Government seems out of control. That’s dangerous for liberty. Government is like a good guard dog, a great asset when it’s in your service, not at your throat; when it’s on your leash, not on your chest. Effective but safe government requires somehow keeping the power to protect the people in the service of the people.
The issue in the Tea Party election wins of 2010 was out-of-control government spending, which is just the public tab for out-of-control government activity. With the national debt now almost $17 trillion (it was $13 trillion in 2010), this is clearly still a problem.
In President Barack Obama’s second term, our federal government appears to be out of control on several fronts.
First came the out-of-control lavish spending on fun for government employees at the Internal Revenue Service and the Government Services Administration, the federal government’s real estate and supply agency. The hardworking IRS spent $50 million on conferences over the last three years, including a $4 million training frolic in 2010. The GSA Las Vegas getaway now seems modest at just $823,000.
Government secrecy has become equally wild. High officials like Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, used the name Richard Windsor to communicate covertly via a fake email account, apparently not an isolated practice. This pseudonymous communication shields officials from public scrutiny and the Freedom of Information Act, and can hide their identities even from the people they are addressing.
Government surveillance of law-abiding citizens also seems out of control. The National Security Agency is keeping a record of everyone’s phone calls, and a clandestine program called PRISM allows it access to our emails and internet use. The Department of Justice secretly snooped into journalists’ phone records and charged Fox News reporter James Rosen with criminal conspiracy simply to get legal access to his phone records in connection with tracking down a national security leak.
“They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law.”
The IRS practice of harassing and impeding groups that oppose big government is an unfolding drama of ever broadening scope.
The administrative state is one of the gravest threats to our liberty. The Federalist Papers No. 48 cautions that “power is of an encroaching nature.” These fearsome federal TLAs like the IRS, NSA, and EPA have an unusual capacity for arbitrary action. We need to update the Founders’ project of limited government to encompass this “fourth branch,” the sprawling modern administration. This time of multiple scandals may be our best chance to do it.