The Left-Right Alliance Against Self-Government

Who knew that neoconservative standard-bearer Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and progressive-Left icon Tom Friedman of The New York Times were in such fierce agreement? Both have waded into the debate recently with defenses of the administrative state. Sure, they might disagree on the top marginal tax rate or which country to invade next, but these are tactical differences—a polite disagreement over means not ends.

Kristol infamously tweeted “But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state,” after expressing a perfunctory preference for “normal democratic and constitutional politics.” In other words, he likes self-government and ordinary constitutional forms when his side wins, but when he loses, he wants the referee to call back the last touchdown.

For his part, Friedman decried the Brexit vote, defended the unrepresentative European Union system of government-by-bureaucracy, and slammed rethinking NAFTA and withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership  as a part of “a ‘Bannon fantasy’ that we’re going to deconstruct the global administrative state.”

Kristol and Friedman are representatives of a fading bipartisan consensus that prioritizes rule by experts. This has led to an erosion of national sovereignty throughout the West at the hands of the very institutions that Friedman touts as “creat(ing) a more rules based world.” No doubt he is right, but the question, as ever, is who rules?

The American political tradition says the people rule, but elite allegiance to the administrative state undermines that bedrock principle. In the Friedman-Kristol view of the world, politics is a game for well-connected elites whose machinations and intrigues decide who gets nominal control over the apparatus of the state.

I say “nominal control” because the problem with the administrative state isn’t that it administers but that it rules. In other words, it has become a government unto itself. Law professor Jonathan Turley writes,“one study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.” But that’s not the worst of it. Many federal agencies not only make their own laws, they also have sole power to adjudicate and enforce them. That means that all three functions of government—executive, legislative, and judiciary—are held by one body.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency writes its own laws (they’re called “rules,” but they have the force of law), has its own administrative law courts that judge violations of those rules, and even has an enforcement arm that includes an armed police force to ensure those rules are followed. All three functions answer to the head of the EPA, whose Orwellian title “Administrator.” When James Madison warned “against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department,” he foresaw this tendency of power to accumulate out of reach of the people.

There comes a time in the life of nearly every institution when it prioritizes its own self-preservation and perquisites over its mission. The civil service, which was designed to implement the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives, metastasized—whether by design or by accident—into the administrative state a couple of generations ago. Since then it has expanded to form an unelected and largely unaccountable fourth branch of government that is outside of our constitutional system.

It’s not only small-government conservatives or Tea Party types who are concerned about this new power center. Glenn Greenwald, a man of the Left and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, put it this way:

The deep state, although there’s no precise or scientific definition, generally refers to the agencies in Washington that are permanent power factions. They stay and exercise power even as presidents who are elected come and go…This is who not just people like Bill Kristol, but lots of Democrats are placing their faith in, are trying to empower, are cheering for as they exert power separate and apart from—in fact, in opposition to—the political officials to whom they’re supposed to be subordinate.

It’s a system that benefits a select few with power or proximity to power. This isn’t to say the system is rigged only to favor “millionaires and billionaires,” as Bernie Sanders liked to say on the stump, but that government has itself become a political faction interested in its own power rather than the agent of the American people. Once upon a time this was repugnant to American principles. But Donald Trump’s emergence as a leading candidate and eventual election as president revealed the corrupt bargain at the heart of modern American politics that had been papered over by elevating often minor policy disagreements to the level of high principle.

Recent comments by Kristol and Friedman reflect the extent to which leading American intellectuals of both political parties share an affinity for what is essentially an assault on self-government. That’s why Americans express high levels of distrust for the media, regardless of their political convictions. It also explains the popularity of new media outlets that expressly reject prevailing consensus that casts voters as the third wheel of American politics—the superfluous friend the couple wishes was elsewhere.

Bill Kristol used to be fond of quoting John F. Kennedy who said, “To govern is to choose.” But those choices must be left to the people rather than to unelected mandarins in a distant capital city. And the American people want what they have always wanted—a choice not an echo.

About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk

Support Free & Independent Journalism Your support helps protect our independence so that American Greatness can keep delivering top-quality, independent journalism that's free to everyone. Every contribution, however big or small, helps secure our future. If you can, please consider a recurring monthly donation.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

31 responses to “The Left-Right Alliance Against Self-Government”

  1. This excerpt is terrifying and something most people don’t know:

    For example, the Environmental Protection Agency writes its own laws (they’re called “rules,” but they have the force of law), has its own administrative law courts that judge violations of those rules, and even has an enforcement arm that includes an armed police force to ensure those rules are followed.

    Let’s spell out what the enforcement arm is. The EPA has a SWAT team able to use deadly force against citizens who violate rules it has drafted. Some of the regulations often are written in such a haphazard way even an administrative judge doesn’t understand them. So in the United States, once a proud democracy, the federal government can gun you down even if it doesn’t know the reason why. Theoretically the survivors can sue, so American citizens do have that advantage over the families of the Kulaks the Soviets slaughtered.

    This leads to the immediate issue.

    Thomas Friedman and a bit more recently Bill Kristol are dangerous totalitarians, full stop. President Trump represents an existential threat to the authoritarian paradise they envision, and they and those like them will stop at nothing to thwart any attempt to restore liberty to the United States. They have helped engineer an ongoing coup attempt since November 9th. Their junta must be stopped. Dismantling any agency and ignoring the Civil Service have to be on the table.

  2. With the constant witch hunts against Trump, the fact that the bureaucrats have complete and total intelligence on every American and can literally destroy any person who challenges them, I don’t hold out much hope. Half the nation is dependent on that administrative state for some form of income, be it a paycheck or a government transfer payment or simply a tax break.

    This Russian business is never going to go away, and even if it did, the Deep State probably can find something else. The problem is, even if we wanted to revolt. Who do we shoot? We can’t shoot cops, or soldiers. We can’t shoot the politicians or the bureaucrats. We can’t shoot the college professors or their student followers/fans/lovers.

    How do we beat this when we are literally the last freedom loving people on the planet and we are being crushed out of existence and no targets to aim our guns at?

    Socialism has taken over the world now, and there seems no way to put it back in it’s box.

    • “We can’t shoot the politicians or the bureaucrats. We can’t shoot the
      college professors or their student followers/fans/lovers.”

      Says who?

      • Because such activities do not “win hearts and minds” and you need those hearts and minds to win.

      • Here is the problem. Mao did the same thing. During his “Cultural Revolution” his crazy, indoctrinated Red Guards, college students all, invaded class rooms and dragged their teachers out into the quad and shot them. We would be no better than Mao.

      • it’s amazing to me how people of all political strips seem to think that so long as they are in charge, of course you can do whatever you want to get to your goal, and dismiss those who disagree as “unworthy.” They really need to teach history in schools; people don’t seem to know it at all.

      • “We would be no better than Mao.”

        Exhortations to be rational are futile once these things start.

      • Hopefully, the ballot box will be sufficient to turn the country around. Nothing succeeds like success, so we better hope Trump, or some else, can soon turn the tide back to sanity. The alternative ammo box is excessively ugly, since here you do not “win hearts and minds”… kill them. The late 60s, early 70s were just a prelude to what can happen next. Let us hope we can escape this fate.

  3. Most people are too stupid, ignorant, emotional, self-serving, hedonistic, and lazy to rule themselves. Democracy is rule by fools.

    • ‘self government without self discipline’ -Paul Harvey

    • Universal franchise democracy is definitely foolish, thus why the Founding Fathers strictly limited who could vote.

      Personally, I’d take the franchise away from anyone collecting a means-tested government benefit. Also raise the voting age back to 21 and permanently bar felons from voting.

      The real problem with our system is that we allow too many people to vote, especially those who see government as a source of income (Obama’s 2012 ‘Life of Julia’ campaign meme illustrated the dangers of this perfectly).

      • At the very least!!

        What you propose is, of course, impossible. The age of the voter is irrelevant – it’s IQ, virtue, and contact with reality that matters – you can’t assess those traits accurately in hundreds of millions of people.

  4. k, so where’s the left-right bund fuer American Greatness (cf. Nader’s “Unstoppable”)?

  5. The EPA and IRS should not be armed. It is so scary to have environmental activists and internal revenue agents with guns. Why should someone who inadvertently pollutes be confronted by an EPA agent with a gun rather than some process server bringing an order to appear in court. Doesn’t sound like America to me.

  6. When the government’s boot is on your throat, whether it is a right boot or a left, is of no consequence.

    “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” Robert A. Heinlein

  7. This was inevitable and always is. The organism seeks and fights for survival. The servants become the rulers. It will come undone given time as it always does. The revolution has already started in the inner cities and rural separatist enclaves. There are already “no go zones” that the deep state has lost control over and are ruled by anarchy. It will increase as more people ignore the government and its empty promises. The world has always been governed by the aggressive use of force. The middle class will continue to hollow out until it is only occupied by the employees of the government. The weight of financial burden, like gravity, will pull the state into collapse. Shooting etc may occur but will not be necessary a la the former Soviet Union. It’s just like the Titanic. You can tell all the stories about the people you want but it always ends the same. Relax and as they say in boxing “protect yourself at all times”.

  8. The NeoCons are becoming as delusional as the Progs, I am disconcerted but not surprised. If we things were continuing on their merry way Pre-Trump, we would soon be living in Kafka’s novel “The Trial”.

    In truth, even WITH Trump the forces of both Progs and eGOP are doing their best to deliver the republic to the faceless bureaucrats of Leviathan.

    Still, I am going to be mildly optimistic here, maybe Trump can actually pull this off! If anyone can, he is the one with the best chance. Welcome to the Revolution!

  9. Billy Kristol was great in When Harry met Sally but these days he’s become a total putz ever since he stabbed conservatives in the back and joined forces with the Left

    • I hope that is sarcasm and that you realize there are 2 Billies. Billy Crystal the actor, and Billy Kristol the journalist.

      • Darn, I had a “Princess Bride” quote ready…

  10. Both losers are living on some one else inheritance. Doope Tom is living on his wife’s money. Bill is living on his father’s fame. I would not pay attention to either of them.

  11. I have to admit that I continue to be shocked that Bill Kristol wants control of the government back in the hands of those backing the previous Obama regime! I have no respect for him, nor his political cronies any longer. I can accept that he didn’t want Trump to win. Trump was not my first choice either, but to continue to aide and abet the “enemy” (and Obama and the democrats ARE the enemy, it’s not like the “old days” where we just agreed to disagree) against the good of the country is not only shocking, it is disgusting!

  12. A great article! Reminded me of this excerpt from Whittaker Chambers’s review of Atlas Shrugged: “…Nor has [Rand], apparently, brooded on the degree to which, in a wicked world, a materialism of the Right and a materialism of the Left first surprisingly resemble, then, in action, tend to blend each with each, because, while differing at the top in avowed purpose, and possibly in conflict there, at bottom they are much the same thing…For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question becomes chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently?”