A Bad Week for Government Isn’t a Good Week for Liberty


There are more than a few people I know, particularly among Libertarians and libertarians (the former being the political party, the latter being the philosophy and its adherents; there actually is a difference), who are quite thrilled about the problem and scandal-riddled week the Obama administration has had recently. Between increased allegations of misconduct in the Benghazi attack, the IRS improperly (and perhaps illegally) investigating conservative groups, and the Justice Department seizing Associated Press phone records, this hasn’t been an easy one for the administration. Being overturned for the second time by an appeals court on recess appointments did nothing to improve the week from a governmental standpoint. Even Slate.com and The Daily Show, hardly a pair of right-wing nutjob pandering organizations, are piling on. So why am I not dancing in the streets with everyone else?

In short: been there, done that.

I’ve seen too many examples of “big government chicanery exposed” to start celebrating, certainly just yet. While I am a little too young to remember Watergate (I was born about a month before Nixon left office), there have been plenty of scandals, real and manufactured, since then. Abuse of power is practically endemic to government, and the worst abuse tends to happen in the hands of those who believe they are doing it for the right reasons. It’s always easiest to justify doing the bad things when you have good reasons.

As examples, I offer “Scooter” Libby and the Valerie Plame affair, Lawyergate and the Bush White House email controversy, the Ambramoff scandal, the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal… and those were just during the younger Bush administration. There’s also the entire Monica Lewinsky affair (excuse the pun), the Whitewater controversy (including Travelgate, Filegate, and Vince Foster), and the Iran-Contra affair.

If you look at these different scandals across decades and administrations, there’s a striking pattern of similarities. First, in almost every case those who perpetrated the misconduct believed they were doing the right thing at the time (and may even try to defend their actions today if cornered on the subject). Second, the abuses are almost exclusively a matter of using government power to benefit one’s friends or hurt one’s enemies; it’s never a value-neutral thing that one can look at and honestly say “well they were definitely doing what was best for the country, even if I might happen to disagree.” And third, each abuse expands the reach of government; there’s nothing here that says “I have too much power, I better find a way to restrict how I or other manage to use it”, except perhaps in the most backhanded, Orwellian sort of way.

Oh, and in case you didn’t notice: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The abuse of power stretches across five administrations (If you include Reagan in Iran-Contra, which you should) and almost three decades. And I didn’t even bother to include Watergate or any other scandals from administrations back before Reagan (or most of Reagan’s scandals), because I wanted to keep it to stuff I actually remember. Let’s face it; I have more than enough ammunition to condemn both sides.

The problem, as I may have mentioned before, lies not in our politicians but in ourselves. The disconnect between what we are promised and what we receive is based on two things. First, there is the cognitive disconnect that people want the government to provide for them BUT also expect the government to leave them alone. The second is what I refer to as “My Guy Syndrome”: it must be okay as long as “my guy” is doing it. A couple prime examples of this would be the Medicare Modernization Act, the largest expansion of Medicare to that point in the programs history… passed in 2003 by Republicans, and the denial of basic Constitutional rights to a terrorism suspect… in 2013, by a Democrat. Things like this would be unconscionable if the other side did it, but since it was being done by “My Guy”, their respective mouthpieces (particularly within the government, but also in the media) tend to spin and do damage control, and the people who vote for them find ways to justify it in their own minds: “well, sometimes you have to do the politically expedient thing… you gotta break a few eggs… you have to compromise…”

And it is that exact sort of thinking that is likely to prevail in the end, despite the latest string of scandals, unless we change our culture. I don’t mean to suggest that no heads will roll; there may be a token sacrifice, and it may even be enough to get a Republican elected in the next election cycle (for all the good that will do). But until we stop allowing “the politically expedient thing” to happen, until we start holding every politician accountable, and most importantly, until we as a society acknowledge that even if Lord Acton was wrong and absolute power does not in fact corrupt absolutely, that sometimes it’s not a question of corruption but simple out of control idealism that’s the problem, it will never be a good week for liberty.


3 Comments on “A Bad Week for Government Isn’t a Good Week for Liberty”

  1. jlmahan says:

    You’ve done your research well. I agree there’s been scandals on both sides of the isle. However, in this circumstance I feel it is at the utmost importance to recall the lives of those men and the injuries of those (we’ve not yet been able to discover) that were and in some cases still are Americans.

    According to the current reports there are three scandals at this point. The Benghazi Scandal actually has extensions. (Right arm: The lack of response when the boots on the ground reported the extreme situations they had found themselves to be in. Left arm: The non reaction when the Red Cross, British, and other’s pulled out because of the situation. Right leg: The way this Administration attempted to divert the public and press from the actual events and blamed a video for the entire attack. Left leg: The man that produced the blamed video is still in custody for said video. Ran out of extensions so the last will have to be an imaginary third leg: The flat out dodging and lack of respect for the Americans when they all used the phrases, “I have no knowledge of that, I don’t know, and I’ll look into that and get back to you.” Not holding my breath on that last one.

    The AP scandal is flat out another rip in the Constitution from this administration .

    The IRS, as bad as it is that this sort of behavior is happening, and it is a scandal in it’s own right, I believe, and was validated by the IRS hearing last week, that it was a planned diversion to direct attention away from Benghazi.

    So, to sum up my response, yes there’s been scandal after scandal in our government, however, I believe this one, with the loss of lives, the continuous lies to cover up the first lie, should be the grand prize winner for shame and embarrassing the Untied States of America.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      While I prefer not to guage one American scandal against another (that’s something like comparing who has the worst burns – nobody wins), if we are measuring in terms of effort to cover up and general perfidity, the clear winner to me would be Watergate. In terms of american and other lives lost, Vietnam would probably be the first contender, especially since it covered mutiple administrations across both sides of the aisle.

  2. […] This follows so closely on the heels of other revelations of domestic spying by our own government that even the New York Times has started to call out the Obama administration. While it’s nice to see that there’s something besides the Justice Department seizing phone records that can ruffle the media, it’s almost gilding the lily at this point. If things follow their usual pattern, there will be an outcry, perhaps even a Congressional investigation which will bog down in cheap political point scoring, and both Republicans and Democrats will focus on getting the upper hand in the next election. It almost feels like déjà vu all over again. […]


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