The Government is Like Fire: Necessary and Dangerous

by Robert Arvay

There is an old adage that says, fire is a useful servant, but a cruel master. Fire is useful when it is restricted to the fireplace, but when it escapes into the parlor, fire is destructive and deadly.

The government is like fire. It is both necessary and dangerous. When kept to its proper confine, i.e., to the Constitution, it is the servant of the people. When government becomes its own special interest, it ceases to be a servant, and becomes the proverbial cruel master.

This has always been the case. So why is the present any different from the past?

The answer is that today, technology has given to the government new powers that were never foreseen by the Founders. In 1776, the government could not keep tabs on every citizen’s every conversation. Today, it can, at least to a very large extent.

Technology is power. Power, when it is in the hands of only one or a few individuals, is almost certain to be abused. 

Even if today the government is benevolent and responsible, tomorrow it can turn on a dime, and become oppressive. The old saying, the lament of peasants for millennia, was, “Let us hope that the next king will be a good one.” That wish was rarely fulfilled.

The Founders did not rest their hopes on wishing for a good king. They wisely did not trust that the government would be reliably honest and benevolent. The framers of the Constitution deliberately designed a government that is never to be trusted, but rather, to be restrained by, and held accountable to, the people. The government rightly owns no power, none, zero. Power belongs only to the people, and the people lend power, not give it, to their servants in government. We can withdraw that power upon our whim, without permission of the government. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work.

Today, the intent of the Framers has been thwarted. No longer are there three independent branches of government, each keeping the others in check. Instead, there are numerous fiefdoms, various departments of government, each vying to become the preeminent power over all the others. Envelope please . . . and the winner is, the Executive Branch, the White House, the Presidential throne of power.

The president and his minions have not been shy about “working around” the other two branches of government. “If congress will not act, then I will,” or words similar to those, have been spoken by the president. He has openly issued thinly veiled threats to the Supreme Court whenever it has ruled in ways of which he disapproves.

Perhaps the most pernicious abuses of power have arisen from the National Security Agency (NSA) and similar agencies of government. Here, the threat need not be clearly spoken aloud. If you do not grant me the unquestioned powers needed to defend you from terrorist attacks, then terrorists will murder thousands of you.

This unspoken threat is all the more intimidating because there is a basis to it in fact. The nation does indeed need to use secrets and covertness to outmaneuver those who would kill us. If we demand that the government have no secrets, then our enemies will exploit our vulnerabilities with deadly result.

We are caught on the horns of a dilemma. How do we keep secrets from the enemy, without granting secret agencies of the government unaccountable powers that are sure to be abused, if not now, then eventually?

How do we defend our nation, while at the same time, ensuring that it remains worth defending? How do we defeat tyrants without installing one in our White House? How do we thwart terrorists, without spawning terrorists within our own government? How do we intervene in Syria without becoming Syria?

The answer is to restore Congress to its proper role as the watchdog. Here are two steps that should be taken immediately.

First, no unelected bureau of government should ever be permitted to enact regulations without the express consent of Congress. Every bureaucratic regulation should be examined by Congress prior to its taking effect. Every regulation should be voted on by both houses of Congress, the same as with any law.

Second, Congress should appoint its own inspectors general to oversee each and every agency of the federal government. These inspectors must have full and constant access to everything that the executive does, with only those exceptions already exempted by the courts. The inspectors must answer only to Congress and the American people. Such constant and intrusive inspections would have prevented such atrocities as the gunrunning operation that has killed thousands of Mexicans and one U.S. Border Patrol agent. They would have detected the abuses by the Internal Revenue Service before harm could have been done.

Unfortunately, Congress has failed to do its duty to the people who elected it. The members of Congress have become the dukes and duchesses of the modern American kingdom, not the rebellious nobles who forced the king to sign and comply with the Magna Carta.

The king is not complying. He is reigning.

Now it is up to us, the people. If we accede to slavery, then slaves we shall become, but if it is freedom for which we yearn, then we must prepare to pay the fearsome price it demands. However high that price is, it is as nothing compared to the horror of having sold our children into cruel bondage.

We must hurry, for the fire is already in the parlor.

Robert Arvay is a Contributing Writer to The Patriot’s Notepad

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