Obama's Disarming Haste
According to the Washington Post‘s Philip Rucker, President Obama is committed to moving quickly on gun violence legislation. Reported as good news, in truth this carefully projected haste and urgency ought to be regarded – and would be reported, by a media that did not have a stake in leftist authoritarianism – as the gravest warning sign.
“A warning sign of what?” asks the scoffing useful idiot. “Of the end of even the pretense of liberal democracy, constitutional republicanism, or any other form of government answerable to the governed.”
It became a cliché during the last century to say that tyranny has the advantage over freedom in a crisis, because while the legitimate government must follow its own internal processes for assuring the consent of the people (or of their representatives) prior to acting, the tyrant may simply issue a decree, irrespective of anyone’s objections.
It is true that legitimate governments comprised of co-equal branches, or of deliberative bodies, are somewhat limited in their power to act precipitately. And that limit is precisely the source of their legitimacy.
In almost all circumstances, sometimes even including the most grave and pressing, legitimate governments are compelled to engage in some measure of deliberation. That is, they are restricted in their actions and responses to what can be agreed upon through a process of reasoning. If there are disagreements about the need for action, they must be heard. If there are quibbles about the course of action to be pursued, they must be heard.
Churchill argued vehemently and repeatedly in and out of the British parliament against Prime Minister Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and in favor of forceful action. Through this process, his case, which was initially unpopular, both in parliament and among the British people, grew in force and effect, and Churchill himself was chiselled by it into a greater leader of men – precisely when Britain, and the world, needed such a leader. His path to action was longer and more laborious than Hitler’s, but he had right on his side – and he won.
Churchill was forced to these extremes of patient argumentation in the face of an immediate threat to his nation’s survival by a tyrannical lunatic commanding the most powerful military in Europe. That is a case study in what I am calling “legitimate government.” Illegitimate government, by contrast, would follow the opposite trajectory: pursue the most radical policy proposals while circumventing or avoiding patient argumentation and debate, even in matters of relatively little urgency.
To state this contrast differently, a free nation thinks before it acts in its own best interests, even in a genuine crisis, while an unfree nation is dragged into unthinking action against its own interests, in response to an illusory crisis.
When Rahm Emanuel described the Obama administration’s modus operandi as “never let a serious crisis go to waste,” many conservatives latched onto this supposed revelation as Exhibit A against the administration’s integrity. In truth, Emanuel was putting the idea out there early, in the first weeks of the administration, so that, through repetition, it could be transformed, over the course of Obama’s first term, from evidence of alarming cynicism into the definition of responsible governance.
Thus it is that mainstream reporters can now matter-of-factly describe the White House’s mission on gun control this way:
Obama’s advisers have calculated that the longer they wait, the more distance there is from the Newtown massacre and the greater the risk that the bipartisan political will to tackle gun violence will dissipate.
“This is not something that I will be putting off,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview broadcast last Sunday.
At the White House meeting, [Sheriff Richard] Stanek said, “the vice president indicated that there was a very short timeline for him to get back to the president with his recommendations because the American public has a short memory.”
Think about that. The president and vice president of the United States are urging immediate action on gun control, pre-empting all debate about the measures’ constitutionality; and their justification for this urgent, anti-constitutional action is that “the American public has a short memory.” In other words, this is not a real crisis (i.e., an ongoing threat), and the public will soon realize that, and carry on with life as usual; therefore, we must act before that happens.
Here is Rucker’s account of the administration’s intentions:
A working group led by Vice President Biden is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, the sources said.
As for where the federal government would get the authority to require “universal background checks,” monitor the “movement” of private property, impose “stronger” mental health checks (on whom?), or punish private citizens for “giving” guns to minors (teaching your son to shoot?), these are precisely the kinds of questions for which the normal process of legitimate government would be in order – deliberate, debate, reason. But the administration is unwilling to accept the likely outcome of such a process, and therefore wishes to foist its illiberal ideas on the public without open discussion. We all know the pattern now: in place of the deliberative process designed to protect the public from unjust government, Obama, Feinstein, et al will rush through legislation and executive orders, and then “lead a public relations offensive to generate public support.”
There is a striking dissonance between the alleged need to act immediately, and the nature of the measures proposed. Rucker repeatedly tells us the government’s response will be “comprehensive”; Biden’s working group has “expanded its focus” to areas in which the president may act without congressional support, such as “changes to federal mental-health programs”; the administration is “quietly talking with a diverse array of interest groups”; they are “developing strategies to work around the National Rifle Association,” such as “rallying support from Wal-Mart and other gun retailers for measures that would benefit their businesses” (i.e., crony capitalism in the name of restricting gun sales); their proposals constitute a “deeper exploration than just the assault-weapons ban”; and the discussions include the secretaries of Homeland Security, Education, and Health and Human Services.
These are strategies for radical change in the nature and order of American society. One does not solve an immediate crisis by abandoning the entity undergoing the crisis. A man whose kitchen is on fire does not respond by calling a real estate agent to discuss buying a new house; he calls the fire department, and tries to save his property. A nation in a crisis does not abandon its laws and principles; it tries to shore them up with some form of corrective action. Conservatives were rightly disdainful of George W. Bush’s nonsense about “abandoning the free market in order to save it.” Now, the Obama administration’s response to a violation of individual rights (gun violence) is to abandon individual liberty and the right of self-preservation.
A government that responds to a genuine crisis – such as foreign attack, or wide-scale insurrection – in a precipitate fashion is acting irresponsibly. A government that manufactures a crisis in order to justify acting precipitately is behaving tyrannically. A government that follows this pattern as its normal method of operation is not merely behaving tyrannically – it is a tyranny.
“Never let a crisis go to waste” is cynical politics of the highest order. “Never let an opportunity to create the illusion of a crisis go to waste” is worse than cynical; it is diabolical. It is also fundamentally delegitimizing of the government that pursues this policy. A health care “crisis” necessitates immediate passage of a bill that no one has read, let alone debated. A student loan “crisis” necessitates a federal government takeover of the loan industry. A fiscal “crisis” necessitates the passage of a bill that was presented to the U.S. Senate – “the world’s greatest deliberative body” – six minutes prior to the vote. And so on.
Now, a gun violence “crisis” – which has been cleverly expanded into a mental health “crisis” – requires immediate, undeliberated measures to begin the final process of ending private gun ownership, while extending the federal government’s power to assess, label, restrict, and/or detain private citizens as “mentally unstable,” according to guidelines that will be written by the leftist authoritarians at HHS, the Justice Department, and Homeland Security. Talk about the lunatics running the asylum!
The only real crisis at play here is a crisis of liberty; the U.S. federal government has become unmoored from any notion of legitimate representative government, and its illegitimate practices have become broadly acceptable to the American public. Corrective measures are certainly in order, but these will not come from the government. They will come, if they come, from the people.
Here, from the Washington Post article, is the sensibility now governing America’s public policy, in a nutshell:
“As we get involved in these ad nauseam debates over the Second Amendment, our children are still at risk,” said Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “Debating is not the action verb we need to protect our children.”
Actually, Mr. Adler, it is. Debating – discussing the appropriateness of proposed policy in light of the nation’s interests and fundamental principles – is what legitimate governments do, as long as they wish to represent the will, rather than exploit the ignorance and fear, of the people.
While we’re at it, Americans might like to consider a few other action verbs pertinent to this moment, and to “protecting their children”: resisting, debunking, teaching, thinking, and fighting.
(This article appeared originally at American Thinker.)