At the end of the 18th century, there were two great Western revolutions — the American and the French. Americans opted for the freedom of the individual, and divinely endowed absolute rights and values.
A quite different French version sought equality of result. French firebrands saw laws less as absolute, but instead as useful to the degree that they contributed to supposed social justice and coerced redistribution. They ended up not with a Bill of Rights and separation of powers, but instead with mass executions and Napoleonic tyranny.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration is following more the French model than the American.
Suddenly, once-nonpartisan federal bureaucracies have become catalysts for fundamentally transforming America. Often-ideological bureaucrats have forgotten their original mission. NASA might do better to ensure that our astronauts are independent of Vladimir Putin’s Russian rockets rather than claiming that its primary mission is to reach out to the Muslim community.
Intelligence directors vie with one another to please superiors with fatuous but politically correct analysis. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper assured us that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was largely secular. CIA director John Brennan once termed a now-emerging Islamic caliphate as “absurd.” Former Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano once warned that returning veterans and right-wingers were the chief domestic terrorist threats, not Islamic jihadists.
The IRS has lost its nonpartisan reputation by hounding perceived ideological enemies. It no longer abides by the historic standards — transparency, rapid submission of documents, honesty — that it demands from those it audits.
The role of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement once was to enforce federal statutes established by Congress and signed by the president. Border-patrol agents were not supposed to become agents of social change to nullify settled laws by noncompliance.
Almost immediately it was clear that the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a preplanned attack by an al-Qaeda terrorist affiliate. But that truth did not fit the re-election narrative that al-Qaeda was on the run.
In response, public servants such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fabricated preferable scenarios — in service supposedly to a good cause. Suddenly, right-wing video maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was to be blamed. He alone had incited ordinary Libyans to spontaneously riot — a useful teachable moment for the administration to muzzle such reactionary firebrands.
The Justice Department was supposed to be blind in matters of class, race, gender, and religion. Yet, under Attorney General Eric Holder, if selective non-enforcement of elements of the Affordable Care Act, immigration statutes, or conduct at voting precincts might further perceptions of social justice, then the law was often ignored.
Why would the Federal Aviation Administration shut down flights to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv — the most secure in the world — because of one stray rocket? Hamas leadership hailed the Obama administration’s move as proof that their aerial barrages were shutting off Israel from the Western world.
In contrast, the FAA has not yet stopped U.S. flights to and from Liberia and other West African countries, the source of the Ebola-virus epidemic. Is it more dangerous for Americans to have open travel to and from Israel, or to and from Liberia?
What has happened to the Secret Service?
An intruder bounded onto the White House grounds, entered the White House, and bowled over a Secret Service agent. A former felon, fully armed, climbed into an elevator with the president of the United States. Shots were fired at the White House. Agents were caught soliciting prostitutes while on duty in South America.
Official stories change to fit larger agendas. One day the White House has full confidence in Secret Service director Julia Pierson, the next day she is gone. One day leaving Iraq was the president’s stellar achievement, the next day someone else did it. We are at war and not at war with the Islamic State — both a manageable problem of some jayvees and an existential threat. The Free Syrian Army is both a fantasy and plagued by amateurs and yet the linchpin of our new strategy on the ground against the Islamic State.
We are back to the daily revisionism of the Affordable Care Act, keeping and not keeping your doctor and health plan, with deductibles and premiums going down and going up.
Stopping the fracking of gas and oil on federal lands is good, but so is the cheaper gas that fracking brings.
Once-nonpartisan federal agencies are now in service to the goal of changing America from cherishing an equality of opportunity to championing an equality of enforced result.
Our revolutionary inspirations are now Georges Danton, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien de Robespierre, not the Founding Founders.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.