I told you in my last missive that I would next write you about income inequality. I pulled an Obama…..and lied. I will get to the income inequality issue in a future edition. But, I’m taking an operational pause in my “Farewell Series” to address a couple of important issues that bubbled up last week in Washington on which I feel compelled to opine. So, here are my thoughts on two current hot topics:
NSA/ FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act): Last Thursday, the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform some of the now well-known practices the NSA has employed to intercept our personal communications, passed the House by a vote of 303-121. I was one of the 51 Republicans and 70 Democrats voting against this bill. This is one of those times when people on the right and people on the left unite to stop what we believe to be an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. However, in my view, those in the middle have proven to be somewhat less passionate about this duty. Don’t get me wrong, this bill is better than current law. But, it does not stop the practices of the NSA in question and does not limit future action to what I believe is constitutional. Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) joined me in a “no” vote. Articulating his opposition, he described the open-ended searches, granted through British writs of assistance, which took place in Colonial America in the early 1760s. Through these writs, Royal Governor Francis Bernard of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, for example, sent customs officials to indiscriminately search homes in Boston looking for contraband that was being sold. The 4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written to specifically prevent this kind of general search for evidence of a crime without cause. Today, the NSA is doing precisely what Governor Bernard did, only through electronic means. The USA Freedom Act prevents capturing all phone calls everywhere, but it does not prevent the NSA from collecting every call in an area code or a group of area codes. Very much to the dismay of the founders of our nation, Governor Bernard would be pleased that, once again, searches based on general suspicion and without due cause are taking place.
At one edge of societal formation is a police state. At the other edge is anarchy. Societies for time immemorial wrestle with where in this continuum they should land. In my opinion, we are moving too far in the direction of a police state. The people in Congress who support the current NSA data-collection program are not bad people. They are just willing to sacrifice freedom, privacy and some constitutional protection for increased safety. They believe this will prevent terror attacks and save lives…and they may be right. But, is this sacrifice worth the price in freedom? I don’t believe so. Just last week, the head of the FBI recommended that Americans should be suspicious of the overarching power of their government and suggested that he is. So am I.
Veterans Affairs (VA): When I was first elected to Congress in 2005, I was on the Veterans Affairs Committee. I learned about the VA and how fundamentally broken it was at that time. In defense of President Obama (something I rarely do), the problems you are hearing about now preceded his time in office. His problem is that he made fixing the VA one of his many campaign promises and vowed to usher in “a 21st Century VA”. He has done absolutely nothing. On his watch, the problem has not improved and is in fact even worse. Last week, we passed the Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act off the floor of the House to allow poorly-performing and corrupt supervisors at the VA to be fired. Right now, no matter how bad the situation and how many deaths may have resulted from misconduct, the people responsible cannot be fired. Welcome to government. 33 Democrats voted against that bill. They clearly believe that a job is an “entitlement” and to fire anyone for any reason is violating his or her rights. Unbelievable.
There is no question that the problems at the VA are far deeper and far more pervasive than this little legislative change can fix. VA health care is what Obama and his merry band of socialists want for all of us: Single-payer, no choice-no option, government-run health care where those providing the care cannot be fired and you cannot switch to another provider. That’s working well, right? Senator John McCain suggested last week that we offer our veterans an option to get private care outside of the VA system. Good idea.
One of the great failings of liberal ideology is that it refuses to recognize human nature. Competition makes us all better because we have to work harder to stay ahead. If you have a job with no reward for achievement and no penalty for failure (like many government employees at the VA and other agencies), most people will not work very hard because they do not have to perform. They are not bad people. They are just people. We are all imperfect and we are not purely altruistic. None of our systems are perfect because we are fallible. But, when there are incentives and penalties, we do better. The policies of the Left remove incentives and penalties because their ideology prizes equality of outcomes over any other value. They are just flat wrong. When will the overwhelming evidence convince them that we need to change course?
Next week………income inequality……maybe.