Here they come. The Serious People, like Time’s Joe Klein, are stepping into the NSA fray to tell us all to calm down, cool our jets and go back to sleep. You should trust the government, especially this administration, to do the right thing, he argues. This little kerfuffle is not as bad as the wackos on the left and right make it out to be so stop your grousing and let our leaders keep on spying and prying to prevent a problem that is less common than getting stabbed by a unicorn.
One thing that our Founding Father’s knew from first-hand experience that we seem to have forgotten is that too much power concentrated in the hands of too few can lead even well-intentioned leaders into dark waters. Our three branches of government, each intended as a check and balance to the other, was a brilliant solution that worked pretty well for a couple hundred years. But then came 9/11 and the scales tipped drastically toward the executive. Scared, foolish authoritarians like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld took advantage of the situation to secure vast new powers for the executive branch that could be shrouded in secrecy. Unfortunately for all of us, Obama was sucked into the Fantasyland rationales for keeping the surveillance state going and even expanded it.
The key word here is “trust.” Klein and others who see themselves as the voices of reason insist that we trust the government to do the right thing. I would argue that this is directly opposed to the beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the pillars on which this democracy was formed. We have the system of government that we have precisely because the founders knew that concentrating power in the hands of a few inevitably leads to problems. For a time in the twentieth century we had an active news media that tried to keep the government honest, but that hasn’t been the case for at least thirty years. What we have now are the few whistleblowers courageous enough to risk their lives to step forward with the truth about what our leaders are doing in our names.
Democracy only works if citizens have a healthy skepticism of the motives of those in power and, like a safety valve, have some mechanism for challenging our elected leaders on their decisions and policies. Those who argue that Americans should calm down and put their trust in the government harbor a serious misunderstanding about the relationship between citizens of a democracy and their elected officials. We don’t just have a right to question our leaders, we have a duty to keep them honest. The horrific reality today is that those people who are fulfilling their roles as citizens of a democracy, the whistleblowers, are labeled enemies of the state and thrown into prisons.
But don’t worry your pretty little heads advises Klein. Everything’s under control. Night, night.