April 4th, 2009

Taking Advantage of a Crisis


photo credit: J. J. Gutiérrez

Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has now become famous for suggesting that a good politician should never let “a serious crisis go to waste.” Further explaining his remarks, he stated that crises are “an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Fellow Obaman Hillary Clinton agreed on another occasion, arguing that you should “never waste a good crisis.”

Such advocacy draws a clear and marked distinction between a politician and a statesman. Whereas statesmen will conduct their affairs out in the open, submitting themselves to public scrutiny and reaction, politicians prefer to work behind closed doors and under the radar. The things that politicians could not do before are those things that the public repudiates and rejects under normal circumstances. Only when dealing with a frightened and distracted people can a nefarious group of government workers foist their agenda on the masses.

Fear, of course, is the main reactive emotion upon which these politicians build their foundation of force and theft. A group of cowards is far more likely to submit to aggressive government than independent individuals, and so crises are lusted after by power-seeking politicians as the perfect opportunity to strike. So-called progressives continue to succeed in eroding liberty, as their countrymen grow more fearful with each new crisis and continually clamor for more government and its mythical arm of protection. This was observed in this way by Norman Vincent Peale:

Americans used to roar like lions for liberty. Now we bleat like sheep for security. (Norman Vincent Peale, via Quoty)

The simple fact that these agendas can only be successfully implemented during times of mayhem and confusion speaks volumes as to the nobility and integrity of their sponsors. Choosing to surreptitiously advance your cause in the dark of night when few are looking is the mark of a coward and a crook.

Reason dictates, of course, that any action that cannot be passed after debate, logical analysis, and a sufficient waiting period is likely detrimental to liberty in one way or another. In nearly every case, good legislation is not needed immediately. Rather, in order to evaluate all possible angles and ensure that a certain law is worthy of support, sufficient time for review is necessary. Barack Obama even recognized this importance when promising during his campaign that the public would have five days to read and comment on pending legislation before he signed it into law. Sadly but unsurprisingly, this is one of many broken promises thus far in his short time in office. It seems that he, like his cohorts, cannot in good conscience pass up a crisis.

Since bills pushed through Congress during chaotic crises are most assuredly destructive of liberty and its sister, sovereignty, one can easily and generally tell the motive and morality of the individuals vying for its passage. The so-called Patriot Act and the first stimulus are both excellent examples of this, since they were pre-written and put to a vote with only a few hours to read thousands of pages overnight. The promoters of these (and similar) bills realize that they have a short window in which to be successful, and that small time frame requires aggressive and bold action. And so, Congressmen vote on very lengthy bills they have never read, all because “something needs to be done”, and because they place confidence in the shady sycophants who are taking advantage of the current crisis for their own political gain (all the while claiming that the bill is in the public’s best interest, of course). Those elected to supposedly secure liberty thus legislate it away with a simple vote, not wanting to appear like they’re not working to help abate the crisis at hand.

It must also be mentioned, naturally, that the crises necessary for the advancement of these goals need not be casual occurrences of happenstance. A close observation of history reveals that governments have and do generate their own artificial crises for this express purpose. What’s more common, however, is the manipulation and inflation of a small crisis into a large one that suits government’s desires. An example: violence in Mexico is raging at an all time high, and drug cartels are waging war with a massive arsenal of weapons. Multiple people in the Obama camp, including Hillary Clinton and Attorney General AG Holder, have claimed that around 90% of guns confiscated in Mexico are traced back to the United States. The argument, then, is that we need tighter gun control in this country to prevent the flow of guns to Mexico. The problem? The real number is actually 17%. In this case, those who have favored gun control all along pounce on a small crisis, fudge the numbers and induce fear, and drum up support for their desired law.

The preservation of some semblance of liberty requires that laws themselves go through “due process”, allowing enough time, consideration, and thorough research of impact to take place so that the public may understand what is being done. Acting furtively in the dark of night during a crisis—so as to not let said crisis “go to waste”—is the method that conspiring individuals take to subject the public to their own desires, since they themselves know that only during such chaotic circumstances could they “do things [that] they could not do before.”

Justice Louis Brandeis once said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. On the other hand, it would seem that a crisis is the best opportunity for infectious viruses to fester and spread. After all, that’s what these resulting laws are: corrupting agents that sap our lives and destroy liberty from within.

29 Responses to “Taking Advantage of a Crisis”

  1. Brennan
    April 4, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    Well said, in the time of peace is time for the citizens to find out what the politicians did during the crisis. I think I’ve read more of the patriot act and first stimulus then most of our congressman…. tear

  2. Carborendum
    April 4, 2009 at 4:01 pm #

    Connor,

    I’m wondering about the “possibly related posts”. Is that an automated function or do you choose those consciously? I certainly see how “Your Words are Lies, Sir” applies. And I could make an argument for “What if it happened today”. But the rest?

    Brennan,

    I’m glad you mentioned the Patriot Act. Republicans got what they deserved in the last election. But I fear that a complete Democrat rule of House, Senate, & White House is not going to be any better.

    Instead we are going to see that neither major party gives a hill of beans whether the Constitution is being upheld or if individual liberty is destroyed.

    One crisis is as good as another. Whether we use foreign threat or economic crisis, it is just an excuse to erode liberty.

    The politicians don’t care whether we’re being attacked. They have no fear at all that they won’t be protected by the most powerful military and the most highly trained security force (secret service) in the world.

    They have no fear at all of losing their economic security, their salaries are paid by taxes as is their pension plan.

    They will gladly sacrifice liberty for anything they deem desirable (not necessary) at the time.

    With the first link the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.

    Naaahhh.

  3. Alma Teao Wilson
    April 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm #

    Have you ever looked at Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”?

    http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2008/09/response-attacks

  4. Connor
    April 4, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    I’m wondering about the “possibly related posts”. Is that an automated function or do you choose those consciously?

    That list is automatically generated based on the content of each post.

  5. Mark N
    April 4, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

    From what I know of the Shock Doctrine from various discussions I’ve read about it (I must confess I haven’t read the actual book), this sounds exactly like the Shock Doctrine that Klein was bemoaning the right-wingers for doing it.

  6. Roger
    April 5, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    Never let a good crisis go to waste — wasn’t that Karl Rove’s excuse for invading Iraq?

  7. Carborendum
    April 5, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    All this goes to show that neither party really cares about the Constitution or personal liberty. All they do is blame the other party. But neither party has been very good at it.

  8. rmwarnick
    April 6, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Once again, the right is indignantly accusing Democrats of acting like Republicans. Two problems:

    (1) Democrats are acting like Democrats, with plenty of disunity and a level of transparency that takes some getting used to after the unbelievably secretive Bush administration. President Obama never broke his promise to put pending legislation on the Web before signing it.

    (2) When Republicans acted like Republicans for eight years, where was the right-wing outrage? I agree, let’s ditch the USA PATRIOT Act. Except congressional Republicans want to re-authorize it.

    I’d be the last to claim Democrats are always right, or always transparent in their methods. The Obama administration is still sitting on Bush torture memos, for example. But compared to the LAST administration?

  9. Connor
    April 6, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    …a level of transparency that takes some getting used to after the unbelievably secretive Bush administration.

    5% transparency versus 1% transparency is not very transparent. Nor does it come anywhere close to the hollow promises made on the campaign trail.

    President Obama never broke his promise to put pending legislation on the Web before signing it.

    You are misrepresenting the promise he made. Allow me to quote the man himself (video here):

    When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as President, you, the public, will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it.

    Notice two things. First, he promised to put the bill on the internet five days before signing it (something you exclude in your reference). Second, he infers that every bill will go through this process.

    But when the promise was polished into policy for the campaign website, it was altered to instead refer to only “non-emergency” legislation:

    Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.

    This, of course, allows for exactly what I write here: any bill rammed through quickly in the name of solving (or, rather, taking advantage of) an emergency. This promise has already been broken several times.

    Stop drinking the kool-aid and try to look at the objective truth: Republicans and Democrats alike break promises, abuse power, and couldn’t care less about the Constitution.

    When Republicans acted like Republicans for eight years, where was the right-wing outrage?

    Give up the left/right paradigm, since they’re both really the same. This isn’t about who had outrage over what (though since you repeatedly and incorrectly accuse me of sleeping during Bush’s work of destruction, perhaps your goggles blind you more than I initially thought), but rather who takes advantage of what crises. Both parties do it, so get over your Obama crush and admit that their modus operandi is the same in this regard.

  10. David
    April 6, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    Connor,

    Well said. I would have responded to rmwarnick differently about the lack of outrage from the right during Bush’s years. I agree that the difference between the right and left is almost exclusively cosmetic, but consider that those who believe in the left/right split would consider you to be on the right and simply point out that there was outrage from the right during those years (yours for example).

  11. rmwarnick
    April 6, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    I think you have a misunderstanding of the state of American politics. There are VERY few progressive Republicans left (I know, I’m one– although I self-identify as “independent” because of what Bush did). There are A LOT of progressive Democrats, but not enough to overcome the Blue Dogs.

    You don’t get to say both major parties are the same because a small minority in one party agrees with the vast majority of the other party.

  12. Connor
    April 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    I’m not concerned with who’s “progressive”, and where. I’m concerned with the rule of law, and who is willing to actually fulfill the oath of office they take. The legislation proposed by so-called progressives is meaningless if they are disregarding what they’ve sworn to protect.

    You don’t get to say both major parties are the same because a small minority in one party agrees with the vast majority of the other party.

    What is this minority and majority of which you speak? The vast majority of both parties believe in empire, nation building, central banking, domestic welfare, foreign aid, preventive war, social stimuli, central economic planning, etc. On these and plenty of other issues, the two mainstream political parties differ little, and even then only in terms of how aggressively they pursue each. Like a giant game of leap frog, one party continues to exceed the other in every respect.

    Oh, and usually in the name of fixing whatever the crisis du jour is.

  13. Angilee
    April 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    What is a progressive Republican?

  14. rmwarnick
    April 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    Three prominent examples (there aren’t a lot): Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Senator Chuck Hagel.

  15. Connor
    April 6, 2009 at 7:55 pm #

    What rmwarnick calls “progressive republicans”, republicans call RINOs.

  16. Adrien
    April 7, 2009 at 9:31 am #

    Interesting wiki article on RINOs. The problem with identifying them is that it is hard to agree on the “core” beliefs of the party. I suppose that today, Mr. Conservative himself would be considered a RINO.

    Maybe what people believe to be “progressive” republicans are people who hold to a more libertarian approach to their view: fiscally conservative and morally “liberal” in the true sense, free. By liberal, I really mean without regulation, conservative.

  17. Carborendum
    April 7, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    That would rule Arnold out. He’s fiscally liberal and from what I can tell, morally centrist.

    Progressives are by no means libertarian. I don’t see how a political philosophy that is based on robbing from the rich and giving to the poor can be considered libertarian.

    Could you explain yourself?

  18. Adrien
    April 7, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    My point is that my idea of conservatism is to have as little regulation and government intruding into our lives. If you look at the platform of the Republicans today, they are conservative in a fiscal sense stands for something else. It stands for more regulation, more government control, more laws. The definition of conserving the government doesn’t hold.

    In fact, as of late, with the war of terror and increase in government spending, the Republican platform became less and less conservative. My point was that perhaps a “liberal” conservative, or a liberal republican was fiscally conservative, and morally liberal (not regulating controlled substances, censoring the media, regulating homosexuality, make love not war attitudes, ect).

    Does that make sense carb?

  19. Josh Williams
    April 7, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    By now we all should know the quote by Ben Franklin about liberty and security….

    This seems imply a false dilemma to me, though. Why can’t we “roar like lions” for BOTH liberty AND security?

    (Well, “reasonable security.” People naturally need risks in order to make good decisions…)

    But anyway, why is is it that people tend to forget liberty in the face of risk? Is that just another innate human failing? Or is hazard the price of freedom? I’ll allow this is true if it’s ignorant freedom.

    My point is that my idea of conservatism is to have as little regulation and government intruding into our lives.

    Adrien, the unspoken preamble to a statement like this is that “government is bad, government bungles, government wastes, government abuses and erodes liberty, etc.”

    While this is often true, it is not always true.
    IMO decrying government regulation and interference as being universally bad is a self-fulfilling prophesy. There are some things, like national defense, that government can do well……at least considering the alternatives.

    I think that government regulates and interferes with our lives, and erodes our liberty, only as much as we neglect to interfere with and regulate IT. Only as much as we interfere with IT’S liberty!

    My observation is that the nature of a government reflects directly on the values, standards, mores, and collective vision of society. Maybe, inversely, it’s also a reflection of what we don’t value.

    If we expect it to succeed, and don’t tolerate failure, (and also have a realistic definition of success), then government usually will.

  20. Carborendum
    April 8, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Adrien,

    I’m going to have to ask for further clarification. I asked about Progressive vs. Libertarian. And you gave me some definitions of Liberal vs. Conservative.

    Regardless, it appears we have very different definitions of some of these terms. Maybe I should give MY definitions of these terms.

    Libertarian: One who holds Life, Liberty, & Property as the highest of all rights. That to secure these for each individual from the unjust desires of the many, governments are instituted among men. All other rights are either appendages to or subordinate to these rights. Our responsibility lies in protecting our own rights and not infringing on the rights of others. Any function of government beyond the preservation of these rights is unjust government.

    Progressive: One who wants change from the status quo. As far as I can tell that’s it. So many people in different eras have used the idea of “change” as the mantra without really defining what is good or bad. We don’t know what is good or bad, but whatever we have now is bad. Whatever we can do to change it is good. Since there is nothing else to the actual definition, all I can do is look at those who championed this cause. From Teddy Roosevelt to FDR the primary thing they did was tear down big business in the name of the little guy.

    Liberal: One who seeks greater freedom. One who desires to keep power out of the hands of the few who would use it against the many. It is the opposite of an oligarchy. That is fantastic. I want to be one. Unfortunately, those who call themselves liberal today tend to champion causes that are precisely the opposite of this. Perhaps well intentioned, sometimes it is sinister. I would define this as the difference between the modern liberal and the classical liberal.

    Conservative: One who wishes to keep traditional values in society. That is pretty simple.

    Libertine: (I know this word was not mentioned before, but the idea was hinted at). One who is devoid of moral restraints or even spurns any accepted morals of the larger society. The reason I bring this up is that just because some things could be considered “immoral” does not mean that the thing should be “illegal”. I believe racism is morally reprehensible. But I also believe that as long as they don’t cross the line with malevolent action, it should be perfectly legal.

    These are the common definitions from Wikipedia. I find weaknesses and strengths in all of them. Except, I don’t see any strength in the Libertine philosophy.

    Now, with these definitions, let’s continue our discourse.

  21. Carborendum
    April 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    Josh,

    While this is often true, it is not always true.

    While I agree, my immediate response is ,DUUHH. Even the devil does some things that are good from time to time. What do you want? A rule without exception? No such thing.

    There are some things, like national defense, that government can do well … at least considering the alternatives.

    I’m glad you put that last bit in there. I’d say defense is something that the government doesn’t do poorly. But there is little other alternative considering the danger of private armies and the necessity of national security.

    I think that government regulates and interferes with our lives, and erodes our liberty, only as much as we neglect to interfere with and regulate IT. Only as much as we interfere with IT’S liberty!

    I’ve always liked this idea, but I’ve never heard it worded this way. This is an interesting perspective. I’m inclined to agree with this. It certainly means that people need to be involved in government and that we need to be connected and aware. I’m all for that. Unfortunately, we have a system of so many forces in place that the citizenry has very limited ability to interfere with government except at very local levels.

    Why can’t we “roar like lions” for BOTH liberty AND security?

    I’d love to. But it is a reality of life that security comes from having laws. Liberty is by definition is hampered by laws. To circumvent this is not impossible. But it is extremely difficult and rare.

    Remember that society is different from government. All government can do is use force or not use force. Society tends to follow natural forces of human nature.

    The government that does not use force but is able to bring about greater liberty through manipulation of those forces (like leading by example and inspiring the populace to be better to each other) is the most favorable government. Are you aware of any time this has happened? (few).

  22. Adrien
    April 8, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    Sorry Carb for not adhering the the strict definitions, but looking above at what started this branch, it was angilee’s question of what is it that people call progressive republican. Connor posted a reference to RINOs and my point in my initial response is that there are many of us that do not identify with the regulation sought by the Democrats, who consider themselves liberal.

    There are some of us who identify with the Republican platform of lower taxes, non-intervention, and smaller government. My point was that though I hold these values, my position on other social issues may be perceived as liberal (and my example was drug policy).

    All I was doing was offering possible explanation for the seemingly oxymoron of a liberal republican, which is not defined in my dictionary.

    In addition, I thought it ironic that the views of Barry Goldwater would categorize him as a Republican in Name Only, according to Connor’s reference and the core beliefs of the Republican party today.

    Lastly, I guess I changed the meaning of conservative in that I was using it to describe limited government. I suppose this would be the incorrect usage of the term and will keep that in mind for the future. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I apologize for not being clear.

  23. Carborendum
    April 8, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    Well, Angilee’s question was mainly regarding Warnick’s comment. I don’t think he makes much sense when he speaks anyway. So it’s no wonder that was the source of confusion here.

  24. Josh Williams
    April 9, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    Thanks, Carb.

    Liberty is by definition is hampered by laws.

    The contrapositive of a statement like this is “liberty is not hampered if there isn’t/aren’t law(s)”

    But this is only true if we assume that laws are the only form of power or influence.

    It’s no specialization to say that the absence of law doesn’t result in freedom, because people with money and/or influence are then free to exercise it however they please, including ways that preclude or abuse the rights of others.

    This suggests the criteria that in order to protect liberty, laws should (1)restrict the exercise of power, while (2)still respecting the choice of the individual over his own circumstances.

    In my mind, the purpose of government is to protect the individual from the group.

  25. Josh Williams
    April 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm #

    Then , I would argue, if a law meets these two criteria, it provides both liberty and security. Security in the sense that general individual rights are secure, not that personal risks are reduced.

    (I think that generally, government shouldn’t involve itself in direct risk management, due to the rule of unintended consequences, law of opportunity costs, etc. ) Obviously, risk-managing programs by the government tend to not meet these criteria. Also there’s a big difference between passing risk around and restricting power and privilege.

  26. Angilee
    April 10, 2009 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks for the information about progressive Republicans. I was confused because rmwarnick said that there were very few left, which I took to mean that there used to be many and now there aren’t. When I googled the term (and I only took time to look at one link) the page said that John McCain and Sarah Palin running in 08 was a triumph for progressive Republicans. So I didn’t understand the statement that there were only a few left since many Republicans seemed to like McCain and Palin. I don’t trust my understanding of what Republicans and Democrats are anymore because it seems everyone has a different definition.

  27. Carissa
    April 10, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Angilee- me either. It’s pretty much meaningless.

  28. Carborendum
    April 10, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    Angilee, Carissa, AMEN.

    Josh,

    For a statement to be true, the contraposative does not need to be false. Think of false syllogisms.

    Most of the rest, I agree with you.

  29. Carborendum
    April 10, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    On laws, freedom, choices:

    My previous post (#21) about the nature of laws vs. liberty was only a partial explanation. The best laws increase freedom in the long run.

    If I choose to learn the piano, later on I can have the choice of playing or not. That choice increased my freedom/liberty. If I chose NOT to learn to play, later, I can only choose to not play or just make a racket on the piano. This is not as much liberty as if I had chosen to learn. The best decisions will sacrifice some easy choices now for better (and more) choices in the long term. Bad decisions demand the easy choices now and don’t worry about other choices in the long term.

    Those instances where we can make an easy choice now and still bring more liberty in the long term are not common in real life. Or those choices tend to be such that don’t have great concequences.

    If we set up some rules about the economy (for instance) and let people go within the confines of those rules, then we can choose to build our business. If the rules keep changing, it is more difficult to play the game. If the rules are bad rules, it will spell disaster no matter what we do.

    In talking about the current crisis (the economy) and applying the question of liberty and security, the inevitable debate is socialism vs. capitalism.

    My position on socialism is that it is a set of rules/laws regarding the economy that will eventually lead to degeneration. It is a sytsem that by nature devalues freedom and in the long run will not offer much security. We’ve already had many debates regarding this on this blog.
    Suffice it to say this is my opinion.

    My position on capitalism is that it does guarantee liberty. But at least it doesn’t devalue it. It does not offer security in the short term. But I believe it does offer it in the long term as long as we understand the natural consequences of the system.

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