This is why we cannot have good government

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall has been agonizing over how to feel about the recent revelations of government snooping. Given that he is a Democratic (and Obama) supporter, he has been grasping at arguments that seek to portray it as not as bad as it looks. One of his readers sent in a comment that illustrates precisely how many people decide on what stance to take.

I’ve been thinking something along these lines all along as I’ve watched this story unfold, and wondering if I’ve just lost my sense of what freedom and privacy mean or whether the meaning of these events has been vastly over-hyped. I’m kind of relieved to hear that you’re asking similar questions.

It really doesn’t seem reasonable to me to expect government to be able to protect us from terrorist acts to the degree that we are asking for this, and then expect them not to utilize this kind of data. How the heck are they supposed to accomplish what we’ve asked?

I’m suspicious of myself, because I definitely notice that I feel very differently depending on who is exercising these powers. I didn’t trust Bush at all, so I was much more frightened when he used powers like these. I fundamentally trust Obama, so I’m much more sanguine about his use of such powers, much more confident that he is unlikely to abuse his power for political purposes. So I guess I can’t blame Republicans for having a similar bias in the other direction.

But it seems to me that Obama is continually damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t just about anything…

I hear this kind of thing all the time. The ‘poor Obama, struggling to do the right thing’ sentiment, the desire to have a paternalistic government that will ‘protect us from terrorism’, and deciding on what is good and bad by who is doing it, is why we are doomed to bad government.


  1. says

    Why can’t partisan idiots get it into their heads that both sides are corrupt? That neither side is “their” side? That they’re both working against the will of the people?

    It’s only by discarding partisanship that we have any chance of reconstructing the republic. “Divide et impera”: you fell for it, you chucklefucks.

  2. says

    why we are doomed to bad government

    It’s more complicated than that. First off, people need to recognize that power actually has no value unless you abuse it. Anyone who wants power is, by definition, going to abuse that power. Anyone who actively wants the responsibility of controlling other people’s lives (because that’s what government exists to do) has declared themselves an enemy of everyone else.

  3. abusedbypenguins says

    I wonder about the psychology of the individual who wants to be in charge. What is with that? When I was in a managerial position, I treated everyone the same, no one was picked on and no one was special. Those 20 guys were professional auto technicians because they were treated like they were. Upper management did not like the fact that I let them know that they were not in some exalted position but their job was to facilitate my job. Never got along with upper management as they were all empty suits. What kind of person wants to wear a gun, badge and beat on people?

  4. Mano Singham says

    Unfortunately very often the people who seek power over others are the very people who should not be entrusted with it.

  5. says

    In ~300BC Epicurus observed that some people are attracted to power because they feel it will make them safe. Yet, such people feel that way because they do not understand what “safety” is – they have an endless need that can never be sated, which makes them unable to ever recognize how much is “enough.”

    The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.

    Those who possess the power to defend themselves against threats by their neighbors, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee of security, live the most pleasant life with one another; and their enjoyment of the fullest intimacy is such that if one of them dies prematurely, the others do not lament his death as though it called for pity.

  6. says

    And, as La Boetie wrote in “voluntary servitude”:

    I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages,Dictatorships present many puzzles. so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation!

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