Earlier this week, several popular web sites either blacked themselves out or displayed messages to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Apparently Congress got the message and the bill isn’t going to pass – which is a good thing. But in the end, it’s not going to mean much because SOPA isn’t really the problem – it’s only a symptom.
The real problem is arrogant politicians who believe that this kind of blatant, big government power grab is good policy. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Congress actually listened to our protests and is giving up on this bill. SOPA will have a come back faster than Newt Gingrich attacking a debate moderator. Next time, its supporters will just give it a different name and quietly slip it into another bill that’s guaranteed to pass.
Unfortunately, most members of Congress don’t truly care about the will of the people – they are going to do what they want regardless. Remember 2009 when tens of thousands of people were in the street protesting the health care bill? And no matter how many rules had to be ignored, they rammed that thing through anyway. More recently the American people have made it crystal clear that we want the government to cut spending. How’s that working out for us?
Sure, SOPA got defeated this week. But if we pat ourselves on the back for the victory and think this issue is dead, Congress will pass something ten times worse as soon as we’re not looking.
Those of us who believe in liberty and limited government have to create an atmosphere in Washington D.C. that makes it very clear to every member of Congress that vaguely written bills like SOPA – which any fool can see is open to abuse – won’t be tolerated by the American people. That means educating the public on our ideas at every opportunity and remaining active in the political process.
The Federalist Papers remind us that we the people are the final check on the power of government. Our politicians need to know that we are constantly watching them. They need to know that if they try to attach SOPA to another bill, we will notice and we will hold them accountable at the ballot box and shame them in the media. The only way to actually solve this problem is to eradicate the mindset in Congress that produced SOPA in the first place.
But as it stands today, our politicians are completely out of control. They repeatedly try to enact policies that they already know the American people don’t support – say killing puppies – by putting them in bills that have fluffy, sweet sounding names like the Happiness Act. Then, when informed citizens speak out against killing puppies, members of Congress go on tv and say, “Why don’t they support the Happiness Act? Are they against happiness?!?” This strategy is completely disingenuous and clearly aimed at manipulating a public that they don’t think is paying attention.
And so it is with SOPA. When we come out and oppose the idea that this bill would allow the government to shut down our web sites on little more than an accusation, its supporters say, “What? You oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act? Why do you support piracy?” We don’t support piracy and we are all for protecting property rights. What we oppose is tyranny.
Bills like SOPA and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which are obscenely vague and weaken the protection that citizens have against out of control government are becoming more and more common in recent years. The NDAA allows the government to detain someone indefinitely simply on the suspicion that they might be a terrorist and with SOPA a web site can be shut down without a trial. Remember those backward days of ideas like innocent until proven guilty, trial by jury, and being able to face your accuser? Good times.
So why are these types of bills becoming more common now? In the Federalist Papers, one theme that’s impossible to miss is the importance of understanding that human nature is flawed. Everyone is born with certain instincts – for example young children don’t have to be taught to lie or to hit, it’s part of their nature. We need to understand that nature if we are going to create a government that can remain limited and protect our freedom.
SOPA and NDAA are obviously situations where self-interest is playing a role. It is human nature to be self-interested – or to take care of yourself before you take care of others. That’s why it is so critical that we have a citizen government where the politicians have to live under every law they pass. Since no sane person would ever vote to take away his own freedom – if members of Congress always had to apply the law to themselves, they could never take away our freedoms without taking away their own.
But over time a political class has developed in this country where people go to Washington D.C. and end up staying for decades. Add that to the fact that we’ve allowed Congress to set up an entirely different set of rules for themselves than for the average citizen and the stage is set for the dysfunctional, destructive government we’re seeing today.
Look at it this way – do you think members of Congress are losing sleep at night worrying about Social Security? No way. What about unemployment? Nope. They’ve got lucrative Congressional pensions that will take great care of them. Is Congress really worried about health care? Not really. They have high quality government insurance to rely on. They aren’t personally interested in any of those issues.
Of course any member of Congress will give you a line about how much he wants to solve all of those problems. But don’t doubt for a second that all three of these issues would suddenly become emergencies if our politicians thought they were going to be the ones feeling the effect of a broken Social Security system. Or if they were the ones who would be unemployed. Or the ones getting the third rate health care that regular folks will get with Obamacare.
SOPA and NDAA are no different. The politicians who support those bills are able to toss aside our concerns about the potential for abuse because they know they will never be personally affected by it. Members of Congress know that even if we are right about NDAA they will never be detained indefinitely; and their web sites will never be the ones that are shut down under SOPA.
So if they can grab more power for themselves but it ends up costing you a little freedom, well, then that’s the way it has to be.
The defeat of SOPA is an important – but still very small victory. We must remain vigilant in combatting the mindset that believes that government is the solution to our problems and constantly consider the effects of human nature on everything our government does or thinks of doing. If we don’t learn those lessons, then defeating SOPA will be nothing more than a speed bump on the road to destroying our freedom.