Think of this as Volume 17, Number 24 of the newsletter I have written weekly since March, 1997. Enjoy.
He's a veteran political activist of the left-wing type, but hearing him talk about current events sounds a lot like hearing a Tea Party activist rail against ObamaCare.
The essence of the radical case, during every political crisis, is always that institutions can't be trusted, even democratic institutions. Democracy doesn't work, they cry, it works against the people's real interests, which these activists are privileged to know because, well, they're their interests.
Free men and free markets create great institutions, and great power. Their efforts to protect themselves against assault from enemies within and without is their first duty. Establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, and providing for the common defense all come before promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty in the Constitution's Preamble for a reason.
They're necessary pre-conditions.
Every generation, it seems, large groups of us forget or choose to ignore this fact. To the ad men of Sterling Cooper, this was the lesson of the 1960s. To the Greatest Generation, this was the lesson of the 1930s. To the Delmonico era, this was the lesson of the 1890s. This, too, was the lesson of the Civil War.
The center must hold. The center will hold. The alternative is anarchy, and while anarchy is great in the abstract, for those who think they can ride on top of it, when faced with power anarchists can either become Lenin or Robespierre. There is no third choice, save democracy. And democratic institutions.
This is the decisive turn in our political story. It always has been. When the Union is threatened, the center must hold. That's how America has lasted for almost 12 score years now. While Thomas Jefferson liked to ruminate about watering the ground with the blood of tyrants, or the need for a new revolution every 20 years or so, the system James Madison built was designed to avoid the bloodshed and enable revolutions through peaceful means.
A lot of my friends in the technology space are openly wondering today about the Obama Administration, and its use of the Patriot Act to gain call records and trace the country's enemies over the Internet. They see no difference between what's going on now and what Bush did, just as leftists a generation ago saw no difference between Lyndon Johnson and Nixon.
As I wrote when this whole thing started, almost five years ago now, Obama is the Bizarro Nixon. He is liberal where Nixon was conservative, he is cool where Nixon was hot, and he is calm where Nixon was paranoid. But his mission in life is the same mission Nixon had, to turn the ship of state in a different direction, to set a course that would last through his followers' lifetime, and to get people to believe in his Thesis of politics, his myths and his values, just as Nixon had gotten the majority to believe in his.
This has now happened. The mission is, in electoral terms, accomplished. We are now playing the 1973 Game, not the 1965 Game. There is no longer any question that the side of law and order is the liberal side, that it's conservatives who are soft on crime. Conservatives seek to turn the country into Dodge City, forgetting that the first thing Wyatt Earp did when he became sheriff was take the cowboys' guns. They resist efforts to enforce the law against big corporations, they resist the tax laws, they deny that with rights come responsibilities we all must meet if society is to continue.
I saw this coming years ago, and called right-wingers hippies, but when I tried this formulation at a recent family gathering, veterans of the early 1970s blanched and recoiled from it. They didn't understand that history's mirror reverses the picture, turns it inside out.
White may become black and right may become left, the new boss may seem to be just like the old boss, but in many important ways everything has changed. The side of law is now our side, and for the most part it's going to remain our side, increasingly our side, because the scales are now tilted on our side, thanks to movements and leaders who kept their heads while others were losing theirs.
Democracy doesn't mean you get what you want. Democracy doesn't mean police power of all kind disappears. Democracy means that all people, and all interests, get to have a hand in directing that power toward the greater good, as they themselves perceive it, toward ordered liberty and away from chaotic anarchy that, in the end, only becomes government by the strong.
It may be hard to see this. We don't take the Administration's words about the NSA at face value. Many deliberately refuse to see the difference between call records, stored in a vault for later analysis, and listening to phone calls without a warrant. We fail to credit that new institutions, even those that seem like rubber stamps now, are in fact new institutions, new checks and balances against untrammeled power, checks we can strengthen at our choosing, and checks our President wants balanced against the needs of the people.
All the current “scandals” of the Obama Administration, coming as they do 40 years after Watergate, can be seen in this light. The IRS “scandal” is that some people sought to investigate groups that explicitly stated their opposition to paying taxes, to see if they weren't tax scams. Had unfair charges resulted, that would have been a scandal. The fact that bureaucrats double-checked, and investigated, and ticked off boxes, and approved nearly every application put before them, is the opposite of a scandal. You only see it as scandalous if you're looking in a funhouse mirror.
The same will be seen, in retrospect, with this new “scandal.” The President is inviting controls on what has been revealed, controls on policies the Bush Administration did use explicitly against its enemies, and anti-government Republicans are obliging him by changing their minds.
This President plays the long game better than any President has in my lifetime, better than anyone has since FDR. He has beaten his conservative opponents, and is now in the process of breaking them up. Liberals may not like the surface headlines, we may be appalled that laws passed by Congress, and approved of by courts, might actually have to be enforced by the executive, but that's the way it is.
In the end, democracy will choose ordered liberty over chaos and anarchy. Every time. And for this we should be thankful.