October 29, 2001
Business as Usual in Washington?
The first wave of shock and sadness over the events of September 11th has begun to pass, and now many Americans are looking to Washington for new policies designed to make us all safer. Yet Congress should be careful in its rush to enact new laws that may result in dangerous unintended consequences for American citizens.
We should remember that the policies of the American government, designed by politicians and bureaucrats, are not always synonymous with American ideals. The country is not the same as the government. The spirit of America is hardly something for which the government holds a monopoly on defining. America's heart and soul is more imbedded in our love for liberty, self-reliance, and tolerance than by our foreign policy, driven by powerful special interests with little regard for the Constitution.
Throughout our early history, a policy of minding our own business and avoiding entangling alliances- as George Washington admonished- was more representative of American ideals than those we have pursued for the past 50 years. We have an absolute right and duty to fight terrorist threats to our nation, but we also have a responsibility to honestly examine our history in the Middle East.
I happen to believe that our battle against the current crop of terrorists can be won in a relatively short period of time. But winning the war over the long term is very different. This cannot be accomplished without a better understanding of the enemy and the geo-politics of the entire Middle East. Even if relative peace is achieved with a battle victory over bin Laden and his followers, other terrorists will appear indefinitely from all corners of the world if we do not understand the issues.
Here at home, many Americans are very concerned that the civil liberties we enjoy will suffer as the government demands new and broader powers in the name of providing security.
Daniel Webster once warned: "Human beings will generally exercise power when they can get it; and they will exercise it most undoubtedly, in popular governments, under pretense of public safety."
While Congress debates airport security, we are not even seriously considering restoring the right of pilots to carry weapons for self-defense. Even though pilots once carried guns to protect the mail, and armored truck drivers can still carry guns to protect money, protecting passengers with guns is prohibited on commercial flights. The US Air Force can shoot down a wayward aircraft, but a pilot cannot shoot down an armed terrorist. Pilots need a last of defense in the cockpit.
Any talk of spending restraints is now a thing of the past. Countless groups have descended on Washington with their hands out. As usual with any disaster, this crisis is being parlayed into an "opportunity," as one former big-spending member of congress phrased it. The economic crisis that started a long time before 9/11 has swollen the ranks of those now demanding federal handouts.
There is one business that clearly will not go into a slump-the Washington lobbying industry. Last year it spent $1.6 billion lobbying Congress. This year it will spend much more. The bigger the disaster, the greater the number of vultures who descend on Washington. When I see this happening, it breaks my heart, because liberty and America suffer. It's all done in the name of justice, equality, and security.
Emotions are running high in our nation's capital- and in politics, emotions are more powerful tools than reason and the rule of law. The use of force to serve special interests and help anyone who claims to be in need is now an acceptable practice. Constitutional restraints are seen as archaic and insensitive to people's needs. Yet far too often the claims cloaked as relief for human tragedies are nothing more than politics as usual. While one group supports bailing out the corporations, another wants to prop up wages and jobs. Envy and power drive both sides- the special interests of big business and the demands of the welfare redistribution crowd.
One thing for sure (as a consequence of the recession and the 9/11 tragedy) is that big spending and deficits are alive and well. Even though we are currently adding to the national debt at the rate of $150 billion per year, most politicians still claim that Social Security is sound and hasn't been touched. At least the majority of American citizens are now wise enough to know better.