- In 2002 I asked my House colleagues a rhetorical question
with regard to the onslaught of government growth in the post-September
11th era: Is America becoming a police state?
- The question is no longer rhetorical. We are not yet
living in a total police state, but it is fast approaching. The seeds of
future tyranny have been sown, and many of our basic protections against
government have been undermined. The atmosphere since 2001 has permitted
Congress to create whole new departments and agencies that purport to make
us safer- always at the expense of our liberty. But security and liberty
go hand-in-hand. Members of Congress, like too many Americans, don't understand
that a society with no constraints on its government cannot be secure.
History proves that societies crumble when their governments become more
powerful than the people and private institutions.
- Unfortunately, the new intelligence bill passed by Congress
two weeks ago moves us closer to an encroaching police state by imposing
the precursor to a full-fledged national ID card. Within two years, every
American will need a "conforming ID to deal with any federal agency
-- including TSA at the airport. Undoubtedly many Americans and members
of Congress don't believe America is becoming a police state, which is
reasonable enough. They associate the phrase with highly visible symbols
of authoritarianism like military patrols, martial law, and summary executions.
But we ought to be concerned that we have laid the foundation for tyranny
by making the public more docile, more accustomed to government bullying,
and more accepting of arbitrary authority -- all in the name of security.
Our love for liberty above all has been so diminished that we tolerate
intrusions into our privacy that would have been abhorred just a few years
ago. We tolerate inconveniences and infringements upon our liberties in
a manner that reflects poorly on our great national character of rugged
individualism. American history, at least in part, is a history of people
who don't like being told what to do. Yet we are increasingly empowering
the federal government and its agents to run our lives.
- Terror, fear, and crises like 9-11 are used to achieve
complacency and obedience, especially when citizens are deluded into believing
they are still a free people. The loss of liberty, we are assured, will
be minimal, short-lived, and necessary. Many citizens believe that once
the war on terror is over, restrictions on their liberties will be reversed.
But this war is undeclared and open-ended, with no precise enemy and no
expressly stated final goal. Terrorism will never be eradicated completely;
does this mean future presidents will assert extraordinary war powers indefinitely?
- Washington DC provides a vivid illustration of what our
future might look like. Visitors to Capitol Hill encounter police barricades,
metal detectors, paramilitary officers carrying fully automatic rifles,
police dogs, ID checks, and vehicle stops. The people are totally disarmed;
only the police and criminals have guns. Surveillance cameras are everywhere,
monitoring street activity, subway travel, parks, and federal buildings.
There's not much evidence of an open society in Washington, DC, yet most
folks do not complain -- anything goes if it's for government-provided
safety and security.
- After all, proponents argue, the government is doing
all this to catch the bad guys. If you don't have anything to hide, they
ask, what are you so afraid of? The answer is that I'm afraid of losing
the last vestiges of privacy that a free society should hold dear. I'm
afraid of creating a society where the burden is on citizens to prove their
innocence, rather than on government to prove wrongdoing. Most of all,
I'm afraid of living in a society where a subservient populace surrenders
its liberties to an all-powerful government.
- It may be true that average Americans do not feel intimidated
by the encroachment of the police state. Americans remain tolerant of what
they see as mere nuisances because they have been deluded into believing
total government supervision is necessary and helpful, and because they
still enjoy a high level of material comfort. That tolerance may wane,
however, as our standard of living falls due to spiraling debt, endless
deficit spending at home and abroad, a declining fiat dollar, inflation,
higher interest rates, and failing entitlement programs. At that point
attitudes toward omnipotent government may change, but the trend toward
authoritarianism will be difficult to reverse.
- Those who believe a police state can't happen here are
poor students of history. Every government, democratic or not, is capable
of tyranny. We must understand this if we hope to remain a free people.