The well-worn allegory about how a frog placed in water that is gradually brought to a boil will not notice the increasing heat enough to escape being boiled to death aptly describes what is happening to the U.S. constitutional republic. The water we are in has gotten much hotter, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yet, like the frog, Americans don’t seem to notice that their constitutional rights are being boiled away.
We now have a nearly Orwellian surveillance state in which government security spooks track all of our electronic communications while the FBI employs drones to watch our every move. The police have been given the power to take our DNA after any arrest, and in some places to stop and frisk us at their own discretion and without arrest. Police dogs, whose reputed olfactory prowess has been demonstrated to be far from 100 percent reliable, are permitted to search us at the whim of their masters. No warrant necessary if, as judged by the attending police officer, the dog goes to alert.
Yes, our constitutional protection against unwarranted searches and seizures has gone to the dogs.
President Barack Obama’s response to the revelation that the government is secretly spying on the general population was disappointing, but not surprising. Obama says we should trust the three branches of government not to abuse expanded police powers or to allow abuse to occur.
What utter nonsense. The nature of power is that it always wants to grow and never retreat. We should not trust government, any branch, or any agency thereof. Government power abuse is real and growing. The power of government to snoop, arrest, and generally lord over the population increases with every piece of national security or prohibition legislation passed. The U.S. Constitution was established precisely because government power cannot be trusted. As a constitutional lawyer and scholar, you would expect Obama to understand that, but then few people can resist the intoxicant of power.
And so, like President George W. Bush before him, Obama continues to abuse executive power by pursuing unconstitutional policies: drone assassinations; the Guantanamo gulag; secret surveillance programs; prosecuting whistle-blowers; the insane war on drugs; and we can’t know what else because the government does dirty deeds in the dark — all in the name of protecting the American public, of course.
Obama says we can’t have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy. The truth is we can never have 100 percent security even with the most repressive police state, so why surrender our constitutional freedoms in the vain attempt to eliminate all danger?
Meanwhile, government busybodies persist in ignoring constitutional civil liberties in their imperious campaigns to protect, like hovering parents, the public from the dangers of a free society.
The paragon of such parental hovering, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, justifies his transgressions against constitutional rights by insisting that they work to protect the public — even from itself. People like Bloomberg apparently believe that the Constitution should not get in the way of effective public policy as determined by them. No need for public debate or constitutional amendments, busybodies already know what is best for us.
Some Americans are unconcerned with government’s increased police powers and public surveillance. They believe that because they have done nothing wrong they are safe from government prosecution. How naive. What government agents consider to be suspicious behavior or illegal activity can be subjective and vagarious, especially when constitutional safeguards are ignored. Without those safeguards no citizen is safe from the arbitrary abuse of police power.
Obama says the nation needs to have a debate on the issue of security versus privacy. Yes, and that opportunity would never have come to pass had Edward Snowden not exposed the government’s secretly spying on citizens. How can we have such debates and, more important, how can we have constitutional democracy when government acts in secret and makes it a crime to expose its clandestine, questionably constitutional activities?
Government officials defending the National Security Administration’s invasion of privacy peevishly howl that Snowden broke federal law. But, if adherence to the law is the ultimate civic morality, then those who aided Jews in Nazi Germany were immoral, as well as were the early American patriots who broke the law by rebelling against King George III. Simply because it is the law, doesn’t mean it is always just or moral.
The unquestioning adherence to the rule of law can be a complicated issue. If the NSA is guilty of violating the Constitution, is Snowden guilty of espionage for exposing it? Is Bradley Manning guilty of treason for exposing U.S. war crimes and coverups? What is the duty of an honest U.S. citizen? Isn’t it allegiance to the fundamental founding principals and laws of this nation — the Constitution? That is the master law that binds us together as a nation of free people. We are not the subjects of arrogant, busybody politicians and conniving governments.
At the rate we’re going, the Constitution will become little more than a quaint façade, like the British monarchy ruling in name only while the real power is held elsewhere. Maybe people like Snowden and Manning are thermometers that are warning the frogs the water is getting too hot.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.