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Coming Assaults on America


What do the coming war against Iraq and the pending threat to medical privacy have in common? Both give the lie to the belief that we Americans live under a system of limited, representative government. The civics textbooks are hooey, but they serve a purpose as a sedative for the next generation of voters.

We all grow up believing that ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It must be. We vote for congressmen and presidents every two, four, and six years. They are supposed to be responsive to the people. There’s a problem already. They are not supposed to be responsive to the people. They are supposed to uphold the Constitution, which strictly limits government power no matter what the people want. These days the Constitution is an empty symbol invoked by “leaders” to achieve legitimacy. All the limits built into the Constitution have over the years been twisted into justifications for more power. When the government has the power to define its own powers, it is not a constitutional government, whatever you may call it. The word “despotism” comes to mind.

Consider the almost-certain assault on Iraq. As brutal as its dictator is, he has not attacked the American people. On the contrary, the U.S. government has been bombing Iraq for more than ten years and maintaining an embargo that has devastated the country. Lots of attempts have been made to tie Saddam Hussein to terrorism, but nothing has stuck. No one seriously believes he had anything to do with September 11 or the ensuing anthrax exposures. What about weapons of mass destruction? All we hear are assertions. And contrary to official mythology, Saddam did not throw out the UN inspectors. They left because of U.S. bombing. Saddam has said repeatedly that they can return when the illegal embargo ends.

Even if he has the weapons, what’s he going to do with them? Israel has had nuclear weapons for decades. The United States is rather well equipped. How likely is Saddam to risk his own destiny? On the other hand, how likely is he to use nasty weapons if the United States corners him?

The war is not about thwarting a threat. It’s about the U.S. government calling the shots. No American president likes being crossed, especially by a foreign leader who was a thorn in the side of his father.

Yet we are about to go to war on the order of one man, George W. Bush. Caesar and Napoleon live! This violates everything the Founders of this country believed and encoded in the Constitution. Unequivocally, only Congress can constitutionally declare war. What about those words do Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld not understand.

Lots of commentators waxed rhapsodic recently when Congress held hearings about the war. While some caution was expressed, the witnesses constituted a stacked pro-war deck. It reminded me of the alleged “historic” congressional debate a decade ago before the first Iraq war. It was praised as democracy at its best. More hooey. The “debate” didn’t occur until the troops were in place and the deadline for hostilities set. No honest debate could occur under those loaded circumstances.

When it comes, the second Iraq war will be a grave assault not only on the Iraqi people, but also on the American people and the Constitution.

The people’s “representatives” have also delivered an assault on their medical privacy. President Bush’s revision of a Clinton proposal would permit nearly everyone involved in the delivery and payment of health care to provide patients’ medical information without their consent. The administration thinks it’s enough that patients will be notified that the information has been given out. They assume we won’t notice the difference between their giving notification and our giving consent. But recall that in their eyes we’re all idiots.

When people got word that their medical privacy was under threat, they deluged Washington with objections. Those objections were duly received and compiled—and ignored. That is the way of modern representative government.a

But we don’t care. We’re too busy watching government agents parade handcuffed accused (not convicted) businessmen through the streets. As writer Michael Kinsley once said, it’s not the illegal stuff that government does that’s so appalling. It’s the legal stuff!

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.