“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
- William Pitt (November 18, 1783)
After she’d reviewed my last piece on good intentions, my wife suggested another essay might be in order. She observed, correctly, that in politics the misuse or abuse of power is one of the few things that’s universal. Both major parties engage in these unseemly practices, particularly at the executive level. Right now we have a Democrat in power, so I’ve been focusing my attention on the failings of Barack Obama and his administration. Somehow, with the best of intentions, he has seen the needle come off his moral compass. That sort of thing happens when the good ends intended make room for justifying any tyrannical means being used to make those desired ends a reality.
But tyranny isn’t the exclusive domain of the Democratic Party. It’s been often practiced by Republicans. Democrats, particularly Progressives, most often find themselves on the road to perdition with the best of intentions. For Republicans, particularly Conservatives and neo-Conservatives, the tyranny most often begins with necessity or perceived necessity.
We’ve known this since the birth of our Republic. When Thomas Jefferson accused King George of establishing “an absolute Tyranny over these States,” he offered facts to prove that the tyranny was real. Among them were: (1) “sending hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance” and (2) “for imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”
The King begged to differ. In a speech to Parliament he offered this - “We shall have Unanimity at Home, founded in the general Conviction of the Justice and Necessity of Our Measures.” He concluded his remarks by firing this broadside right back at the colonists - “My Desire is to restore to them the Blessings of Law and Liberty, equally enjoyed by every British Subject, which they have fatally and desperately exchanged for all the Calamities of War, and the arbitrary Tyranny of their Chiefs.”
King George didn’t think he was being tyrannical. He believed he was doing what he had to do to protect the British Empire from the tyranny of its colonial subjects.
It took a revolution to sort it all out. When the smoke cleared, the King had reluctantly come to the realization that necessity can be a very dangerous word. It’s a lesson that political leaders often have to learn the hard way, which brings me to George W. Bush.
We all remember the legal wrangling, the dangling chads, the counts and recounts, and the final verdict of the Supreme Court that ushered in his presidency. One of the interesting things that’s been buried over time was the positions he took concerning the Middle-East and nation building during his debates with Al Gore. In October 2000 he declared himself to be against invading Iraq. He said that a Bush administration would pursue what he called a “humble” foreign policy stance toward the Middle-East.
It was a fairly easy goal to maintain until the terror of 9-11-2001. That changed everything. We knew we had to do something about what had happened. I remember my frame of mind during those days. I was in an ugly mood. Someone was going to pay for the evil deeds. I think the overwhelming majority of us felt that way, with the exception of a few self-righteous Progressives and preachers who were blaming us. It didn’t take long before fire was raining down from the heavens on Afghanistan. We liked it and the President’s popularity soared.
But it didn’t end there. Under normal circumstances Saddam Hussein might have been a minor irritant. But I believe 9-11 changed that in George Bush’s mind. He was determined to protect the country, which led him to believe badly flawed intelligence about WMD and Iraq’s role in the 9-11 plot. The next thing you know we were raining fire down on Saddam and his henchmen. For the most part I think we enjoyed watching Baghdad’s night sky light up. It was our collective way of saying, “How ‘bout them apples, Saddam!”
Should we have invaded Iraq? Should we have gotten tangled up in nation building? No! Nor should the Patriot Act have been passed. But, these things, and more, happened. They didn’t happen because George Bush was a Nazi or a criminal. They happened because he felt he needed to do them to protect the county.
I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of difference if tyrannical government output stems from the best intentions gone awry, as it is with Barack Obama, or if it’s born out of what seems to be necessary action as it was with George Bush. The truth is, tyranny is tyranny is tyranny. We should all be against that!