Do you trust government to track and collect the content of your emails and telephone calls with virtually no limitations?
For Americans, that should be an easy question to answer.
In another time, when the term “Americans” had more meaning, it would have been.
America was a unique experiment in self-government – one in which, for the first time in world history, the shackles were removed from the citizenry and placed on the government.
People from all over the world fled conditions of servitude and oppression to come to America and experience liberty and opportunity.
But today that grand but fragile experiment in liberty is taken for granted. Liberty is eagerly traded for a false promise of security. The distrust of America’s founders in government not strictly limited in its powers has eroded over some 230 years.
Thus we have a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press reporting that 56 percent of Americans approve of widespread spying by the National Security Agency on the people.
Many Democrats once opposed to the creation of massive databases on everything and everyone are now OK with it because their man is in the White House. Likewise, many Republicans who approved of the plans during a Republican administration now have regrets and second thoughts.
That’s the trouble with the rule of men rather than the rule of law.
That’s the trouble with trusting in the perceived intentions of leaders rather than in the founding principles.
That’s the trouble with Big Brother.
As a U.S. senator, Barack Obama vehemently opposed the legislation that broadened government’s eavesdropping and data collection practices. Today, as president, he vehemently defends it – and even expands the practices beyond anything imagined by his predecessor.
This is how limited government becomes unlimited government. This is how a free society becomes a police state. It doesn’t always happen overnight.
The program was sold to Americans with the goal of safety and security from terror. But it has evolved into a terror of its own – a “cure” perhaps worse than the disease.
In 2013, we’ve seen government officials using the dreaded and intrusive power of the Internal Revenue Service to target political dissidents who simply want to uphold the principles of the founding. Groups and individuals who support the Constitution and oppose the expansion of government beyond its strict limits were punished for those views.
Are we to believe the same administration that oversaw that scandal would not use information collected from another agency to wage war on its political adversaries?
As for the shortsighted Obama supporters who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil about a spying program they previously denounced, do they not understand how a future administration could use such a program against them?
Is it simply a matter of whose ox is being gored? Is that how low America’s constitutional principles of limited government have been compromised?
Why do so many Americans think their country can act like a police state and not become one?
Why do so many Americans put their faith in fallible human beings rather than the kinds of check and balances on power that made the country unique in world history?
I sincerely hope the Pew Research poll is inaccurate and skewed.
There is some reason to believe that is true.
It’s all in the way you ask the question.
That’s why I return to the question I began with at the opening of this column: “Do you trust government to track and collect the content of your emails and telephone calls with virtually no limitations?”
That question was not asked by the Pew pollsters.
How do you suppose most Americans would answer it?
I sincerely hope they would answer it in the negative.