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.
Put differently, a democracy
needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or
ultimately even survive. In our times, American
democracy is being dismantled, piece by piece,
before our very eyes by the current
administration in Washington, and few people
seem to be concerned about it.
The president's poll numbers
are going down because increasing numbers of
people disagree with particular policies of his,
but the damage being done to the fundamental
structure of this nation goes far beyond
particular counterproductive policies.
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
President Obama, but that is a distinction
without a difference.
With vastly expanded powers of
government available at the discretion of
politicians and bureaucrats, private individuals
and organizations can be forced into accepting
the imposition of powers that were never granted
to the government by the Constitution.
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.
That power will of course not
be confined to BP or to the particular period of
crisis that gave rise to the use of that power,
much less to the particular issues.
When President Franklin D.
Roosevelt arbitrarily took the United States off
the gold standard, he cited a law passed during
the First World War to prevent trading with the
country's wartime enemies. But there was no war
when FDR ended the gold standard's restrictions
on the printing of money.
At about the same time, during
the worldwide Great Depression, the German
Reichstag passed a law "for the relief of the
German people." That law gave Hitler dictatorial
powers that were used for things going far
beyond the relief of the German people-- indeed,
powers that ultimately brought a rain of
destruction down on the German people and on
If the agreement with BP was
an isolated event, perhaps we might hope that it
would not be a precedent. But there is nothing
isolated about it.
The man appointed by President
Obama to dispense BP's money as the
administration sees fit, to whomever it sees
fit, is only the latest in a long line of
presidentially appointed "czars" controlling
different parts of the economy, without even
having to be confirmed by the Senate, as Cabinet
Those who cannot see beyond
the immediate events to the issues of arbitrary
power-- versus the rule of law and the
preservation of freedom-- are the "useful
idiots" of our time. But useful to whom?
Examiner Columnist Thomas
Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover