Thomas Sowell’s column today, Degeneration of Democracy, is fantastic. Here’s a key excerpt:
Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere.
And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Many among the public and in the media may think that the issue is simply whether BP’s oil spill has damaged many people, who ought to be compensated. But our government is supposed to be “a government of laws and not of men.” If our laws and our institutions determine that BP ought to pay $20 billion– or $50 billion or $100 billion– then so be it.
But the Constitution says that private property is not to be confiscated by the government without “due process of law.” Technically, it has not been confiscated by Barack Obama, but that is a distinction without a difference.
If you believe that the end justifies the means, then you don’t believe in Constitutional government. And, without Constitutional government, freedom cannot endure. There will always be a “crisis”– which, as the president’s chief of staff has said, cannot be allowed to “go to waste” as an opportunity to expand the government’s power.
In Sowell’s other writings, he refers to the end-justifies-the-means mentality as cosmic justice. The question is does the President or population truly have the power to exercise cosmic justice.
There was a very good reason the Founders tried to limit the power of government – previous models of government had succumbed to those in government attaining and exercising oppressive control over its citizenry. Sometimes this oppressive control was outright autocracy and sometimes it was well-meaning people who had their own version of cosmic justice.
Everyone believes that BP should pay for or fix everything it damaged, even BP managers and shareholders. The question is whether the sentence should be determined by the President or by the laws we have enacted and our court systems.
Essentially, do we want to give folks in government the power to shoot now and justify it later?
It may feel good to bypass due process and we may believe that we won’t bypass due process when it “matters”, but it may not feel so good when it’s our due process that is being bypassed.
What’s wrong with letting the courts decide?
Here’s another good passage from Sowell’s column:
When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics. Such people were a valuable addition to his political base, since they were particularly susceptible to Hitler’s rhetoric and had far less basis for questioning his assumptions or his conclusions.
“Useful idiots” was the term supposedly coined by V.I. Lenin to describe similarly unthinking supporters of his dictatorship in the Soviet Union.