Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Murder by numbers

Adam references an artile in the NYT that discusses efforts by the Office of Management and Budget to do a cost benefit analysis of increased security versus freedom and privacy.

While no doubt well-intentioned -- Ralph Nader is all for it -- this strikes me as a bit of an abrogation of the concept of representative government. Rather than discuss the merits of legislation in a rational debate, we're looking to "bean counting" to decide matters for us. Just one step closer to technocracy.

I just finished reading a book by Sinclair Lewis entitled It Can't Happen Here. The premise is that in the 30s, FDR doesn't get nominated for a second term and is replaced by a "populist" candidate who, once in office, takes drastic measures that completely gut the Constitution. Lewis intended the tale as a cautionary one against the creeping totalitarianism/fascism that was engulfing Germany and Italy at the time -- he saw that it could very well happen in the U.S.

Could it still happen here? Perhaps. One of the points Lewis makes is that by doing things in small steps, "well-intentioned" politicos can get the public to go along with just about anything. Many folks are concerned that this is exactly what is going on right now. First it's the Patriot Act, just to help us prevent future terror attacks. Then it's yet another war launched without the express approval of the U.S. Congress. Then maybe it's Patriot II, passed after some other devastating attack. Then maybe it's a few "alien and sedition" laws to silence protests against government policy. All packaged under the guise of "protecting the American Way of Life."

Can it happen here? You tell me.


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