We live in an age of political conformity. The orthodoxies of the Left and Right are constantly reinforced in the echo chambers of the Internet and the other media of mass communication. Read a fragment of someone’s opinion on any of the hot button issues of the day, and, assuming they take an active interest in politics, you will know their opinion on every other hot button issue as well. One rarely comes across manifestations of independent thought. The phenomenon is familiar to students of our species. Humans are predisposed to belong to an “in-group,” and react to those who don’t belong, or, in other words, to the “out-group,” with hatred and loathing. Human culture has advanced a great deal in the last several thousand years. Now the in-groups and out-groups are no longer limited to neighboring bands of primitive hunter-gatherers, but can be global in scope, with millions of members. No matter, the basic behavioral trait is still the same, and is as characteristic and predictable as ever.
It is therefore of surpassing interest to find the Left and the Right agreeing on anything. The neutered mummies of ideas they represent are usually carefully manicured to conflict, not converge. Still, it seems to me I’ve found an example in a recent article about Homeland Security by Fareed Zakaria on the Left, which was answered with all the usual overblown indignation and outrage by N. M. Guariglia on the Right.
The point of apparent agreement is the excessive and wasteful nature of the government’s response to 911. As Zakaria puts it:
Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent, to $75 billion (and that’s the public number, which is a gross underestimate). That’s more than the rest of the world spends put together. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet—the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. Five miles southeast of the White House, the largest government site in 50 years is being built—at a cost of $3.4 billion—to house the largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs: the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.
After running on in the same vein for awhile, he concludes with a pro forma appeal to the Founding Fathers:
Surely this usurpation is more worrisome than a few federal stimulus programs. When James Madison pondered this issue, he came to a simple conclusion: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germs of every other … In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended…and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.”
Guariglia couches his agreement with the fundamental thesis of the article within a furious attack on Zakaria, who, as usual, is found to be both evil and stupid for daring to meddle with the boards of the ideological box he lives in. For example, by suggesting our response to 911 has been exaggerated, he is agreeing with all the fools who don’t realize that Saddam’s finger was within a hairs breadth of the nuclear trigger:
…nobody believed Saddam had a “nuclear arsenal” in the 1990s. That’s because after we defeated him in 1991, we discovered he was but six months to a year away from developing an atomic bomb.
He is an honorary dupe of Soviet Communism, even though the Soviet Union has been dead and buried for nigh on two decades:
Soviet expansionism was real: Afghanistan, El Salvador, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Angola, Romania, martial law in Poland. Communist insurgencies had sprung up around the world. Eastern Europe was under the Politburo’s dominion. Dissidents were kidnapped and thrown in gulags. Hell, if it weren’t for a disobedient colonel in 1983 they would have nuked us! (Unsurprisingly, the article he links completely debunks this claim).
He is a bleeding heart idealist for opposing torture, which must be a wonderful thing, because, after all, the torturers assured us that it was quite effective:
Obama knows water-boarding worked and saved American lives, and he knows Americans would be supportive of the practice in such a case, so he would therefore rather keep this issue in the dark than vindicate the worldview of Dick Cheney and the Weekly Standard.
…and so on in response to the similarly fossilized and homogenized pronouncements of Zakaria. However, in the midst of it all he says,
There’s some truth to these last points. Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security could have been put in the FBI. Perhaps the director of national intelligence could have been put in the CIA. Perhaps the federal government could be fighting this war far more effectively — and cost-effectively. But all this speaks to government incompetence, mismanagement, and red tape. It says nothing of our “overreaction” to 9/11.
In other words, he’s in substantial agreement with the main point Zakaria is trying to make. He just considers it heretical to admit that the overreaction was really an “overreaction.” Whatever. Surprisingly enough, I, too, concur in this furious agreement. The next time we have to deal with a national emergency, I suggest we resist the usual urge to create another massive government bureaucracy to “save” us. Such efforts are not likely to be any more effective in the future than they have been in the past.