Bad news: national security train wreck!

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As a result of the deeply damaging Snowden leak, I am reminded of the principles that make me more of a security hawk than my libertarian compatriots.

Dan Mitchell at International Liberty staked a respectable position regarding the still-unfolding NSA surveillance story.  But some of the comments from his more ardent libertarian readers are real forehead-slappers.  Like the proposition that our military should consist solely of a Coast Guard and maybe an army reserve.

It seems to me that civil liberties advocates tend to have it half-right.  Judeo-Christian tradition informs the concept of Natural Law in many ways: we are equal in dignity before our Creator because we bear His image.  We ought to be suspicious of those in authority because they, like all created persons, are sinful.  Even the best of us are blinded by pride or tempted to abuse.  Indeed, this is the clearest argument from the Christian worldview against centralized, progressive technocracies.

But the forgotten half of Judeo-Christian anthropology is that there are and will always be actors–states, individuals, movements–bent on destroying our government, killing our people, and weakening our society.

On this myopia, I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Its villains, who would wreck American civilization, were either bumbling bleeding hearts or  homegrown totalitarians.  Socialism and central planning were alive and well in Rand’s imagination, but the threat of international communism was nowhere to be found.  Rather strange for a book released in 1957, the year Sputnik was launched, the year after Khrushchev barked “We will bury you!” and four years after the Soviets acquired the hydrogen bomb, thanks of course to the traitorous Julius Rosenberg.

There is no Soviet Union today, but between Putin’s desperately declining Russia, the unscrupulous authoritarians running the People’s Republic of China, the bottomless supply of Islamist terrorists, and the Pandora’s box of asymmetric capabilities at everyone’s disposal, today’s world is hardly Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Big data is everywhere, and we sure as well better have the good guys using it, because the bad guys definitely are.

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey couldn’t have put it better when he wrote in a recent op-ed :

The Constitution and U.S. laws are not a treaty with the universe; they protect U.S. citizens. Foreign governments spy on us and our citizens. We spy on them and theirs. Welcome to the world.

I’ve given a piece of my mind on intel leakers in the past.  Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are the bratty poster children for a grave generational defect. The simple reality is that our nation’s security is in the hands of Millennials, whose self-defined attributes include a sharply liberal political bent and “superior intelligence” according to a 2010 Pew poll.

Snowden’s affinities, as revealed in a Guardian interview, gel with his cohort.  He’s more cosmopolitan than patriotic:

“There are conflicts between the United States government and the Chinese PRC government, but the peoples inherently… we don’t care, we trade with each other freely, we are not at war, we’re not in armed conflict and we’re not trying to be. We’re the largest trading partners out there for each other.”

Cue Lennon’s Imagine. The view is gravely misinformed.  Acts of conscience don’t do much good when the premisses are flat out wrong.

And speaking of China, how did President Obama’s California summit with President Xi go?  I’m sure we made a sterling show of strength, unity, and integrity.  Peace through Strength, and the Shining City on a Hill.  That’s Reagan, not our bumbling Obama.

Then again, China may have had a hand in this surveillance program compromise all along.  Or, with publicly aired allegations of US hacking, maybe US-China relations will be severely set back.  Certainly, terrorists have gotten a little wiser about avoiding detection.  Any which way you cut it, nothing good comes out of this fiasco.  There is no way Snowden could possibly be a hero.

It’s beyond frustrating that such undisciplined, uninformed flunkies stumble into treason.  Who knows how many more Mannings and Snowdens have access to secrets and are all-too-willing to spill the beans?  That, not any NSA surveillance overreach,  is what should keep us up at night.

Shared sacrifice

President Obama unfurled a new school yard taunt this week, calling his challenger “Romney Hood.”  The moniker piggy backs on a study crafted by definitively left-leaning groups that presume to know the details of Romney’s future budget proposals.  Supposedly, Mitt Romney will balance the budget on the backs of the middle class.

But if anyone is taxing the middle class, it’s surely President Obama.  After all, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the penalty component of his Affordable Care Act is for all intents and purposes a tax.  Many who will be paying the new tax will be younger, less-established workers, the up-and-coming who are in many ways at the heart of economic growth.  That is, unless a Republican President and Congress are able to intervene at the start of 2013.

Is the “Romney Hood” label even fitting?  Maybe if you interpret the hugely successful capitalist as Atlas Shrugged pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld, a man who steals from corrupt “people’s republics” and bequeaths gold bars to cloistered industrialists.  However, the “tax cuts” that President Obama perennially refers to are not stealing from anyone.  Continuing with the ten-year-old, boring, existing rate is merely allowing high income earners to keep more of what is rightfully theirs.

If we examine the President’s rhetoric about income and wealth, it’s clear he has little real regard for the deep American tradition of ownership, particularly that which comes from “earned success.”  Consider his 2008 retort to Joe the Plumber, that all he wants to do with the little extra taxed income is “spread the wealth around.”

In 2010, and even into 2012, the President repeatedly sprinkled his speeches with references to “shared sacrifice.”  This is meant to conjure up thoughts of selflessness and nobility: folks who step up and offer voluntarily for a good cause.  But how are new taxes “sacrifice” when they are ultimately collected at the barrel of a gun?  This rhetoric ought to be seen as embarrassing and sloppy by all observers.  The rights to the fruits of one’s own sweat and toil, time and treasure are ultimately discarded by such a line of reasoning.  Utterly chilling.

If what we’re concerned with is a green-hooded robber running around in the woods and seizing wealth, we should be more wary of the man who has spent the last three and a half years in the Bully Pulpit than we should be of his challenger.

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand: Can a brother shrug?

In the past few weeks, Paul Ryan has been the prime bogeyman of liberals and progressives.  His proposed Federal budget plan trims entitlement growth more than Democrats would like.  Supreme Keynesian Paul Krugman has accused Ryan, a father of three from Wisconsin, of being an Ayn Rand fanatic.  The Congressman has played down his affinity for Rand’s egoistic philosophy of Objectivism.

Liberals’ groaning over Ryan intensified after he delivered a policy speech at the Catholic Georgetown University last week.  Here he hoped to justify his policy decisions in terms of a personal understanding of his Catholic faith.  Invoking church doctrines creatively and boldly, he suggested that the moral obligation of solidarity with the poor might best be served by a prudential application of subsidiarity.  In layman’s terms, our society can help the poor better by learning from history and subsequently devolving aid responsibility from the highest offices of power to the smallest practicable unit.

Ryan’s speech was thoughful and provocative, but perhaps too threatening to the Georgetown faculty’s belief that Catholic social teaching is an automatic endorsement of unmitigated big government.  Ninety of the school’s faculty signed and sent Congressman Ryan a scathing epistle rebuking and encouraging him to bone up on the doctrines he cited.

So recently, Ryan has aggrieved his fellow parishioners and has been linked with one of the grumpiest, most selfish atheists of yesteryear.  Is he just a glutton for punishment?  No. If we heed Mr. Ryan’s call to look at history and experience, we’ll find that his Christian faith and Rand’s Objectivist philosophy furnish common ground for resisting America’s decades-long progressive drive toward cultural and fiscal oblivion.

In Ayn Rand’s most influential work, Atlas Shrugged, we get to see a worldview shaped by the author’s firsthand experiences of two historic catastrophes: Russia’s Bolshevik revolution and America’s Great Depression.  The first impressed her with man’s capacity for coercion, and the second his capacity for incompetence.  And it’s this second lesson that remains pertinent to us today.

We can trace the more salient markers of the the progressive quest for social equity: FDR’s New Deal entitlements of the 1930s, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, and lately, Barack Obama’s budget-busting program expansions.  The unending accretion of altruistic programs has done more harm than good.  We’re saddled with triplicate and quadruplicate bureaucracies that don’t produce results.  A little empirical evidence demonstrates just how ineffective Federal social programs have been for the past half century.

Progressivism, the worldview that drives the long leftward march, prefers central planners to do the thinking of everyday life rather than families or individuals. The result of such a society is what Rand’s Atlas warns against: a world where people exchange the virtues of thought and creativity for pity and manipulation.  Among the classifications she assigns to the degenerate denizens of the Atlas world: “moochers” and “mystics.”  People who’ve stopped working and stopped thinking.

It’s in vigilance against such a fate that Christians share with the Randian cause.  Apologist and philosopher J.P. Moreland warns us against the sensate society, where people make decisions less with their brain and more with their gut.  One of the central truths about humanity is that each of us bears Imago Dei, God’s image.  We resemble him in our ability to reason and to create.  Even these two activities are at the core of Ayn Rand’s Nietzschean pursuit of existential necessities.

How do we turn back from a world where centralization has elevated entitlement and choked out incentive?  Atlas only offers the dramatic cataclysm of a Capitalists’ strike.  But fortunately, in the real world, Congressman Paul Ryan encourages us all to re-think our march off the cliff of uncritical, state-driven altruism.  If we can get around the Left’s pipe dreams, maybe America can jettison the vice of entitlement and recapture the values of reason and creativity.  Then we will have a truly compassionate and just society.

Rule of Law, Rule of Gut

The BP oil spill has provided a chance to clearly delineate between two worldviews vying for our political discernment: the visions of the liberal Left and the conservative Right.  In responding to Republican House representative Joe Barton’s double-apology gaffe, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said as much.  And while Emanuel is correct in observing that two governing philosophies are at stake this November, it would be an error to take his class warfare bait.  The choice is not between wise, compassionate Democrats and corrupt, cozy-with-big-business Republicans.  To the contrary, this November is a chance to dump destructive Democratic impulses to rule from the gut, and empower a new, conservative Republican leadership that values rule based on law.

The rhetoric of emergency is the greatest pitfall of the Democrats’ liberal governing philosophy.  In times of crisis like the BP oil spill, inflammatory rhetorical appeals come naturally to them. At the onset of the oil spill, Democratic strategist James Carville cried out “We’re dying here!” In a recent attempt to capitalize on Barton’s apology blunder, Vice President Joe Biden chided that “people are drowning.”  As a tool of political persuasion, the appeal to emergency is dangerous.  It preys on raw emotions, leading to the loosening of purse strings and  easing the approval of impractical and downright harmful policies.  Recall that appeals to emergency during the Great Depression ushered in the New Deal.  Among the many blunders under the aegis of enlightened activism, the federal government paid farmers to wastefully slaughter their livestock, denying food to the hungry for the sake of stabilizing food prices.

Having lived through Bolshevik brutalism as well as America’s New Deal fiascos, Ayn Rand warned in her brilliant polemic Atlas Shrugged that appeals to emergency inevitably empower either unsavory autocrats or unreasoning incompetents.  The Left’s Rule of Gut is all the more dangerous given their inscrutable devotion to the cult of the political savior.  Whether as youth admiringly looking upon the iconic visage of revolutionary Che Guevara, or as older generations fondly recalling fireside-chatter FDR, Democrats and their Leftist base turn not to reasonable stewards of power, but at the gut level dream of charismatic, decisive deliverers of salvation.  Perhaps it is only slightly more tragic for a banana republic to produce a Castro or Chavez than it is for the United States to beget a starry-eyed bungler like Carter or Obama.

What then stands as an antidote to the twin appeals of emergency and charismatic deliverance?  Many people dismiss today’s conservative movement out-of-hand because they buy the idea that Republicans are beholden to big business and that conservatives are under the undue influence of social “wedge” issues.  But while the political Left relies on emotional appeal to further a hazy end of “progress” shared by the political bedfellows of victimhood, American conservatives look to widely-established and long-standing traditions as the means to preserve national well-being.  Broadly considered, these traditions share the spirit of and are inclusive of the Rule of Law.

The decisive factor in favor of conservatism may be the question of ends and means.  Not only are the ends of the Left mistaken, the means of achieving their ends leave us vulnerable to the imperfections of alliance-wrangling.  As Thomas Sowell effectively notes in Conflict of Visions, the ends are paramount to the Left, but the means are the key focus of conservatives.  With an aim to preserving the integrity of process rather than seeking to guarantee a specific result outright, the conservative vision offers the greatest chance of behavioral accountability from our leaders.  Conservative constituents demand fidelity to function, but liberal politicians, supposing a backdrop of knock-down, drag-out class war, must satisfy their constituents’ identity-based grievances by any means necessary.  And more often then not, the sausage-making that begets vaunted progress for the Left is deleterious to the national interest.

Its a paradox that those on the Left, who seek change by Rule of Gut, will always remain unsatisfied by their side’s inability to effect the immediate gratification they seek.  But we, whether at the election polls or in the course of day-to-day life, can avoid that frustration by choosing to live under the Rule of Law instead of the Rule of Gut.

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