Elected Angels

Whenever we see President Obama appear on TV and express his support for democracy and a prosperous nation, most of us would probably believe that he earnestly means the words that come out of his mouth, that he completely supports popular government.

When we watch old speeches of Josef Stalin promising his people freedom and prosperity, on the other hand, we immediately identify his statements as a farce, an empty attempt at fooling the populus into believing that he is not the hideous tyrant that he is.

Such is the conventional view that the sons and daughters of most Western nations are brought up on; children are taught from a young age that Presidents are good and dictators are bad. When we grow older, we often retain the tendency to be more skeptical of the leaders of more authoritarian nations, and are likely to afford a greater amount of trust to people like Clinton or Obama than to people like Mussolini or Milosevic.

However, does the democratic process of election unequivocally separate those who intend to rule with an iron fist from those who intend to rule by the people? I think not.

Take a look at the following articles; one’s on Putin, and one’s on Obama.

http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/World/Story/A1Story20120714-359072.html

http://news.antiwar.com/2012/07/13/obama-order-gives-power-to-seize-control-of-all-communications-systems/

In the red corner, we have Vladimir Putin, who has written into law a provision declaring NGOs like Human Rights Watch or the World Wildlife Fund as “enemy agents” (what kind of weapons do human rights advocates carry?), and re-criminalized the slander of state officials. Putin is generally deemed as reprehensible in the US; he’s had a history of using loopholes in the law to increase his power, seized control of media outlets to weaken the influence of opposing candidates, and held executive dominance over Russia even when Dmitri Medvedev, his faithful subordinate, held the office of President. Scary, isn’t he?

In the blue ring, we have Barack Obama, who has claimed that he has the authority to take control of the Internet, phone lines, or any other communications systems in the event of an “emergency”. Disliked by some but lauded by many, Obama’s had a history of attempting to write the laws by himself (he attempted to make ACTA into a law without putting it to a Congressional vote), signing laws that would give him the authority to arrest anyone at any time (and then trying to undermine the authority of judges who declare those laws unconstitutional), and launching drone strikes that end up killing civilians.

Is the President truly that much more moral than Putin?

Don’t make the assumption that I equate Obama with Putin; Obama has a greater degree of respect for human life and welfare, however, he has very little respect for the limits of his own power. He has pushed for draconian legislation that would, if not for the intervention of judiciaries (and sometimes Congress), give him power that would make the Founding Fathers vomit.

As such, we shouldn’t put any executive governmental figure –democratically elected or not– beyond strict scrutiny of his/her fundamental attitude towards government. The corrupt heads of the Russian political system, like the wrongdoers of the Bush and Obama administrations, are all people, and as human beings in power are capable of (and prone to) committing heinous crimes, we must never turn our backs upon people, lest we be consumed by an ever-expanding sphere of governmental authority.

Superman-In-Chief

“He’ll use his superpowers to win in Iraq, then kung-fu chop the Taliban! Our image in the world he’ll mend, he’ll make the Jews and Arabs friends, he’s Barack Obama, he’s come to save the day!” -JibJab

Although clearly a work of satire, the song lyrics above are a reflection of what our society wants and expects of the President of the United States. Since Theodore Roosevelt took office in 1901, most of our Presidents have cheated Congress, defied the Courts, overused his veto power, and made a mountain of unrealistic promises to garner public faith in their ability to make America truly great. Lyndon B. Johnson promised healthcare for all in his Great Society program, FDR believed that tightening the government’s hold over the economy would get us out of the Great Depression (which is a well-publicized myth), and Obama promised to lower healthcare prices by eliminating competition and raising taxes. In short, every President pledges to defecate rainbows and turn the USA into heaven on Earth.

However, the problem with promises made by Presidents is not that they are unrealistic and often ludicrous, nor is it that the people believe that the President can single-handedly solve great moral or economic crises. The issue is that most people want the President to be able to do these kinds of things, and will cheer him on as he tears up the checks and balances of our republican system to attain that power. And as historical hindsight will tell you, any government big enough to give you anything you want is capable of taking away everything you have. Hitler and Stalin are the most obvious examples of governmental destruction of its own people, but an American flag pin is no safeguard from corruption. Just look at how humanely some of our most beloved Presidents have used their power: FDR interned 110,000 immigrants and loyal Japanese-descended citizens, Abraham Lincoln arrested tens of thousands of dissenters and “suspected” criminals. The 4th Amendment’s requirement of probable cause should have stopped both Lincoln and FDR right in their tracks (the courts did declare Lincoln’s arrests to be unconstitutional, but after he died), but they didn’t, because people trusted the President to make the best decisions for the nation and never suspected that the gun might be turned on them. Constitutional checks and balances are the only safeguard from tyranny; don’t assume you’re safe just because the government tends to kill Islamists and people from nations being invaded.

With that established, it becomes clear that more is less in terms of Presidential power. Most adults are capable of handling their own lives without a nanny state changing their diapers; it is the people who create vigorous economies and have the rightful authority to decide what substances go into their own bodies. The government’s only rightful authority is to prevent the people from materially and physically infringing upon others’  lives, liberties, and property, and the President, as an employee of the people, is bound to the duty of enforcing the law. I do not want some elected savior who is pre-ordained by some deity to save the nation, I want Presidents like Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, and George Washington, who abided by the law and sought to achieve only what the Constitution allowed them to. This nation was built by people, not Chief Executives, and the people, not the government, are the key to its future success.

Ignorance is bliss…until they send you to Gitmo

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.” -Martin Niemöller

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most American adults aren’t very involved in or informed about politics, given that more of them can identify the Kardashians and whatever the hell they’re up to (I wouldn’t know) than our own vice President, Joe Biden. Scary, huh? What if I told you that the public knows more about The Simpsons than our own rights? More Americans can identify them than our 5 First Amendment rights, so tell me: How can you protect your freedoms if you aren’t even aware of them? 

“Oh, but the government would never attack my Fir-”

Not true. Take the recent case of Tarek Mehanna, who was convicted of “conspiring to kill U.S soldiers in Iraq” just 12 days ago. What were the charges brought against him? Discussing the morality of suicide bombings online and with his local Islamic community, translating texts from Jihadi websites from Arabic to English (we all know that translation means endorsing), and researching the 9/11 attacks. The ACLU’s attempts to dismiss the case on the basis of Tarek’s First Amendment rights were met with a sound rejection by a District Court. Whether the case will be appealed in the Supreme Court has not been determined yet, but that’s beside the point. You probably didn’t know about this until just now, neither do majority of people, whether they follow the news or not. Hell, I didn’t know about this until 20 minutes ago, so why am I blogging about this? It’s not simply because it’s an attack on freedom (those have happened and will continue to happen all across history), nor is it because there is a chance that the courts won’t serve justice in the end. It’s because mainstream society doesn’t realize the danger our freedoms are continually in, nor does it particularly care.

You could argue that big-time news stations such as FOX or MSNBC don’t pay enough attention to civil liberty-related events such as Snyder v. Phelps, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, or the passing of the NDAA bill (well, there is some concern for NDAA going around, but it’ll have to be handled by the courts at this point), but that’s only because what the news shows reflects what the people want to see. And what do the people want to see? Apart from whatever crawls out of Hollywood, the issues with the most attention given to them are all about the budget, debt, and jobs. Those are critical issues, but why are people paying more attention to Hollywood when Congress is trying to turn the President into a dictator? Especially in a democratic country, it is part of our duty as well as part of our power to monitor and defend our freedoms, because who else will? Our system of checks and balances was created to counterbalance the ambitions of elected officials, but when we, as a people, let down our guard and trust the government, don’t expect officials to be Mahatama Gandhi when it comes to unchecked power. The government may say they are only fighting terrorism today, but when checks and balances are replaced by trust and complacency, and liberty is sacrificed to preserve safety, nobody will run to your defense when the FBI comes to your doorstep and takes you away for crimes you never committed.