Eric Holder Scandal and Others Are a Reminder to Be Skeptical Of Government


As we all must know by now, "government" is just a nice word that we use to talk about all of the fine and lovely things that Americans decide to do together. It's what the Founders would have wanted, after all: "They left us the keys to a system of self-government," as President Obama recently reminded us, "the tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone."

And of course, the president is entirely correct. Think of how hard it would have been to pull off the Benghazi hearings all alone. Or coordinate the illegal targeting of Tea Party-affiliated groups for tax fraud. Or collect months of phone records from the Associated Press without their consent.

It's a sign of the times that we no longer have to worry about tyranny "lurking just around the corner." Government is what we all belong to, after all, and such a happy American community has no need for silly things like accountability, separation of powers, and limited government.

We wouldn't want to be guilty of political "sideshows."

So while some might look at these events and see abuses of power, what we really need right now is some good old-fashioned faith in government. Like the good progressive apostle Herbert Croly once wrote: "The progressive democratic faith means a stubborn insistence upon the conformity of social facts to a social ideal."

In other words: so long as we will it hard enough, it must eventually come true!

Except when it doesn't. As much as the president wants us to believe in the morally transformative power of collective action, the truth is that public servants are just as corruptible, just as self-interested, and, really, just as human as anyone else. He is wrong to say that the Founders "left us the keys" — as if every generation should be an angsty teen ready to "take the wheel" and embrace a newfound freedom.

No, what they left us was a collection of some of the finest and most reflective work on the nature of human beings and the societies that they happen to form. They looked at one another and declared, in humility, that men were not angels and that the enlightened statesmen would not always be at the helm. They saw the power of government, limited it to "certain enumerated objects," and put their good faith in the idea that Americans would maintain a healthy skepticism of government — or of those who would embrace it too readily.

So while the recent scandals may not serve to condemn an entire administration, they do stand as timely reminders of the Founding wisdom. A healthy skepticism of government, even in the most enlightened of times, is rarely out of place.