“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H.L. Mencken
“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it.” – H.L. Mencken
Both of these quotes were attributed to H.L. Mencken, a well known journalist, satirist, and scholar known as the “Sage of Baltimore” and one of the most influential writers of the the first half of the twentieth century. Most importantly, he was often noted as being largely libertarian with a noted distrust in representative democracy, a system that he believed was where “inferior men dominated their superiors”. Now me, I’m a fan of our government, as designed by our founding fathers, but I’ll have to admit, Mencken may be on to something with that last line. However, the two quotes above were attributed to Mencken in the early 1920’s. One would have to wonder what he would say about American life today?
True to Mencken’s words, post 9-11, America was inudtaed with the political class and the media tossing out accusations of impeding doom to warrant the creation of some new measure by government. The rush to expand the surveillance state in the name of safety started to look more like a grand prix rally than responsible , valid government, but to what end?
We’ve all experienced that walk of shame at the airport, feeling like a sorority girl after an all night frat party, after having gone thru the pat and tickle exercise at the hands of the TSA, but has it done any good? It might surprise you to know that since it’s inception, the TSA has had over 400 agents arrested for stealing from the people they were designed to protect, but after $900 million and untold number of crotch grabs later, the number of arrested terrorists or foiled attempts to harm our country is zero.
Additionally, via a fellow named Edward Snowden, we all learned that our government has basically relegated the 4th amendment to role of a doormat by recording and listening in every phone call, text, and email in order to “stop terrorism”. One has to ask though, if the real goal was to stop terrorists, shouldn’t the focus be paid border security or due diligence in the Visa and immigration offices, rather than turn the spying on the American Citizen? Ah, that would be the smart and logical choice but, unfortunately, smarts and logic aren’t exactly in vast supply around government circles.
Lastly, we have the DHS, to help secure America from all those terrorists behind every tree awaiting to destroy us and coordinate our national defense. However, I think someone forgot that we already had the National Security Agency to do that, but I digress. Anyways, with the a big budget and almost unlimited resources the Department of Homeland Security (Am I the only one that gets a bit weirded out upon hearing the term “homeland” and subconsciously seeing goose stepping dome hats on the streets?) has surely been able to provided significant advances in terms of security, yes?
Well, according to a 141-page senate oversight panel report, the DHS U.S. Counterterrorism Centers have failed to provide any valuable information, instead providing uneven, untimely, shoddy intelligence that has been acknowledged as “predominately useless” bye DHS officials. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), goes on to state,
It’s troubling that the very ‘fusion’ centers that were designed to share information in a post-9/11 world have become part of the problem. Instead of strengthening our counterterrorism efforts, they have too often wasted money and stepped on Americans’ civil liberties”
In short, the agency that was commissioned as a reassurance of our fears of terrorism, has spent between $289M and $1.4B in public funds to support these centers that have provide no valuable return in that regard. Combine this with the TSA, who falls under DHS authority, and we have a agency that is proving to be wholly impotent at it’s task, but cited for endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act violations. Furthermore, when questioned by Congress regarding these failures, DHS resisted any oversight and opted out of providing requested documentation to congress on grounds of “sensitivity and confidentiality”.
In spite of these failures however, we watch as the DHS increasingly militarizes themselves and local police. With reports of DHS buying 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, some which being hollow points (illegal under the Geneva Convention) and 2700 mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, (again, images of goose stepping, stahlhelm wearing, foreigners fill my head), shouldn’t we be concerned of a secretive agency, held up as a defender of our safety, having this much power?
All of this comes down to a simple matter, safety cannot be bought, only temporarily rented. Safety is fleeting and always being challenged by some new threat, however, liberty and freedom, once surrendered is difficult to reclaim. The government, along with a complicent media, attempts to increase fear using the menacing hobgoblin of terrorism, both here and abroad. The goal being to convince us that liberty and safety are a delicate balance, one that government should hold the exclusive power to maintain. However, this idea is the very anti-thesis of the principals upon which our nation were founded. The principals are that individual freedom and liberty are supreme, and that the people only consent to government as a means to secure and protect those principals.
We must remember, we, as a people, are inherently charged with our own safety. While there are portions of our safety that we simply aren’t equipped to manage, we have provided government with limited authority to do so for us. These things include border security, due diligence in the application and issuance of visas and green cards, and in the realms of foreign intelligence. However, when we see that the government starts to shift it’s eye inward, towards the people, or fail to succeed in that authority then concern should be raised to the highest levels.
Should we let “menacing hobgoblins” used by government to instill fear influence us to a point that we willingly surrender our freedoms, we will find ourselves no longer worthy of the birthright provided to us by our founding fathers. When the balance between safety and liberty are called into questions, liberty must always reign supreme. For the simple truth is that liberty and safety can never be balanced, for they are never equals. We are nation of free men, and as free men, we grant to government the power to protect our freedoms of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It is this grant from the people that creates safety, so it cannot be possible for government to seek to take from us that which the grant enables. Should government to subjugate our rights in the name of safety, even in the name of the few, then liberty cannot exist and we are duty bound to resist.