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December 26, 2005

Patriotic Procrastination and “What is to be done?”

We got what we wanted, and then we didn’t. Key Senate Democrats and Republicans blocked a vote to extend the Patriot Act by threatening to filibuster. So far so good. But the very next day they struck a deal to extend the Patriot Act by six months so that it wouldn’t sunset on New Year’s eve.

What will the six month extension accomplish? Supposedly, the “defenders” of civil liberties in the Senate want to create a “review board” to prevent the Executive Branch from abusing its Patriot-Act-powers.

Funny. I thought we already had a review board — the independent judiciary. You know, the guys who issue warrants based on evidence sufficient to establish probable cause. Why isn’t that review board good enough?

Is said independent judiciary too independent perhaps?

All of this conjures in my mind an image of some stereotypical “Boss Tweed” Senator sneering, “We don’t need no stinkin’ checks and balances.” And another hitching up his belt and saying, “What we need is more government. Another commission. Another board. Another bureau. Another budget line item. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”


What is to be done?

Some will say we need to elect better politicians. Well, good luck with that. Tell me how it turns out. Get back to me when you elect even one. I’ll drink a toast to it. Then don’t get back to me again until you’ve elected enough to change things. It’s been nice knowing you, because that part about “enough to change things” won’t happen before the sun burns out. In case no one has noticed, the campaign finance laws and the winner-take-all electoral system basically preclude electing good politicians. So . . .

What is to be done?

Well, we need to educate the American people, right? Yeah. Right. Good luck with that. Please notice the glazed look on the guy changing channels relentlessly while you drone on about marginal utility, opportunity costs, and public choice. Are we really going to think-tank-policy-report-and-magazine our way to small government? Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things. But where does the rubber finally meet the road? How does all of this make government smaller . . . before the sun burns out?

Sorry. I just can’t see it happening. So . . .

What is to be done?

I continue to notice that there are only 535 of the !@#$%’s who do all these things to us (things like the Patriot Act), and many millions of people who don’t like it. There ought to be a way to make that significant size differential count for something, shouldn’t there?

Think of the 535 politicians as parents (or so they like to think of themselves), and the millions of disgruntled citizens as rambunctious brat kids who like to make noises with phones, faxes, computers, and tantrums in the middle of the floor. Think of the kids driving the parents to distraction, until they throw up their hands and say, “Okay, alright, I can’t stand it any more. Yes, you can turn on the Cartoon Channel.”

Perhaps this seems unsophisticated? Well, perhaps we’ve been too sophisticated all along. Maybe the solution we need is much simpler than those we have pursued to date.

I think this is so.

What we need is a very large army of noise makers pursuing very simple tactics with very simple tools (electronic messages, phone calls, faxes, and personal visits). And all of this aimed at painfully obvious but powerful incremental changes, like the Read the Bills Act. Maybe we don’t need to replace the politicians or change what the people believe, but rather, we need to use what the people already believe to change what the existing politicians do.

I think this is so. I think this is what is to be done.

Get out those noise makers. Use them. And don’t stop until you see the foam in the politicians’ mouths.

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