May 21st, 2013 // 4:42 pm @ Oliver DeMille
The idea behind this quip was that when a big crisis came, the White House should use it to push its big-government agenda.
In an ironic twist, the current triple scandals (IRS, Benghazi, and Associated Press) are accomplishing exactly the opposite.
The White House and indeed most of the executive branch is spending a great deal of its energy right now dealing with the scandals.
The result is that less money, time and effort are being spent on spreading big government.
At the same time, more Americans are paying attention to what is happening in Washington.
The word “scandal” seems to create more interest in what is happening than business as usual.
The more citizens who pay close attention to what the government does, the better for freedom.
In short, we’re experiencing at least two positive side effects of the current scandals:
- The executive branch is doing less, because it is focused on responding to the scandals
- More regular citizens are watching their government.
It’s sad that it takes scandal to accomplish such things, but at least they are happening.
Perhaps the most amazing thing in all this has been the Administration’s continued trust in government agencies.
After all the press and firings in the aftermath of government officials enjoying taxpayer-funded trips to Jacuzzis in Hawaii, you’d think the White House would be carefully watching its agencies and officials.
But even though it has asked for resignations from various agency officials, the Administration has emphasized that lone people and/or “isolated” bureaus made mistakes and held fast to the idea that government should be trusted.
At the same time, the Administration continues to express major distrust for businesses and pretty much anyone outside of government.
Why the double standard?
The various press briefings from the Administration emphasize a sense of, “Just trust us; after all, we’re the government. Of course we are telling the truth and doing the right thing.”
This flies in the face of the Framers’ view of government.
The American system and Constitution were founded on the idea that government is dangerous and that freedom can only last if the people mistrust the government and keep a close eye on it in order to keep it in line.
As Jefferson put it: “Let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
In Jefferson’s world, the assumption was that government officials should be generally suspected of being involved in “mischief.”
A healthy mistrust of government was a central point to maintaining freedom.
George Washington said: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force! Like a fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Madison added that government is the most dangerous threat to freedom: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations…”
For Madison, the great danger to freedom was government increasing its power over the people in “gradual and silent” ways.
Government has done this for a long time, and under the leadership of both parties at different times.
When it gets caught, it’s a scandal.
Just as the Johnson Administration is known for Vietnam and the Nixon era for Watergate, many other presidencies are known for their crises: Reagan for Iran-Contra, Bush I for higher taxes after promising it wouldn’t happen, Clinton for the Lewinsky affair, and Bush II for missing weapons of mass destruction.
In all this, why exactly do politicians keep suggesting that trust in government is the solution to America’s problems?
Such situations are basically the only times (under our current system) when the people are likely to make their influence felt and help other citizens see the dangers of big government.
Now is such a time.
In fact, America was founded on the belief that a healthy and active mistrust of government was essential to staying free!
We need more citizens to realize that Washington isn’t going to fix our biggest national problems, that the only real solution is for more Americans to be better citizens.
If we don’t get more involved and help take our nation in the right direction, more scandals will come.
A lot more.
What happens in Washington in the weeks ahead as these three scandals play out is less important than what happens among the regular people.
If we emerge from this crisis as a nation that still basically trusts its government, there will be no silver lining in the scandals.
If we as a people realize that as government grows, these type of crises will increase, we will at least learn something from all this.
If we as a people become more prone to keep a close eye on our government, to wisely and peacefully mistrust it and at the same time get more positively and proactively involved to ensure that it truly does the will of the people, this year can be a helpful turning point in America’s history.
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
And three of them at once is a huge opportunity.
If we ever do turn America back to a path of freedom, away from overreaching big government, it will be during a time like this.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.