March 21, 2014
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Senator Rand Paul spoke this week at a stronghold of the left-wing academy, the University of California, Berkeley, and he got a standing ovation. He did it by making an argument that any conservative can embrace and extend much further.
Senator Paul’s address critiqued the surveillance state and the substantial threat it might pose to Americans’ privacy. And certainly, the government’s intelligence capabilities are far greater than most Americans understood before a series of illegal disclosures in the last year.
Most people are probably comfortable, more or less, with our intelligence agencies having substantial capabilities for national security purposes. But when we learn that the CIA has hacked into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s staff computers–the committee charged with overseeing the CIA–it is no doubt time for a real conversation about the power of these agencies and checking their excesses.
The issues Senator Paul raised and to which Berkeley students responded so favorably, however, are just one example of a much greater challenge.
As Paul said in his speech, “I think I perceive fear of an intelligence community that’s drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power….They’re only sorry they got caught.”
“Power must be restrained,” he continued, “because no one knows who will next hold that power.”
He makes the right point. But these words apply don’t apply just to the NSA and the CIA. They apply to the entire sprawling federal bureaucracy, which is out of control everywhere you look.
In fact, Senator Paul’s criticisms apply even more to the rest of the federal government. At least the NSA and CIA are giant bureaucracies predominantly occupied with keeping us safe. Most of the others are predominantly occupied with controlling us, in more and more aspects of our lives.
Every year, unelected bureaucrats write literally thousands of new rules. In 1949, the Code of Federal Regulations was 19,000 pages long. Today it is 170,000 pages. Between 1993 and 2012 alone, the government added 81,000 pages to the Federal Register. There is hardly a day that goes by when we do not violate several of these rules simply because it is impossible to know and to follow all of them.
Many of the rules are actual crimes, and these too are growing in number. Since the early 1980s the number of criminal offenses on the books has grown by nearly 50 percent, according to the Heritage Foundation.
As Harvey Silvergate describes in his book Three Felonies a Day, having so many rules to choose from gives the government (and federal bureaucracies in particular) endless opportunities for control and abuse.
And we know that they exercise that power routinely.
The IRS has been systematically blocking conservative groups from obtaining tax-exempt status. They’ve demanded lists of Tea Party donors in the middle of an election season. They’ve asked a pro-life group about “the content of the members’…prayers.” The Justice Department has been conducting criminal investigations of journalists who report classified information, trampling the first amendment (while the administration does nothing about serious national security leaks that support the President’s image). Even seemingly innocuous agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service conduct heavily-armed raids on private companies over tiny matters, as Gibson Guitar experienced a few years ago.
Senator Paul is right about the power-hungry, out of control nature of federal bureaucracies. But the American people have far more to fear than just the loss of their privacy.
Rand is Right
- on March 21, 2014