Rand Paul believes in Big Brother, but does not love him

The most popular item on the Wall Street Journal’s website at the moment is this morning’s op-ed headlined “Big Brother Really Is Watching Us” by — who else? — Rand Paul. As usual, Sen. Paul is dead serious. An excerpt:

Official PortraitThese activities violate the Fourth Amendment, which says warrants must be specific—”particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” And what is the government doing with these records? The president assures us that the government is simply monitoring the origin and length of phone calls, not eavesdropping on their contents. Is this administration seriously asking us to trust the same government that admittedly targets political dissidents through the Internal Revenue Service and journalists through the Justice Department?…

OK, first, there is no evidence that the “government… targets political dissidents through” the IRS. That suggests an actual policy on the part of the whole government. Whereas all that has been granted, or proven by anyone, is that some underlings exercised some lousy judgment. Second, there is a logical fallacy here. If the government “admittedly” does the things you mention, why should you distrust it when it says it’s not doing something else? Make up your mind. If the government is such a big, fat liar, maybe it’s lying to you when it admits the IRS and Justice Department things…

Another excerpt:

What is objectionable is a system in which government has unlimited and privileged access to the details of our private affairs, and citizens are simply supposed to trust that there won’t be any abuse of power. This is an absurd expectation. Americans should trust the National Security Agency as much as they do the IRS and Justice Department….

First, I’ve seen no indication that the government has access to the “details” of my “private affairs.” That’s not the way I read what’s been reported. Second, I do trust the NSA as much as I do the IRS and the Justice Department. They are institutions that do the jobs we assign them to do, and when they do something wrong, that’s anomalous. I know that’s going to sound weird to someone who believes the collection of taxes is inherently evil, but there it is…

4 thoughts on “Rand Paul believes in Big Brother, but does not love him

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know, the more I think about Rand Paul’s “you can’t trust your own government” nonsense, the more irritated I get about it, mainly because his point is so badly supported. It depends on the emotions of other government-haters saying “Damn right!” and assumes no one will stop and think.

    As I noted above, he undermines his argument when he says you can’t trust a government that ADMITS it did certain other things. And yet, in a rational universe, that’s exactly the kind of government you do trust — one that owns up to what it does, so that we can hold it accountable.

    A few minutes ago, I was reading a piece about the contradiction between Facebook and other companies denying that they are involved in the Prism program, and the government saying that yes, this program exists. Here you have the vaunted private sector denying the existence of such datamining (or at least, that they are complicit in it), and the government saying “Yes, we’re doing this.”

    Which really renders Rand Paul’s position ridiculous.

    Here’s how a representative democracy works. The government has a policy — one created by the people we elected — and we have a debate about it, which we’ve been doing off and on for years in the case of what the NSA is doing. People like Rand Paul argue that the policy is bad. Others argue that the policy is good — or at least, well-advised under the circumstances. And over time, we make up our minds about it, and policy in the future reflects the judgments that we make, through our elected representatives.

  2. Doug Ross

    ” And over time, we make up our minds about it, and policy in the future reflects the judgments that we make, through our elected representatives.”

    And since Rand Paul represents one of the most recently elected new representatives, perhaps his views signify a change in the views of the American public. Maybe he’s the agent of change.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I spent seven hours at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. I saw commissioners genuinely trying to do the right thing, albeit through the filters of their personal/professional experience. Others, new to this, sitting a few seats down, after failing to stop a zoning exception, saw a political fix.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, that’s a common phenomenon.

      Because I know so many people in politics and government, and have had such ample opportunity to observe them closely, I know that what you describe is the norm. People may make bad decisions, but the overwhelming majority of the time, they are doing so in good faith, according to their lights.

      People who are only briefly exposed to such things, or who only experience them through various media, tend to be far more cynical and see conspiracies and bad faith where they do not exist.

      For instance…

      I was a copyeditor for my first couple of years in newspapers. I was a very good copyeditor, even though it was not the job I would have chosen (it just happened to be what I could find when I got out of school).

      As a copyeditor, I was very well informed on the news and newsmakers, as I had to read everything in the paper very closely, and raise questions about what I read.

      But I took a far dimmer view of newsmakers then than I did later, largely BECAUSE I never had occasion to meet these people. They were simply the sum of the news they made, and if anything they did looked at all suspicious, then I tended to think the worst of them. I was not conscious that I was doing this, but I was.

      Later, I came to know many of those people, and came to have a more nuanced understanding of their actions and motivations. I saw them whole, or more nearly whole than I could have when I had never met them.

      I saw the sincerity that is quite common in human beings, even those who may pursue policies I consider to be idiotic and inexcusable…

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