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Saturday, August 03, 2013


The Real Barriers To Abuse

William Saletan has come to the conclusion that Laws Are Not Enough; Stop telling us what the NSA can’t do to us legally. Show us real barriers to abuse.

Which brings up an interesting question. Except for the criminal class who will always tell you “I wus framed” the average American believed that that government operated within the law. You had rights like free speech, freedom to worship your God, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the government could not commandeer your home without your consent; stuff like that.   It even said that right there in the Constitution, designed as the basic law of the land. 

But suddenly people who are not into wearing tinfoil hats, receiving messages through their fillings or telling Dan Rather that George Bush went AWOL are starting to question just how constrained the government is by laws. What happens when an old piece of paper like the Constitution is ignored and even ridiculed?  What happens if the law is what the government says it is?  What happens if, when the government does it, it's legal?
If the IRS can harass the political enemies of the Administration, even though it’s against the law; if the DOJ can arrange to have thousands of guns to be sent to violent Mexican drug cartels, even though it’s against the law; if they can blatantly lie about the cause of the attack on the embassy in Benghazi and arrest a video maker as a scapegoat; perfectly rational people are starting to ask what the real barriers to illegal government action are.   Perfectly rational people are asking what they can do if the government lies to them and dares them to call them on it? 
William Saletan is asking what "real barriers," I assume physical or technological, can be put in place to constrain the government.  That, of course was the purpose of the Constitution.  I hate to break it to Saletan, but the "real barrier" ship sailed some time ago.  There is never a real barrier to tyranny except the people, the customs and the institutions of a country.  When enough of those line up on the side of the would-be tyrants your fate is sealed.

The real barriers to abuse are to work tirelessly to make sure that liars, mountebanks,  demagogues and would-be tyrants are not elected to positions of power.  The history of mankind is filled with examples of what happened when good men did not stand up in enough time to stop them.  What keeps the tyrant is power is not so much the secret police, or the purge.  It's the desire of the average person to keep his head down and stay out of trouble.  It takes what Glenn Reynolds calls a preference cascade to really turn the tide.   This may be the time when ordinary people begin to realize that the government is literally, not figuratively, out of their control and outside of the rule of law.       

In the meantime, remember that you are not paranoid if they really are trying to get you.

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