watch is something called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is in the process of extending the government's illegal data-mining efforts into the field of credit. Claiming that it is working to protect us from financial abuse, the CFPB has access to 991 million credit card accounts and has information on 53 million mortgages. So the government knows what we're buying, what our bank balance is, our credit score, our credit limit, even how many days past due we are on our bills.
And the whole agency was set up explicitly to be beyond the oversight of Congress, of the courts, even of President Obama. The agency works for the Federal Reserve and its budget does not have to be approved by Congress. A lack of accountability is a first sign of government tyranny.
The Declaration of Independence rightly says that throwing off even an abusive government is never something to be undertaken lightly. But it is increasingly clear to me that our country needs a real constitutional revolution, a revolution that will stand up for the principles of the Constitution and stand up to an ever more oppressive federal government.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and www.washingtontimes.com.