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Big Government’s Abuses of Power
Monitoring AP but not detaining Tamerlan Tsarnaev — there is a common theme.


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Victor Davis Hanson

Government is now so huge, powerful, and callous that citizens risk becoming virtual serfs, lacking the freedoms guaranteed by the Founders.

Is that perennial fear an exaggeration? Survey the current news.

We have just learned that the Internal Revenue Service before the 2012 election predicated its tax-exemption policies on politics. It inordinately denied tax exemption to groups considered conservative or otherwise antagonistic to the president’s agenda.

If the supposedly nonpartisan IRS is perceived as skewing our taxes on the basis of our politics, then the entire system of trust in self-reporting is rendered null and void. Worse still, the bureaucratic overseer at the center of the controversy, Sarah Hall Ingram, now runs the IRS division charged with enforcing compliance with the new Obamacare requirements.

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It was also before the 2012 election that some reporters at the Associated Press had their private and work phone records monitored by the government, supposedly because of fear about national-security leaks. The Justice Department gave the AP no chance, as it usually would, first to question its own journalists. The AP had run a story in May 2012 about the success of a double agent working in Yemen before the administration itself could brag about it.

In fact, the Obama White House has been accused of leaking classified information favorable to the administration — top-secret details concerning the Stuxnet computer virus used against Iran, the specifics of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and the decision-making behind the drone program — often to favored journalists. The message is clear: A reporter may have his most intimate work and private correspondence turned over to the government — Fox News’s James Rosen had his e-mail account tapped into — on the mere allegation that he might have tried to do what his own government had in fact already done.

Now the civil-rights divisions of the Department of Education and the Department of Justice have issued new speech codes for campuses, focusing on supposed gender insensitivities. The result is that federal bureaucrats can restrict the constitutionally protected rights of free speech for millions of American college students — including during routine classroom discussions.

Eight months after the Benghazi mess, Americans only now are discovering that the Obama administration, for political reasons, failed to beef up security at our Libyan consulate or send it help when under attack. It also lied in blaming the violence on a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an Internet video. That pre-election narrative was known to be untrue when the president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney all peddled it.

The problem with a powerful rogue government is not just that it becomes quite adept at doing what it should not. Increasingly, it also cannot even do what it should.

Philadelphia abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell may well turn out to be the most lethal serial killer in U.S. history. His recent murder conviction gave only a glimpse of his carnage at the end of a career that spanned more than three decades. Yet Gosnell operated with impunity right under the noses of Pennsylvania health and legal authorities for years, without routine government health-code and licensing oversight.

In the case of Boston terrorist bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his loud jihadist activity had earned him a visit from the FBI and the attention of both the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security. But all that government monitoring was for naught. Tsarnaev was not detained, but allowed to visit Dagestan and Chechnya — both located in the supposedly dangerous region that prompted his family’s flight to the U.S. in the first place.

In all of these abuses and laxities there is one common theme. Bureaucrats, political appointees, regulators, intelligence officials, and law-enforcement personnel wanted to fall in line with the perceived politically correct agenda of the day. Right now, that party line seems to include protecting the progressive interests of the Obama administration, going after its critics, turning a blind eye toward illegal abortions, ignoring warnings about radical Islam, and restricting the right to free speech in order to curtail language declared potentially hurtful.

Conspiracists, left and right, are sometimes understandably derided as paranoids for alleging that Big Government steadily absorbs the private sector, violates private communications, targets tax filers it doesn’t like, and lies to the people about what it is up to. The only missing theme of such classic paranoia is the perennial worry over the right to bear arms.

I went to several sporting-goods stores recently to buy commonplace rifle shells. For the first time in my life, there were none to be found. Can widespread shortages of ammunition be attributed to panic buying or to production shortfalls caused by inexplicably massive purchases by the Department of Homeland Security at a time of acrimonious debate over the Second Amendment?

Who knows, but yesterday’s wacky conspiracist may become today’s Nostradamus.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, is just out from Bloomsbury Press. You can reach him by e-mailing [email protected]. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.



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