To Mr. Clinton, his peccadilloes are private, because matters between a man and a woman are complicated, do not lend themselves to easy yes or no answers, and, in the end, are nobody's business but the family's.
But don't you dare generalize that principle, because it's different when Clinton himself wants to know something about you. His Census "long form" demands more than you tell friends or extended family, but he insists that you do your patriotic duty and answer all the questions, not with vague replies (no asking what "is" is) but with accurate details.
Why? Because he's got a Faustian bargain for you: spill your guts to big brother and millions will come your way. Here's how Clinton explains it. "The data collected will determine how more than $185 billion annually in public funds are shared fairly," he says, implying that commoners will get the same as royals.
Actually, if you want to know who is going to benefit from the Census, look who's advocating that you comply with every jot and tittle: liberal interest groups, state universities, the media, and the political class. For the rest of us, the Census is a menace with potentially ominous implications.
"I know Americans are concerned about their privacy," Clinton said with a sneer toward silly people who fear the government, "and that's why I also want to stress that the information you provide is strictly, absolutely confidential."
Wait just a minute. When you tell someone a secret in confidence, you better know him pretty well. To know a secret about someone is to have power over him. Why would you want to reveal intimacies to the most well-armed, well-funded government in human history? Big brother isn't someone you want to tell your confidences to.
Clinton fails to mention that it was the Census that helped the government round up Japanese-Americans during the World War II, and Italian-Americans and German-Americans too. And even if the Clinton administration can be trusted (ha!), he can't make any promises about the next administration. His claims are essentially unenforceable.
But what about the 5-year jail term that is promised for any Census employee who discloses information to an outside party? It's not credible. If federal agents can't get jail terms for gassing and burning religious separatists in Texas, but instead are rewarded with medals for their bravery, why should any federal employee be deterred from doing whatever he wants with Census information?
All promises aside, the Census partisans have already admitted that the purpose of Clinton's mandatory confession is greater control over the public. In response to my article on the Census in Insight, Wade Henderson inadvertently spills the beans: "The data also are used to monitor and enforce compliance with civil-rights statutes, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and employment, housing, lending and education anti-discrimination laws."
Now, all the things he mentions here are not only contrary to the original conception of the Constitution; they violate the liberty, freedom of association, and property rights of Americans. Anything that increases the power of the PC police, which is what he is really talking about, is bad for this country and bad for our liberties. If the Census helps in that effort, that's a good enough reason to reject it.
Enforcement has always been a problem for the Census Bureau, but, sure enough, this season has been like no other. Congress has been flooded with angry calls and the press abounds with stories of people tossing the forms in the trash. Civil disobedience has reached a fevered pitch, with even the Senate majority leader and the Republican nominee for president giving the green light to refusing to answer any question you find intrusive.
The head of the Census Bureau is outraged. "To tell them not to complete the form is to tell them to break the law," said an outraged Kenneth Prewitt, failing to note that refusing to submit to unjust laws is a well-established tradition in American history.
A pathetic bit followed in which he ruminated on the decline in trust toward the federal government, which has declined through "Watergate, secret bombings, Pentagon papers, Irangate, right through the current administration."
Then the clovenhoof peeks through the wing-tip shoe: "If we don't get a flood of responses in the next couple of days," Mr. Prewitt said, "we will have a huge task ahead of us as we go into the community to find nonrespondents. A huge task."
Already, there's been talk of fines and jail terms, which the government can technically impose for failing to ‘fess up. It's not enough to report the number of people living in your home, all that is really constitutional . You must tell everything.
I've pointed out before that the Census is nothing new, any more than government despotism itself is new. I cited the case of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem at the orders of the Census takers, but a reader has drawn my attention to an earlier instance in the Bible.
My reader writes: "the site of the Jewish temple, so central to Old and New Testament histories, was selected by King David for an altar to turn back the wrath of God because of a Census that he took."
Sure enough, 1 Chronicles (1 Paralipomenon), Chapter 21, tells the story of how the Devil tempted David to take a Census, with the intention of sending men to war, and how he repented in time to save Israel:
"Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?
"Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab.... And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly."
Don't expect to hear those words from Mr. Clinton, though they are long overdue.
April 2, 2000