Sanctifying the expansion of federal power
By Vin Suprynowicz
Washington journalist Jim Bovard, frequent contributor to the American Spectator, Playboy, and the Wall Street Journal, is the author of "The Farm Fiasco" (1989), "The Fair Trade Fraud" (1991), and "Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty" (1994).
Each of Mr. Bovard's books has been a welcome addition to the library of those who harbor a lingering suspicion that -- behind all the stage-managed "compassion" -- today's regulatory bureaucracies really function as little more than costly protection rackets for the kind of vested interests who can afford to pony up massive "campaign contributions" to congressmen who know which side their toast is buttered on.
Bovard has always been good at unfurling and tacking down complex government schemes like butterflies under glass. More importantly, one refers the casual inquirer to Mr. Bovard's tomes in full confidence they will find there not merely the opinionated spoutings of some free-market theoretician, but rather the kind of rigorous scholarship which habitually appends 70 pages of careful notes and indices to the back of each 350-page volume.
If Bovard's early works deserved a criticism, I would have to focus on his apparent reluctance to inject into his work much judgmental, emotional content. We find the absurd waste and self-contradiction of one government boondoggle after another laid bare (the book jacket of Bovard's latest tome puckishly brags his "writing has been denounced by FBI Director Louis Freeh, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Agriculture, ... the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. International Trade Commission") -- yet where we looked for the matador to apply his coup de grace, Mr. Bovard would exasperatingly grin, shrug, and walk away.
That started to change in last year's "Freedom in Chains." Now, with the pending September release of Bovard's latest book, "feeling your pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years" ($26.95 from St. Martin's Press) I believe we are finally seeing the emergence of a mature and fully formed Jim Bovard, no longer content to merely shine a light into the rat warren and expect his readers to reach their own conclusions. Rather, the author now seems fully emotionally invested in exposing and rooting out the way the fast-talkers and scalawags have preyed upon the charitable instincts of a good and generous American people to -- finally -- loot us, disarm us, and even begin to kill us in our homes.
After eight years of Clintonism, hostility to government is now so widespread that even census takers take their lives in their hands to announce "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." And with good reason, Bovard says:
"From concocting new prerogatives to confiscate private property, to championing FBI agents' right to shoot innocent Americans, to bankrolling the militarization of local police forces, the Clinton administration stretched the power of government on all fronts," Bovard writes. "From the soaring number of wiretaps, to converting cell phones into homing devices for law enforcement, to turning bankers into spies against their customers, free speech and privacy were undermined again and again. From dictating how many pairs of Chinese silk panties Americans could buy, to President Clinton's heroic efforts to require trigger locks for all handguns in crack houses, no aspect of Americans' lives was too arcane for federal intervention."
Although Clinton famously announced in his 1996 State of the Union address that "the era of Big Government is over," that turned out to be nothing but an "intellectual shell game," masking a pattern of "stealth statism," Bovard asserts. Once the president had won re-election by again campaigning as a moderate, he "opened the floodgates" of racial blackmail, IRS plunder, and one assault after another on our Bill of Rights, all justified by one cynical appeal or another to "the safety of the children."
Bovard dissects in excruciating detail the way "officer safety" concerns left Colorado police sitting helpless outside Columbine High School while victims lay dying inside, on that fateful April day in 1999. New to me was his revelation that finally, early that afternoon, "SWAT teams laid down 'cover fire' as they advanced toward the building. Spokesman (Steve) Davis could not estimate how many shots were fired by the SWAT teams. Denver attorney Jack Beam stated that the sheriff's department may be the target of lawsuits because of possible 'friendly fire' casualties."
Does the Clinton administration respond to such bizarre events by asking what all those Democratic union teachers are doing to our doped-up young men behind the schoolhouse walls? (One of the Columbine perpetrators had been turned down upon trying to enlist in the Marines, because his schoolmasters had him doped up on the psychoactive drug Luvox.)
Of course not. Instead, Bovard reports, "The ATF engaged in institutionalized perjury to boost its conviction rate" of otherwise innocent gun owners during the Clinton years, and the administration actually argued before the Supreme Court in 1994 that Americans commit a felony by merely owning a gun which might be converted to full-automatic fire. (Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a solid 7-2 majority, shot down that nonsense in the seldom-reported case Staple vs. United States.)
Inevitably and quite properly, the final fifth of the book brings us back once more to those pinnacles of modern police state achievement, Waco, Ruby Ridge, and "The Reno-Freeh Whitewash Team."
"The Clinton administration built its 'bridge to the twenty-first century' by filling every sinkhole along the way with taxpayer dollars," Bovard reports. "From AmeriCorps projects that beat the bushes to recruit new food stamp recipients, to a flood insurance program that multiplied flood damage, to programs to give the keys to lavish new single-family homes to public housing residents, the Clinton administration's record domestic spending produced record fiascoes. For Clinton, the only wasted tax dollar was one that did not buy a vote, garner a campaign contribution, or provide a chance to bite his lip on national television.
"In the same way that success of NATO's attacks on Serbia was measured largely by continual proclamations of 'record numbers' of sorties flown and 'record numbers' of bombs dropped, so the Clinton administration gauged its domestic policy successes by the number of new laws passed, new programs enacted, and new activities prohibited -- by record fines levied and record prison sentences imposed. Federal agencies issued more than 25,000 new regulations -- criminalizing everything from reliable toilets to snuff advertisements on race cars."
Yet "While the media focused primarily on the new benefits that Clinton promised, little attention was paid to the swelling tax burden on working Americans. Federal income tax revenue doubled between 1992 and 2000. The total tax burden on the average family with two earners rose three times faster than inflation. Though the IRS wrongfully seized hundreds of thousands of Americans' paychecks and bank accounts during Clinton's reign, almost all of the agency's powers survived unscathed."
And that's just the introduction. From there, Mr. Bovard goes on to document every word.
Jim Bovard finally appears to be hopping mad, and I for one am glad to see it. Though many a "tell-all" book about the unlamented Clinton years is doubtless yet to come, claiming to expose everything from cocaine dealing in the Lincoln bedroom to who really wrapped up Vince Foster's body in that Persian carpet and lugged it out to the park, I suspect "feeling your pain" (yes, it's officially all lower-case) may well survive as the best political obituary of the Clinton era -- earning Jim Bovard an honor he might just as soon have forgone as our modern Cassandra, prophesying doom to an audience deafened by the happy din of the Wall Street jackpot machine.
For if anyone believes all this makes Mr. Bovard's work a George W. Bush campaign book -- if anyone out there still believes that merely replacing the face at the ribbon-cuttings can change the kind of institutionalized corruption Jim Bovard has spent the better part of the past decade documenting -- then perhaps we should close by quoting from Mario Puzo's hero Michael Corleone, who in "The Godfather" turned to his fiancee at his sister Connie's wedding to ask:
"Now who's being naive?"
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.
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