Opinion: The Establishment Strikes Back

Has 1984 finally arrived?

Political Opinion from Robert Romano

Mr. Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

What’s past is prologue, or so the Bard told us centuries ago.

And if 2013 was any indication, 2014 and subsequent years will see the continuation of institutional retaliation against not only the tea party, but of a wider anti-establishment sentiment prevalent on both the political right and left.

For, by all accounts, 2013 was a pretty good year for Washington, D.C. and its multi-headed interests, despite considerable challenges to its power that were posed from a variety of quarters.

Consider, it was revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was collecting, in the least, the metadata on every single communication in the country without probable cause and the issuance of what can only be called a general warrant by a secret court.

This revelation shook not only Washington, D.C., but the entire country to its very core. What sort of country did we live in? Had technology and the will to use it made George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare of 1984 a reality?

Groups as diverse as American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Rifle Association, and Americans for Limited Government, along with hundreds of others, have all stood against the surveillance state that had been described in the disclosures by Edward Snowden via Glenn Greenwald, formerly of the Guardian.

All eyes upon us

Public opinion followed shortly. A poll as recent as September by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that “Close to 60 percent of Americans oppose the NSA’s collection of data on telephone and Internet usage. A similar majority opposes the legal process supervised by a secret federal court that oversees the government’s classified surveillance.”

Suffice to say, the Snowden whistleblowing had a dramatic impact upon public opinion. It really did change minds in a way that no previous disclosure on surveillance had.

With all of the fallout, the outcome of a July vote in the House of Representatives to defund any collection of communications data including phone calls, emails, and other records on U.S. persons “if such things do not pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation” was anything but certain.

Even the author of the Patriot Act, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), was at the forefront supporting the amendment against the domestic surveillance, saying that the legislation he penned had never authorized the programs Snowden had disclosed.

But when it mattered, Washington, D.C. somehow found enough votes, 217 to 205, to defeat the amendment proposed by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) to the defense funding bill. The civil libertarians had won the debate, just not the vote.

The NSA prevailing (so far) was but one example, although perhaps the most notable, of how 2013 was the year of the establishment. Let us now look to another, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which was exposed to be targeting tea party and other 501(c)4 social welfare organizations in a dragnet seeking to suppress any speech that it perceived to be political.

The revelation has led to scathing report from a Treasury inspector general, congressional hearings, and the early retirement of former Exempt Organizations head Lois Lerner.

Again, public opinion followed. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in May found a full 74 percent of Americans believed the targeting was inappropriate. Fifty-six percent said not only that, but that it had been done deliberately.

So, how did Washington, D.C. respond to the scandal? By issuing a regulation the day after Thanksgiving legalizing the very practice of suppressing political speech, not just against tea party groups, but the tens of thousands of other 501(c)(4) organizations out there, too.

The establishment wins again.

Timeline is clear

By the time courts are through litigating this new regulation, the 2016 election cycle could already be over. In the meantime, it will disproportionately hurt conservative-minded, limited government groups of the 501(c)4 variety, meanwhile exempting 501(c)(5) labor organizations and 501(c)(6) trade associations.

What sort of country did we live in? Had technology and the will to use it made George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare of 1984 a reality?

Shall we continue? With much of Obamacare’s implementation bearing down on the American people, there was just one chance to stop the law from going into effect, and that was the continuing resolution and debt ceiling showdown that occurred this past fall.

Tea party and other limited government groups reminded House Republicans of their 2010 “Pledge to America,” when they promised to “fight efforts to fund the costly health care law.”

In this case, members of Congress were simply being asked to do what they had specifically campaigned on doing. But in the end, the House did not hold firm. It voted, eventually, to allow funding for the health care law to go into effect — and achieved no concessions even with the partial government shutdown.

Republican leaders simply had no stomach for the fight.

Particularly fortuitous for the Obama administration was that shutdown had ended before public opinion had had a chance to catch up with the cluster rollout of the law, plagued with website problems, administrative delays, and millions of Americans losing their health coverage.

By now, 62 percent of Americans are opposed to the law, with only 35 percent in favor, according to CNN/ORC poll. 63 percent say it will make care even more expensive.

The poll’s results also include 60 percent of women opposed to the law, normally a constituency strongly in favor of Democrat policies.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who waged his heroic filibuster against the law, had been ahead of the curve. Yet, when it counted, he was just among a small minority of elected officials who intended to do anything to actually stop health care law from taking effect.

The irony is that now it is too late to stop the law from going into effect. As of Jan. 1, 2014, despite arbitrary administrative delays by the White House, the law saws Obamacare and all of its mandates go into effect.

Washington, D.C. wins again.

While it will be politically convenient to campaign against the law in the 2014 midterm election cycle, and during the 2016 presidential contest, these campaigns may change little against a law that by 2017 — the earliest something can now be done about it — will have had three years to be fully implemented.

The establishment, after all, has an uncanny ability to disregard and reject the legitimate concerns of the American people wholesale. They simply do not care what you and I think about their continued power grabs.

No more was this true than with the case of the most recent budget deal, which will eliminate $63 billion of sequester spending cuts in 2014 and 2015.

Sequestration, readers will recall, was a deal to trim the budget over ten year slightly in exchange for the $2.1 trillion increase of the debt ceiling in 2011. It was House Republicans’ one major accomplishment on fiscal policy during their reign as the majority.

When asked in a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll in October, a full 74 percent of respondents said they could not identify any discernible impact of the modest budget cuts in their communities or on them personally.

Yet, doing away with the cuts was number one on Washington, D.C.’s to-do list before the year ended when a continuing resolution that changed nothing about the current budget would have sufficed.

When you break it down, the only constituency in favor of increasing discretionary spending is the government itself. Nobody else seems to notice or care much if many of these programs were to be cut.

Yet the government party, composed of Democrats and Republicans, always seems to get what it wants.

In 2008, majorities opposed bank bailouts and auto company handouts, but they happened anyway. In 2009 and 2010, they opposed the huge spending and Obamacare, but they were implemented in spite of them. By 2012, it was clear as day the government had no power to compel people to purchase anything, to say nothing of health insurance, and yet that is precisely what the Supreme Court found in its decision to uphold the health care law.

It’s nothing new, really. Except, perhaps, that it is more brazen than ever.

2013 may be viewed as the year the establishment struck back against its enemies, and if the past is indeed prologue, it may just be getting warmed up. Watch out in 2014 and beyond.