Four More Years
by Ryan McMaken by Ryan McMaken
As the presidential election draws near, Bush’s challengers will begin to ask the American people the now politically essential question: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Of course, that question is always only applied to economic matters since the idea of being "better off" as something akin to being "more free" was banished from the mind of average Americans a very long time ago, but if we were to imagine a hypothetical world where most Americans were actually worried about freedoms other than the freedom to produce porn films and carve statues of excrement with taxpayer money, would we conclude that we are better off than four years ago?
The answer is no, of course, and if anything, the endless assault on American liberties has accelerated in recent years, and all with the blessing of the same Americans who decried the utter contempt with which the Clinton White House held the Bill of Rights. To claim that the Bush White House has any less contempt for the same liberties that Clinton trampled on so thoroughly would be laughable at best, and would probably be engaging in the kind of doublespeak that leftists long used to defend Clinton. For instance, giving the current president a pass on his super-sized government meddling programs just because he professes to be from "the heartland" or a "good Christian" or for "the American way" is no different than excusing Clinton from the fact that he treats women like garbage simply because he claims to like feminists. We should judge the tree by its fruit, and the fruit of the Bush administration has been more of the same government-run-amok that flowered under the Clinton administration.
Prior to the 2000 presidential election, in a column entitled "Dreading Republican Rule," Lew Rockwell mused that the Republicans would probably manage to spend more money, extinguish more American liberties, and kill more foreigners than Clinton had managed to do in his time of merry misrule. And we most certainly have not been disappointed. Did anyone seriously think that the Bush administration would actually repeal any of the police-state laws that Clinton so fearlessly built up? None of the Clinton Administration’s assaults on financial privacy like the incessant federal strong-arming of banks to spy on their customers for the Feds have been undone, and indeed have only been strengthened. Nor has there been any ire expressed for Clinton’s "Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act" which did no less than produce a 1,000-fold increase in federal wire-tapping capability. At the time, this was denounced by every Republican willing to bear the label "conservative" as a costly and insidious plan, but now that a Republican is in the White House, it apparently doesn’t look like such a bad idea after all.
The "War on Terrorism" certainly provided a ready excuse for Republican caving on matters of American privacy and freedom. As James Bovard points out in his recent book, Terrorism and Tyranny though, the Feds don’t know what to do with the endless amounts of spy data they already collect. On the day of the terrorist attacks of 2001, The FBI already possessed considerable information on the terrorists and the plans used to carry out the attacks. Yet the information was useless since it was in a warehouse with spy data on thousands of other Americans, resident aliens, and terrorist groups. Oops. Clearly the American thing to do is have the FBI collect more information and then trust that someone will receive divine inspiration regarding which box to look in before the next terrorist attack.
Clinton’s rationale for trampling liberty was always some touchy-feely leftish rationale like protecting people from evil corporations or stamping out racism, but the fact that now, the latest assault on American society is being waged under the guise of being “conservative” or “right-wing” is immaterial. Its outcome and its ultimate motivations are indistinguishable from its “liberal” or “left-wing” versions. The ultimate outcome is always more power for government, and new and inventive ways to abuse that power.
The reasons for rationalizing the power grab may vary. The forces of terrorism or racism or religious extremism, or any other bogeyman you can come up with are always available as convenient scare tactics. During the 1990’s, the enemy was right-wing militias, the religious right, and the crime "crisis," all of which were promoted with ceaseless vigor by both Republican and Democrat administrations alike. George Bush pre could barely contain his contempt for Christian conservatives (indistinguishable in his mind from people like Timothy McVeigh), and while having cynically joined the NRA only several years earlier, renounced his membership after certain gun-owning Americans dared question the violent tactics increasingly employed by federal law-enforcement agents who, armed with thousands of pages of new federal laws, were busy fighting the "chaos" that the Feds alleged existed in America’s neighborhoods. Later, Bill Clinton gave us the 1996 anti-terrorism act in response to the Oklahoma City bombing, and after insinuating that all conservatives are terrorists deep down, set the FBI and CIA loose on middle-America to weed out the traitors.
Today, as predicted, the Bush administration has gleefully embraced the Clinton administration’s attacks on the Constitution in the name of fighting terrorism, but has hardly let up with its own plans to save the American people from themselves. Bush’s pal John Ashcroft has tried heartily to give us Total Information Awareness, the PATRIOT ACT, and the wonderful TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) program that would have encouraged everybody to spy on everybody else. Unlike Clinton however, Bush and Co. haven’t stopped at merely declaring all members of a certain ideological group terrorists. As Ashcroft has famously made clear, they’ve gone one step further and declared that everyone who opposes them is a terrorist.
And once again, it is the keepers of the federal bureaucracy who benefit, with the only change being that a different group of Americans is applauding the tyranny this time around. If Bush goes down next November, those who act appalled by government abuse and those who cheer it will merely switch places; there will be some new victims of power abused and some new beneficiaries of largesse, but the federal juggernaut will roll merrily on.