or The Audacity of Hoping No One Connects the Dots
Freedom is eroding at the hands of the government at an alarming rate. Of course, this is not news; the individual rights that were identified by America’s Founders and safeguarded with the institutions they established have been whittled away for more than a century. But we are clearly in the midst of a particularly virulent rush to serfdom that accelerated during the George W. Bush administration and has reached full boil under Barack Obama. It is a bipartisan attack, and until recently, has been virtually unopposed by more than a handful of voices. Both major parties (and to a worse degree, all the minor “third” parties) completely ignore individual rights; they simply bicker over to which degree and in what manner Americans are to be forced to comply with government’s demands. The “compassionate conservatism” of Republicans and the “Organizing for America” of Democrats are both explicitly statist, programmatic calls for national servitude.
I am struck, though, by one characteristic of the government’s power grab: its openness. All the facts are completely on the surface. There is no hidden agenda. Contrary to absurd conspiracy theories, government officials do not conceal their true intentions; they boast of them. The egregious particulars of “recovery” and “reinvestment” and “reform” laws are often not buried surreptitiously in bills, but are announced with press releases. When a president (Republican or Democrat) shakes hands warmly with a foreign dictator, it is not a clandestine betrayal; it is a photo op. When Mr. Obama’s subordinate dictators are installed to issue edicts, nobody bothers to assign friendly-sounding names like “comrades” or “citizens”; they are frankly called “czars.”
This openness indicates either an astonishing brazenness or naïveté on the part of the politicians.
To seize power without opposition, presidents and legislators count on the majority of the population having a certain type of mentality - they must be relatively educated, some highly educated, but with an inability to think critically and integrate their knowledge. This is best achieved with an education of a certain sort, and fortunately for politicians, it is exactly the sort that has been imposed upon students for generations: a compulsory, increasingly centralized, government curriculum that emphasizes the group over the individual, that denies the possibility that answers can be fully right or wrong, that stuffs students’ heads with a barrage of state-approved aphorisms (e.g “selfishness is wrong,” “recycle plastic,” “greedy capitalists cause poverty,” etc.) which are to be held as if they are perceptual-level truths, and above all, that presents every piece of information to the students as a succession of disparate facts, unconnected and unconnectable.
This education churns out students - and hence, adults - whose minds are filled with facts and opinions, yet who are unaccustomed to thinking for themselves. The mind of the typical student emerging from school is well-practiced in collecting, but is stunted in other faculties: integrating, classifying, determining similarities and differences, identifying the essence of a set of particulars. As such, the modern American (especially a young one) simultaneously feels that he knows quite a lot and yet views the universe as intractably complex. He is the perfect subject for a benevolent dictatorship. Politicians want voters to be “informed” - to listen to NPR, read the New York Times, watch television - and to believe what they are told. They expect their constituents to regard the endless stream of terrorist attacks, military conflicts, economic reports, natural disasters, and crimes as constituting a complexity too difficult for individuals to grasp, and thus to passively surrender their judgment to a smiling, reassuring, omnipotent government that knows best.
After Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (This is not a pipe.)
Americans are expected to be familiar with the words “tyranny” and “socialism,” but not to recognize tyranny or socialism when they are in its midst. The young professional today righteously places a “Question Authority” bumper sticker next to the “Obama/Biden” label on the trunk of his hybrid car, blissfully unaware that he accepts every government directive and politically-correct norm without question.
This confidence of politicians that Americans will fall in line with their expectations represents an opportunity for us to defend freedom. Since politicians openly admit the particulars of their policies and deny only their meaning, our task is simply to connect the dots. It is not so much a matter of educating the public, but one of getting people to think about the facts that are already before them. Americans already have two and two in view; they just need to practice putting two and two together to make four.
Let’s look at a few examples. When Sarah Palin warned that the Obama administration’s health care “reform” would result in “death panels,” she was pilloried by politicians and the media with an unrestrained and decidedly uncivil hostility. Now, if the reader does not already know it, I am unambiguously opposed to Sarah Palin’s political ideas and regard her as anathema to liberty, particularly because of her religious views. But on this particular issue she was absolutely right. Her exact words were:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost... The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.[Note 1.]
In an earlier essay, I wrote of these “death panels,” “What else shall we call a central committee of bureaucrats who make ‘recommendations’ that must be obeyed, meting out from a dwindling pile of loot every treatment, therapy, medicine, test, doctor visit, and hospital stay?” This is not crazy hyperbole. “Death panels” are a completely apt characterization of this particular aspect of Mr. Obama’s health “reform.” Palin (and I) properly drew conclusions from the facts that the president and lawmakers themselves provided. Politicians and the media do not deny the facts, but only the conclusions. They resist evaluation and judgment. They refuse to connect the dots.
In my note to the White House, in which I turned myself in to the authorities at the informant hot line, I pointed out how in the very same breath that the Obama administration denied its intent to eliminate private health insurance coverage, it listed as evidence its eight directives that constitute the complete government takeover of the health insurance industry. In this blog post called, ironically, “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” a White House official accuses opponents of making “it look like the President intends to ‘eliminate’ private coverage, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.”[Note 2.] Two sentences later, the post lists the official “Health Insurance Consumer Protections.” These “protections” dictate the terms under which the government will permit insurance companies to exist. They will clearly be “private” in name only. As a means of showing how ridiculous are the rumors that Mr. Obama wants to eliminate private health insurance, the White House submits its list of rules for private health insurance companies, telling them who they shall accept as “customers,” how much they will charge, and what services they shall cover! It is an astonishingly distilled example of the point I am conveying here - the confidence of politicians that the public is incapable of thinking.
In my essay “The Reluctant Dictator,” I noted that the president denies that he wants to be in the car business. “What we are not doing, what I have no interest in doing, is running GM,” the president assures us.[Note 3.] As evidence of this, Mr. Obama fired the CEO of General Motors and his administration has effectively nationalized the company by seizing a majority stake in shares. No doubt, the White House and media could construct a long list of facts to show that the president’s outrageous abuse of power was technically legal, that the word “nationalization” is not exactly the correct term for the government takeover of a private company, and in any case, the government does not intend to use the powers that it seized to direct the operations of the company. All of these details distract from the obvious: President Obama nationalized General Motors. The president is counting on citizens to defer to his expertise and authority, to appreciate that the complexity and nuance of the economy is surely beyond their grasp, and to not be so simple-minded as to draw a parallel between his actions and those of tin-pot South American dictators.
When President Obama denies being a socialist, when the media scoffs at the “right-wing nuts” that call him a socialist, when avowed socialists themselves claim that the president is not “one of them,” shall we simply take their word for it? Or shall we consider the essence of socialism - that it is “the doctrine that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that his life and his work do not belong to him, but belong to society, that the only justification of his existence is his service to society, and that society may dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own tribal, collective good.”[Note 4.] This is the essence of the Obama administration (as it was the essence of the Bush administration and would have been the essence of John McCain’s administration, had he won the election). This is the driving principle behind the prescription drug program, compulsory medical insurance, corporate bailouts, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act, “cap-and-trade” legislation, pay restrictions for executives, the virtual enslavement of medical professionals, and the grotesque “I Pledge” video.
The United States has not yet descended to point where naked force is directed against the population at large. Today, all that is needed to defeat this growing tyranny is to name it. Americans, who have been taught not to judge, must judge. Individuals, who have been taught to place their trust in governments because the world is too complex to fathom, must think for themselves.
I am somewhat heartened by signs in recent months. Perhaps the tide is turning. There are indications that at some level, people are adding things up, identifying the nature of the government’s actions. Indeed, this is reflected in the growing panic and shrillness of the left-leaning media. Their confidence that individuals will accept their pre-digested assertions at face value without extracting their true meanings has been shaken - hence, the name-calling, the inarticulate, spitting hatred, the fear of “Astro-turf” movements. The tea parties that spontaneously arose over the spring and summer, the booming sales of Atlas Shrugged, and recently, the open revolt of the president’s speech to children returning back to school, may signal a positive trend toward Americans’ best defense against tyranny:
2. “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Macon Phillips, White House blog, 4 Aug 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Facts-Are-Stubborn-Things/.
3. “The Government and GM: How Reluctant a Shareholder?” The Heritage Foundation, 1 Jun 2009.
4. Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, Signet, 1961, p. 43. [Emphasis in the original.]