Sour Cream in a Free CountryAre free countries immune to sour cream? Would that it were so! Even there the narcissist, the psychopath, the control freak, sees possibilities for power in government; he sees voters as fodder for manipulation. Even the honest politician can become addicted to power. All those try to increase their power at the expense of freedom. The power-hungry exist in free countries as well as in dictatorships.
As described in Chapter 1, freedom is an unstable state. Like a man working on a steep roof, we must fight to keep our balance in a precarious place. Unless we work at it, our home-grown control freaks will lead us to statism. Only constant alertness and effort will restrain their nefarious ambition. And we have reason to remain alert.
Power Seekers in the United States
Much as I wish it were otherwise, deception and demagoguery are alive and well in the U.S. I must mention the characteristics of some U.S. leaders, including a deception that affected me personally.
In 1969, along with millions of other young men, I received an “invitation from the president,” a draft notice. The Vietnam War raged and the army needed cannon fodder. Though I went to Germany instead of that “tropical paradise,” it took two years of my life. The U.S. got heavily involved in that war because of an event that never happened. Allegedly, North Vietnam twice attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. The first attack was real, but the second was not and commanders knew it. However some officers twisted the facts and Secretary of Defense McNamara lied to Congress to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president to do whatever he deemed appropriate.
Would the United States have been as heavily involved in Vietnam without that deception? There is no way of knowing. However, it is certain that our leaders mislead us at the time. And that is not the only lie our leaders told us.
Sadly, at this writing (2014), we have a president who seems not to hesitate to lie, and some congressional leaders and media people who support him in that. The president knowingly misled the citizens with a claim that, under his proposed health insurance reform, they would be able to keep their insurance and doctor if they wanted. In another case, when an Islamic fanatic murdered our troops in Fort Hood he blamed “workplace violence,” refusing to acknowledge that the murderer was an Islamic fanatic who had openly expressed his desire to aid our enemies. In yet another case, his administration flagrantly and knowingly blamed the murder of our diplomats in Libya on a video that the murderers had probably never seen. Authorities refused to mention the fact that our own intelligence had determined that the killers were Islamic terrorists and that the video in question had nothing to do with the attack. Other examples abound. Our president seems to regard truth as optional at best.
By the time you read this, will we have an honest president, or another liar? That depends on citizens, citizens who either vote wisely or swallow the line of demagogues.
We have not yet descended to the state of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, but it is ominous when our leaders lie so facilely. Their ethics seem to approach those of the statist/collectivist system. The honesty required in a free country is nowhere in sight. How long can we maintain any semblance of freedom if we do not replace such people with leaders whose values are more compatible with a free people?
Innocent until Proven Guilty?
I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. (Lord Acton)
In the second place, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty applies specifically in courts of law and to those accused of a crime. It does not apply to politics. We must hold our politicians to a higher standard. They come to us seeking our votes, essentially asking for a job. Like any job applicant, it is up to them to show us why we should hire or retain them, and it is up to us to investigate their qualifications. If they are accused of bad behavior, we have no obligation to look at the evidence – and the burden is usually on them to show why the accusations are false. There is one caveat however. Politicians have been known to make false accusations against their opponents. We must be careful about accepting such accusations.
In a democratic system we get the leader we deserve, a George Washington or a Joseph Stalin. Only by actively seeking and supporting candidates of integrity and wisdom, candidates committed to freedom, will we overcome our current problems. We must thoroughly investigate those candidates, their backgrounds and integrity. And we must cut through the fog of mis-communication they so often use to hide their intent. Our freedom depends on it.