The debate over the extension of the Patriot Act reminds one of the debate over immigration. It’s filled with false alternatives.
The debate over immigration offers two false alternatives. One, immigrants are the lifeblood of a country. Two, immigrants are a drag on the country, living off its welfare benefits and acting as parasites.
Actually, neither assertion is right. The fact is: certain kinds of immigrants are the lifeblood of a country; while certain other kinds of immigrants are parasites who come here to live off the benefits paid for by others. If we didn’t have all the freebies in the first place, there would be no risk of the second type of immigrant. Everyone would be pulling his or her own weight, perhaps relying on private charity, but never entitlements from the government.
And now we have the same thing with the Patriot Act. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul eloquently makes the case that we need not, and should not, sacrifice liberty in order to save it. Yet the case can also be made that a proper government does what it has to do in order to restrain violent criminals, particularly Islamic fundamentalists and others who seek to blow up our society piece by piece.
So who’s right?
Neither side. Because, as with the immigration non-debate, each side evades the most significant issue: The federal government is doing way, way more than it should be doing. It’s not only seeking to protect us from terrorists (assuming it’s even doing that in the Muslim-friendly Obama administration); it’s also seeking to control the delivery of health care, restrict the substances people put into their bodies, redistribute wealth according to the vision of intellectuals at Ivy League universities, and many, many other things.
None of these things are required or permitted by the notion of limited government that Rand Paul is trying to preserve. While Paul is right to want to preserve limited government and liberty, the fact is that we no longer have those things, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act.
If the federal government stuck to what it was supposed to do, American citizens would not have so much to worry about. They would have reasonable confidence that their government — while not infallible, since no government is — would stick to the essential task of protecting the inalienable rights of all individuals to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.
On this basis, one might or might not have technical concerns about the present wording of the Patriot Act itself. But the very idea of government using technology to go after actual criminals would not be such a threat, if we had better reason to trust the government in the first place.
At its best, the current federal government is an over-controlling, micro-managing Big Daddy/Big Mommy Nanny and entitlement state, constantly telling us what’s for our own good, in our own best interests, with or without our consent. At its worst and darkest, federal agencies like the IRS, Homeland Security, the DEA, the EPA and others are capable of darker things, all of which are regularly documented.
If our government was not so far off course by being involved in so many things that are frankly none of its business, we would not be in a position to trust our government so little. We’d be better able to trust the federal government with the single most important and legitimate task it has (unless you’re an anarchist), which is to physically protect us from criminal and violent force, specifically terrorists.
Senator Rand Paul is admittedly eloquent when he says: “I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies. But we don’t need to give up who we are to defeat them.”
True enough. But if we hadn’t, as a nation, largely given up on the concept of limited government in the first place, and had instead kept the government within its proper constraints, then we would not have so much to fear from government attempting to enforce a law like the Patriot Act.
Given who and what our elected officials and government have become, it’s easy for me to buy the case that the Patriot Act must go. Why should these right-wing and left-wing control freaks have any more power than we have already given them? But we still need a strong and capable government to do what it has to do in order to track down and stop the bad guys. Don’t we?
For starters, we need a government filled with leaders who are able and willing to acknowledge that there are bad guys, what qualifies them as “bad” guys, and who those bad guys are. As I mentioned, the current politically correct, Islam-apologist Obama administration does not wish to even call them “terrorists,” much less acknowledge that militant, fundamentalist Islam is, almost exclusively, the force for politically motivated criminal violence in the world today.
Without the provisions “the intelligence community will lose important capabilities,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement. “We would lose entirely an important capability that helps us identify potential U.S. based associates of foreign terrorists.”
Those measures allow investigators to seize targeted phone, hotel and banking records of suspected terrorists and spies; use roving wiretaps; and use tools to search for lone-wolf terrorists not connected to an organization. Other NSA surveillance methods would continue unchanged. [Bloomberg News and Newsmax.com 5/30/15]
Does a proper government have the authority to take steps to ensure that terrorists and other violent criminals cannot destroy us? I say yes, within objective limits defined by objective law. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with a government doing what it must do to keep us from being blown to bits. Yes, the onus is on the government to prove that a particular law actually accomplishes that, and only seeks to accomplish that.
But the government as we know it is not a rights-respecting government. No, it’s not a dictatorship, but it’s moving more and more in an authoritarian direction. It has become much worse since Obama, but it has been going on since at least the time of the New Deal and the Federal Reserve, when government began to take on powers to manipulate and control the economy rather than respecting life, property and liberty. How can we possibly trust the federal government to merely investigate phone records and other private records solely for the purpose of hunting down terrorists, when it already has so much other power to do so many other things?
Just as we cannot rationally resolve the immigration issue until we repeal (or at least drastically reduce) the welfare/entitlement state, we cannot rationally resolve the issues generated by the Patriot Act without first restoring government to its proper, objective, rational and — by the way — Constitutional limits. That means repealing (or at least drastically reducing) most of what the federal government presently does, and limiting its powers to defense and intelligence.
Instead, we continue in just the opposite direction, giving government more and more power all the time so that we may become a European-like, welfare-saturated Nanny Entitlement state. You know, the kind of society and governments that have never been able to fully defend themselves and have always relied on the freer United States to come to the rescue (against the Nazis, the Japanese, and later the Communists). Who will rescue the United States when it comes time to defend us? Most of us are no longer willing to do it, and that’s the sad truth that violent parasites such as Islamic fundamentalists eagerly exploit. We yawn, we whine, and we direct our government to provide us with more false promises of “security” via entitlements and control over people’s private behaviors.
This leaves us with a completely false and disastrous alternative: Either tie the government’s hands, rendering it unable to protect us from violent criminals and terrorists; or give the government free rein to do almost anything it wants. Anarchy or dictatorship.
Anarchy or dictatorship? That’s no choice at all. In fact, that was the very alternative the original United States Constitution was supposed to prevent. If we had stuck with that Constitution, and limited its scope to the protection of individual rights, we would not be having this battle about the Patriot Act right now.