The people don’t like being spied upon. In this week’s podcast, I asked Ron Paul why Congress has refused to do anything about the NSA and its warrantless eavesdropping. But while Washington is paralyzed, things are starting to happen at the local level.
What follows are some highlights from our conversation.
Goyette: Dr. Paul, one place we might start to understand why the governing classes have done nothing about the NSA is the way that Congress has subordinated itself to the executive branch. How did that happen?
Paul: It didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time. I think it really started in foreign policy more than anything else … (with the idea that) you have to have a strong president. You know, only the strong presidents are war presidents. And they have to have power, and you can’t quiz them, you can’t question them. If you do, you’re un-American. And Congress has succumbed to that, and the people have gone along with it. But it’s contagious. … I imagine it’s also a reflection of what so many of us have been taught in school. You know, that we need a strong executive branch. And the 20th century, you know the necessity for this — we had to win the wars, we had two world wars, and all these wars going on. And people succumb to this.
But it’s rather sad. It was something I fought about all the time in Congress, just trying to fight for the responsibility of Congress, the prerogatives and responsibilities that Congress has, and not just always defer to the president. It was in foreign policy, now it’s in spying that they defer to him. …
But it’s also in the area of investigations. You know, when something happens, when there’s an assassination or a 9/11 event, everybody wants to know the truth. And it seems to be natural to say: We need a commission to study this. But what do they do? They resort to having a commission set up by the very individuals who have messed up. … How can the IRS investigate themselves for an IRS scandal? And when it comes to the failures of our intelligence services, the CIA and the FBI and the NSA, who’s supposed to investigate them? Who’s supposed to audit the Fed? They say, well, the Fed should audit the Fed. They audit themselves all the time.
It’s a defect in an understanding of, really, our system. Though the founders were well-intended and devised a system where we should have had separation of powers and a balance of power with Congress leading the three areas, it happened that people were so tempted to allow individuals to be authoritarian. So it is a serious problem.
… One thing I think that’s good that’s coming out of this thing with the NSA, there are more and more people skeptical of the government and don’t believe that the government is telling the truth. And that’s why we need the whistleblowers to come forth and reward them rather than putting them in prison. So the problem we have is a reflection of psychology and philosophy and complacency.
So I think the job of us who are involved in trying to stir people up and give them the truth is to give them the facts that they can hang on, and say, well, you’re not unpatriotic if you say “Why are we fighting this particular war?” And why can’t we ask questions about foreign policy? Why was it always assumed that foreign policy was off limits? You weren’t supposed to have any discussion or debates, and they more or less treated national security interest as spying on people as part of that. And you still hear those stories, too. You know, Bradley Manning, he wasn’t just telling the truth and being a whistleblower and from his viewpoint, defending the Constitution, but he was undermining national security, therefore he is a bad guy. And we’ve heard some individuals even talk about people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden deserving the death penalty for this. So it’s a contest of ideas, and fortunately, our side’s getting a little bit more attention than it used to, so maybe we’ll see some changes.
Goyette: Well, if you give the death penalty to whistleblowers, the consequence, of course, is that you get a lot less whistleblowers. But you mentioned psychology and this is something that has puzzled me a great deal. And you know the psychology of your long-term colleagues in Congress and people that like to run for office quite well, I’m sure. But it seems particularly bizarre to me that people who spend their whole lives in pursuit of authority, electoral office and looking for power, are suddenly, when entrusted with authority, for example on war-making, are so happy to shirk the authority and not exercise it. They’ve been in pursuit of power their whole lives and then they won’t use it when they have it?
Paul: That’s an interesting point, because that’s exactly what happens. So I guess the members I’ve known and worked with over the years, I think they want this authority, but they want this recognition. They want to be important. And if they can maintain popularity with their constituents by giving up on some of this authority that they should be exerting because they see this as not being as popular, they will do it. …
But unfortunately the momentum has been in the wrong direction. There’s been too much capitulation of their responsibility. And when I speak of this I’m talking mainly about members of Congress. But why they give up on this, I’m sure the founders would be astounded that this responsibility of the Congress to keep the executive branch in check was given up so easily. It was steady. It wasn’t overnight, and it always keeps getting worse. But the few who are really outspoken about this are individuals who see themselves as someday ‘I’ll be in the executive, and I’m going to have that power.’ So for the really bad guys, they’re thinking that it is more power for them eventually. Or they will have the influence. Maybe they’ll have the inside track. Maybe they will be the chairman of a particular committee and they themselves will have more power, and too often the others go along with it without resisting.
Goyette: So, Dr. Paul, in California a bill has been introduced into the state senate. It’s a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the state from providing support to the NSA. They’re talking about the refusal to provide power and water for public utilities and to prohibit NSA research partnerships with the state universities. It has gotten the attention of Republicans and Democrats in communities around the country, hasn’t it?
Paul: It has, and this is exciting. Because I think this is part of the movement away from centralized power because of the failure of government both in delivering the welfare goods and having successes with their foreign policy. So I think this is excellent, and people are just stepping forward and exerting their responsibilities. I think this could be the case in the war on drugs. Look how the drug laws are changing at the local level. And there’s almost nothing the federal government’s going to be able to do. So now with the NSA as an intrusion on the privacy of the American citizen and the federal government not doing anything, the local people — and the people do have a closer relationship with their local government, local communities and state — are speaking out and reflecting the sentiment of the people.
But also I think that local responsibility should stay — and there are some who’ve talked about this as well — with the law enforcement agency. What about in times of crisis? We’ve put up with a fair amount of natural disasters along the coast with hurricanes. And yet the feds come in and they take over. And FEMA — and I never supported FEMA, and it was considered to be a political suicide not to support FEMA, to get all that free money — but it turned out that FEMA became a negative, because they came in and took over. …
I think that local police officials should exert themselves and not say, well, OK, I’ll step aside, it’s the national police force that has to come in and take care of these disasters, and I think that we could use as an example what happened after the marathon up in Boston, because it was the feds that came in and declared martial law, and a lot of people resented that. So I love this, any time there’s an example of moving toward local control and local takeover and challenging the federal government, I think is very healthy.
For your Freedom and Prosperity,