What would Patrick Henry do with the NSA?
In the Pixar film “A Bug’s Life,” a colony of ants is threatened by a gang of motorcycle-riding grasshoppers. The grasshoppers scare — or “terrorize” — the ants into collecting their grain for them. The ants become desperate, fearing they cannot collect “Hopper’s” grain and theirs before the winter so they decide to go on offense and hire “warrior bugs.” The warriors turn out to be actors who play tough guys but really are hapless thespians. By the end of the film, the warriors figure out how to fool the grasshoppers into believing a hungry bird has found the colony’s yard and his favorite meal is, you guessed it, grasshoppers.
The moral to the story is that fighting terror sometimes is for the birds, but you are forbidden from saying such a thing in the United States these days unless you want to be accused of having a death wish or heaven forfend, impugning our bellicose “national defense.” Thus, Americans are willing to accept existential threats to the remaining shred of tattered parchment that used to be the Constitution, like the NSA, in order to “fight terrorists.”
In his speech of Friday last, President Obama laid out some nifty new review processes to see to it that the NSA behaves — our “reviewers” will now have “reviewers.” And therein lies the problem: government cannot be the judge of the extent of its own powers, that is what has led to this moment.
The irony is plain: We are constantly informed that business cannot be trusted to regulate their public behavior, so government is called upon to manage the FDA, EPA, ICC, USDA and dozens of other alphabet-soup agencies. We are told that even those who have taken oaths for their business activities, doctors and nurses come to mind, are not to be trusted to play fair with the fees they charge for services, with the latest attempt to fight this alleged threat being Obamacare. Heck, we are even told that the clergy and those who look to them for spiritual guidance are not to be entrusted with the care of the poor any longer, thus the growing need for our vainglorious “safety net.” Everywhere an American citizen looks, you will find government, taxing, regulating, micromanaging, threatening and in some instances killing. All made legal and growing by what force? The threat of penalties, fines, unaffordable legal defense and imprisonment.
Yet to hear President Obama or one of his critics from the “other side of the aisle” tell the story, we are the freest, “greatest country in world history.” This mantra is repeated so often it has become true in many citizens minds but few bother to apply any skepticism or consider the alternative; that freedom has been lost and greatness in the form of social media dominance doesn’t quite measure up to Greece before the Peloponnesian wars, Rome before Empire or Florence during the Renaissance.
“When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty, sir, was then the primary object.” The liberty Patrick Henry was pining for in the Virginia Convention to ratify the Constitution was not the pursuit of global military dominance. Henry had a “beau ideal” in mind of a union of sovereign countries sharing certain chores among each other because it made sense to do so, but he feared the Constitution would bring about an NSA-like tyranny because the safeguards installed by the framers at the Philadelphia Convention were not strong enough to constrain an “executive” who, Henry predicted, would assume “the powers of a King.”
Those powers were consolidated and perverted to condone the death of over 750,000 in the Civil War and those powers have remained and expanded ever since. When in 1798 Henry learned of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s efforts to “nullify” or declare the Alien and Sedition acts unconstitutional and “void and of no force,” he was sought out by Washington to return to the Assembly and quell what Washington and Adams thought was an effort to secede. Henry, who was but three months from death’s door, made the trek to Charlottesville to speak as a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. Upon being asked what he thought could be done about the Alien and Sedition Acts, he is said to have replied, “I am asked what is to be done, when a people feel themselves intolerably oppressed, my answer is ready, — Overturn the government. But do not, I beseech you, carry matters to this length without provocation. Wait at least until some infringement is made upon your rights, and which cannot otherwise be redressed.”
The delusion of our age is that a “redress” can be effective. It cannot. Whether it is by email, phone, protest march or social media, the scale and size of the entity our Federal Leviathan has become, prohibits redress. Our society’s lack of humility and virtue make redress improbable at the local, republican level, but that is where we must start. After all what is our alternative? Hiring some “warrior bugs” to protect us from the NSA?
Mike Church is a radio host appearing daily on the SiriusXM Patriot Channel. He is an author and editor of “Patrick Henry-American Statesman” and is the writer and director of 7 Docudramas on American history including “The Spirit of ‘76” and the upcoming “Times That try Men’s Souls- Washington’s Crossing”.