With the rise of the Tea Party, it’s become fashionable for folks on the right to warn that the Obama administration’s policies are pushing us down the “road to serfdom.” Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, for example, warns that reckless deficit spending could lead to the conditions that led to Hitler’s rise to power. And AEI’s Arthur Brooks and Rep. Paul Ryan argue that “the road to serfdom in America does not involve a knock in the night or a jack-booted thug. It starts with smooth-talking politicians offering seemingly innocuous compromises.”
There are a couple of problems with this “road to serfdom” argument. One is that it’s a misreading of Hayek’s famous book with that title. But the more serious problem, as Conor Friedersdorf points out, is that we live in a society in which actual “knocks in the night” and “jack-booted thugs” are increasingly common:
I regard the actual, ongoing abrogation of civil liberties in America as the clearer, more present danger, as compared to the unintended consequences of “smooth-talking politicians offering seemingly innocuous compromises.” Indeed, these issues seem to me unsurpassed in their importance.
Americans are on an assassination list already. Innocents are imprisoned today. SWAT teams took out countless doors in no-knock raids this week. The last two presidents have asserted authority unprecedented in American history… and even when they break the law it goes unpunished.
If you’re not worried about the actual jack-booted thugs staging actual midnight raids in America today, you can’t expect to be taken seriously seriously when you warn that some policy you oppose could lead to jack-booted thugs staging midnight raids at some point in the future. And the party that has pushed relentlessly for warrantless surveillance, imprisonment without trial, and the normalization of torture has no business lecturing us about how the other party’s policies will, eventually, lead us to a police state.
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is planning new legislation to give the government even-more-sweeping powers to spy on Internet users. It will be interesting to see if Tea Party candidates denounce this proposal, which really could facilitate future tyranny, as vehemently as they’ve denounced Obama’s spending proposals.