Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We probably will get fooled again

by J.D. Tuccille

Legend has it that comic Lenny Bruce started his downward slide at least partially because many of the hipsters who had boosted his brief career into the stratosphere turned against him. They did so when Bruce kept focusing his acid wit on the powers-that-be, even after Eisenhower made way for Kennedy. It was all well and good to mock conservatism and conformity, but to go after Camelot was too much. And then Bruce dared to suggest that Jackie was less courageous during JFK's assassination than instant mythology insisted.

"Bullshit!" said Bruce, suggesting instead that she "hauled ass to save her ass"!

Of course, there's more to Bruce's downfall than that, including a huge dose of self-destruction. But that's a good place to start in describing the occasional fate of people who critique power rather than party. I make this point because we're very clearly about to have a changing of the guard, and in the months and years to come, I'm almost certainly going to be tough on the new president and his "change you can believe in," along with the inevitably increased congressional majority that president's party will enjoy.

And some of you, my loyal readers, even those who have enjoyed swipes at the current administration, will be upset with me as a result.

That's going to happen even though I've been writing about civil liberties for over a decade, took the Bush administration to-task for its due-process-busting military tribunal schemes as early as 2001, and haven't exactly let up in recent years.

Yes, yes, I understand that President Bush is a right-wing baddie and that we'll all get to ride unicorns under President Obama. But what happens if that's not the case?

Or, rather, what happens when that's not the case?

As I've written before, "it's not so much the president as the presidency." I'll add that it's not so much about the party in power as the power itself.

And the government under which we suffer wields an awful lot of power.

Some looming issues that already set off my virtual canary in a civil libertarian coal mine are: the potential reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine and the stifling of political speech that would result; the threatened passage of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act or a similar bill, which has the potential to criminalize political advocacy rather than violent action; and renewed assaults on the right to bear arms before the full protections that should be accorded by the Supreme Court's Heller decision are formalized and become established law.

Which is to say, the personal freedom concerns raised by the new boss will probably be different than those raised by the old boss, but I'm still going to have plenty to write about.

As much as some people think that salvation arrives when their team wins at the ballot box, the sad fact is that elections generally result in little more than the turning out of a tired set of control freaks with a worn-out agenda and their replacement by a fresh set of control freaks with an all-new list of things to be done. Honestly, do you think people with a restrained sense of their right to mold the world to fit their views are attracted to a career in political office? From any party? What normal person gives up privacy, proximity to family and peaceful relations with their neighbors for life in the spotlight, largely spent far from home, in a state of eternal combat with people who hold opposing views?

With few exceptions, normal people don't do that. The folks who do find that an attractive career choice are those who can't resist the siren call of access to power to, by proxy, hold guns to people's heads and make them do things they wouldn't do on their own, or to stop them from doing things they want to do.

And all too often, they're cheered on by tribal loyalists who think that a temporary victory at the polls is a swell opportunity to sock it to the evil folks who dare to favor the other tribe, or just think and live differently.

We'll go through this regularly scheduled charade for as long as government retains the power to seriously intrude into and disrupt our lives in so many ways. When government ceases to be such a handy bludgeon for whoever is in power, it will stop being abused. So long as it remains so powerful, it will continue to wreak havoc on life, liberty and property no matter what political tribe currently holds the reins.

Hey, despite the abuse I expect to get from people who loved what I wrote just a few months ago, I look on the bright side: so long as I can retain an audience, there's always job security in writing about government excesses.

posted by J.D. Tuccille

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