Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Pat Buchanan writes a sympathetic column about a rather disturbing phenomenon emergent in what he calls "the age of Obama."
In the brief age of Obama, we have had "truthers," "birthers," tea party activists and town-hall dissenters.Except for the truthers, the groups Buchanan lists here are all examples of rebellion , some more blind than others, to Barack Obama's nakedly collectivist, anti-American agenda of expansion of the role of the federal government into every area of our lives. (Buchanan is wrong to speak of an "Age of Obama:" The inappropriate use and explosive growth of government was going on thanks to both parties long before Obama showed up to cash in on it.)
Comes now, the "Oath Keepers." And who might they be?
Writes Alan Maimon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are "either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia."
Formed in March, they are ex-military and police who repledge themselves to defend the Constitution, even if it means disobeying orders. If the U.S. government ordered law enforcement agencies to violate Second Amendment rights by disarming the people, Oath Keepers will not obey. [minor format edits]
I sympathize with the last three groups, but emphatically disagree with the way the birthers and the so-called oath keepers are trying to save America from dictatorship. Only the tea partiers are acting in a manner appropriate to the situation we face, although many of them are low on intellectual ammunition.
The birthers, who believe that there is a massive conspiracy to cover up the "fact" that Barack Obama is not actually an American citizen are clearly the blindest of the lot. At best, they're fishing around for a bombshell revelation that will serve as a real-life deus ex machina to deliver our country from this (particular) menace. In the meantime, they waste their effort deluding themselves to the effect that such a huge conspiracy is even possible, as well as time they could spend learning what they can do to slow or stop him (and other dangerous politicians) now.
But at least the birthers, universally dismissed as nuts and impotently spinning their own wheels, aren't really hurting the cause of liberty. The oath takers are another matter entirely. These people are preparing to take action, and their timing indicates that they do not really know what they are doing.
First, consider what they plan to do: They -- members of the executive branch of the government -- plan to disobey orders based on their own interpretation of the law and the Constitution. That is, they are planning to usurp the function of the judiciary branch on a case-by-case basis as they work, and to bypass the legislative branch as well as the electorate, rather than to persuade lawmakers and other voters of the proper course of action for their country. (Part of this work consists of learning for oneself the principles behind proper government.) And, oh yeah, they're setting a very, very dangerous precedent in doing so: They are weakening one of the few good things left in this country: rule of law.
It is not immoral for someone to disobey an order -- in a dictatorship or during an open rebellion against a tyrannical regime. But, as horrendous as Obama is, we do not live under a dictatorship. We still have freedom of speech, and many of our rights are protected enough that we can act to turn the tide of public opinion back towards the direction of increasing government protection of individual rights.
The so-called oath keepers clearly fail to understand this because they are acting as if this is not an option -- as if we are already in a dictatorship. In addition to their failure to appreciate the importance of rule of law, they -- unlike the Founding Fathers -- clearly fail to understand the value of rational persuasion and this is due to a failure to grasp the role of rational principles in guiding man's actions.
To see this, let's do a thought experiment. Sergeant Arnold, a born-again Christian who thinks gambling is sinful and an "oath-keeper," is a member of his state's national guard. Suppose further that his state has passed a law banning gambling, which had just been legalized in the United States. The bill was very controversial, and because the governor knows that a large number of casino owners are planning to defy this law, he has called up the National Guard to keep them closed. Conveniently for the governor, some religious fanatics have threatened to bomb any casinos that remain open, so the governor claims to be "protecting" them from terrorism.
The President federalizes the guard and orders them instead to stand watch over any casino that wishes to remain open. Hoping to provoke a test case, James McGillicuddy, a casino owner, weighs his risks and does just this. Someone calls a bomb threat in to him as soon as he gets wind of it. Unfortunately for him, his business is being guarded by Arnold's unit, which has been briefed about the threat and given instructions on how to head it off.
That night, Arnold, a sniper, relieves watch in a building behind the casino. Just as he was briefed might happen, a bearded man in camouflage carries something out of the woods behind the business. Because he thinks that states' rights (a part of the Constitution) override federal power (another part) in this circumstance, though, Sergeant Arnold has decided he will not guard the casino. He's entertaining himself with an iPhone instead.
So he never sees the man, never calls on anyone to stop him and see what he's doing, and never has him in his sights. Instead, he has decided that not guarding the casino is the best way to protect America from Barack Obama and "secular humanists" like McGillicuddy. Since he happened to be the only person who could have seen the bomber, the casino bursts into flames while he's surfing the Internet on his iPhone. McGillicuddy and twelve of his employees die in the blast. All he had wanted to do was make a living, and to have his day in court.
If that scenario seems contrived, replace the casino with an abortion clinic, and recall the use of the Arkansas National Guard during Little Rock's desegregation crisis. Consider further the fourth item on the list of orders the "oath keepers" will not obey. We are a lot closer to personal harm than we might care to imagine with self-appointed constitutional "experts" like this in charge of enforcing the law.
At least the tea partiers understand that America remains free enough that moral and political debate can preserve the freedom we have left and bring the government back around to its proper purpose of protecting individual rights. Many of them are wrong about particulars, but they at least appreciate the proper approach to political change in a nation founded on the principle -- apparently forgotten by the "oath-keepers" -- of consent of the governed, and in a nation of laws, and not men. The tea partiers offer their views for the consideration of others, and, from what I have heard, many are actively seeking the intellectual ammunition they need to better understand what went wrong with America and what they need to know to appeal to the best within their countrymen before the next election.
Someone who does not understand an oath can only mouth its words: He cannot be trusted to uphold such an "oath." These are not oath keepers, or even oath takers. They are oath fakers.
You cannot protect the Constitution in any meaningful way by subverting individual rights, consent of the governed, rule of law, or any other principle which must be generally accepted in order for it to be anything but words on paper. Mutiny on the part of the armed forces or law enforcement is not the way to protect the Constitution, but -- at best -- a concession that it is no longer in force.
To anyone who has mistakenly joined this movement, I ask that you reconsider: It might help to imagine someone patriotic that you completely disagree with on one issue as an "oath taker" -- and that person being in charge of protecting someone you care about, where that issue plays a role.
Today: Corrected some typos.