The Loss of Trust

obama-5Amid all the heated cross-currents of debate about the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program, there is a growing distrust of the Obama administration that makes weighing the costs and benefits of the NSA program itself hard to assess.

The belated recognition of this administration’s contempt for the truth, for the American people and for the Constitution of the United States, has been long overdue.

But what if the NSA program has in fact thwarted terrorists and saved many American lives in ways that cannot be revealed publicly?

Nothing is easier than saying that you still don’t want your telephone records collected by the government. But the first time you have to collect the remains of your loved ones, after they have been killed by terrorists, telephone records can suddenly seem like a small price to pay to prevent such things.

The millions of records of phone calls collected every day virtually guarantee that nobody has the time to listen to them all, even if NSA could get a judge to authorize listening to what is said in all these calls, instead of just keeping a record of who called whom.

Moreover, Congressional oversight by members of both political parties limits what Barack Obama or any other president can get away with.

Are these safeguards foolproof? No. Nothing is ever foolproof.

As Edmund Burke said, more than two centuries ago: “Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.”

In other words, we do not have a choice whether to trust or not to trust government officials. Unless we are willing to risk anarchy or terrorism, the most we can do is set up checks and balances within government — and be a lot more careful in the future than we have been in the past when deciding whom to elect.

Anyone old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when President John F. Kennedy took this country to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, may remember that there was nothing like the distrust and backlash against later presidents, whose controversial decisions risked nothing approaching the cataclysm that President Kennedy’s decision could have led to.

Even those of us who were not John F. Kennedy supporters, and who were not dazzled by the glitter and glamour of the Kennedy aura, nevertheless felt that the President of the United States was someone who knew much more than we did about the realities on which all our lives depended.

Whatever happened to that feeling? Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon happened — and both were shameless liars. They destroyed not only their own credibility, but the credibility of the office.

Even when Lyndon Johnson told us the truth at a crucial juncture during the Vietnam war — that the Communist offensive of 1968 was a defeat for them, even as the media depicted it as a defeat for us — we didn’t believe him.

In later years, Communist leaders themselves admitted that they had been devastated on the battlefield. But, by then it was too late. What the Communists lost militarily on the ground in Vietnam they won politically in the American media and in American public opinion.

More than 50,000 Americans lost their lives winning battles on the ground in Vietnam, only to have the war lost politically back home. We seem to be having a similar scenario unfolding today in Iraq, where soldiers won the war, only to have politicians lose the peace, as Iraq now increasingly aligns itself with Iran.

When Barack Obama squanders his own credibility with his glib lies, he is not just injuring himself during his time in office. He is inflicting a lasting wound on the country as a whole.

But we the voters are not blameless. Having chosen an untested man to be president, on the basis of rhetoric, style and symbolism, we have ourselves to blame if we now have only a choice between two potentially tragic fates — the loss of American lives to terrorism or a further dismantling of our freedoms that has already led many people to ask: “Is this still America?”

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  • Chez

    Thomas Sowell is a national treasure…..and everything he’s propounding here is undeniably true.

    Still, the debilitation to the national psyche that he’s referring to is not necessarily as profound as one might believe. Forty years ago, Watergate and the impending defeat in Vietnam were every bit as damaging or more-so, but we not only survived as a nation, we were restored during the Reagan years.

    My only point here is that while Obama and his scandals are transitory phenomenon, the demographic changes in America, the decline of education, the war on wealth-creation and productivity via the regulatory maze, the explosion of our national debt,….these are much more far-reaching and permanent. By 2017, Obama will be irrelevant, but the issues highlighted above won’t be. They are embedded into the national fabric….and they’ll keep pushing us ever closer to the precipice of systemic failure..

    • Laura Thompson

      You and Thomas Sowell nailed it. I completely agree that Sowell is a “national treasure”. Every word he has written is emboldened common sense with an intellectual perspective. He is magnificent!

  • WhiteHunter

    There is no innocent, lawful justification for Obama’s datamining of the phone records of all 100+ million Verizon and other telecommunications customers here in America. It has nothing to do with our “safety” or “national security.”
    How does the “approval” of some committee chairmen behind closed doors (or even of all 535 members of Congress, for that matter, if they’d been asked and had consented) and some judges trump the Fourth Amendment’s crystal-clear stipulation that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”? Does “particularly describing” mean “give us ALL of your records–on ALL your customers”? If we were talking about a mosque known or suspected to breed and harbor terrorists, or a Mafia syndicate, that, at least, might make some sense. But not Verizon or AT&T.

    The “underwear bomber” and the Boston Marathon terrorists were all specifically identified to us in advance, by name (the first by his own father, who warned our embassy in Nigeria; the others by the Russians, who are less squeamish about dealing with jihadists than our PC leaders are) and even so, not a finger was lifted by the FBI or the NSA, or the TSA, to prevent those terrorists from attacking. Not even an undercover sting operation to discover what they might be planning. (Because they were all Moslems and therefore “untouchable,” perhaps? Then what other excuse can be concocted?)
    After what the IRS did with “strictly confidential” tax returns and applications (or what the Clintons did with the “raw” FBI files on 900 Bush Republicans, which “carelessly” ended up in the hands of a toxic pornographer, for use as blackmail during the impeachment) no sane person can trust any current Government agency or corrupt, ruthless politician to behave ethically and legally with privileged information or files that might be useful as a weapon against entirely peaceable, fully law-abiding domestic political critics. And if the no-fly list is “too big and unwieldy” to be of any use, or a “misspelled name” throws the G-Men completely off a terrorist’s trail, then what good is it at all?
    Let’s concentrate on going after the bad guys–vigorously–and keep the files on the rest of us out of the hands of the thugs and extortionists who’ve shown they can never be trusted with them. Imagine how upset they’d be if the files of the DNC, or the Obama re-election campaign, were “carelessly” distributed to those who might use them for nefarious purposes “without authorization.”
    The days of the clean-as-a-hound’s-tooth Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as FBI Inspector Erskine are long gone…if they ever existed at all.

  • Sandra Lee Smith

    I’m one of those asking if this IS America any more, and increasingly the signs say: NO! Dr Sowell is spot-on as usual.

  • dizzyizzy

    It was with horror that I saw the veterans of the 1960s conduct their long march through US institutions. Their policies (anti-American) are now hegemonic, but not everywhere. The fact that only half the country has been hornswoggled is encouraging. We just have to identify the enemy accurately. Sowell makes this very clear. See “Orwell, power, and the ‘totalitarian’ state.

  • okokok

    guess what?
    Archbishop Says Corporations That Avoid Paying Taxes Are ‘Robbing God’