What if we don’t re­ally gov­ern our­selves?

A se­cret Congress within Congress would con­sti­tute an un­seen threat to Amer­i­can lib­erty

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Andrew P. Napoli­tano Andrew P. Napoli­tano, a for­mer judge of the Su­pe­rior Court of New Jer­sey, is a con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times. He is the au­thor of seven books on the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

What if our be­lief in self­gov­ern­ment is a be­lief in a myth? What if the elec­tion of one po­lit­i­cal party over the other to con­trol Congress changes only ap­pear­ances? What if taxes stay high and reg­u­la­tions stay per­va­sive and the govern­ment stays op­pres­sive and pres­i­dents fight wars no mat­ter what the politicians prom­ise and no mat­ter who wins elec­tions? What if the true goal of those whom we elect to Congress is not to be our agents of self-govern­ment or even to pre­serve our per­sonal lib­er­ties but to re­main in power by get­ting re-elected?

What if they use govern­ment to aid their own re-elec­tions by brib­ing us with our own money — the rich with bailouts, the mid­dle class with tax breaks and the poor with trans­fer pay­ments?

What if Congress has writ­ten laws that are too com­plex for its own mem­bers to read and un­der­stand? What if the lan­guage of most fed­eral laws is in­ten­tion­ally ar­cane so that or­di­nary vot­ers can­not un­der­stand it? What if that lan­guage is ac­tu­ally writ­ten by face­less bu­reau­crats and not by ac­count­able mem­bers of Congress? What if mem­bers of Congress in fact rarely read any leg­is­la­tion be­fore vot­ing on it? What if some leg­is­la­tion refers to se­crets and se­cret pro­ce­dures that only a few mem­bers of Congress are per­mit­ted to see and uti­lize?

What if when the se­lect few mem­bers of Congress who are per­mit­ted to see those se­crets do see them, those mem­bers are them­selves sworn to se­crecy? What if that means that our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives — our sup­posed agents of self-govern­ment in the govern­ment — do not fully know what the govern­ment is do­ing and that even if they do, they can’t legally tell us?

What if our rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress don’t re­ally rep­re­sent us? What if they re­ally rep­re­sent a po­lit­i­cal party? What if each po­lit­i­cal party is con­trolled by a small lead­er­ship group that pun­ishes mem­bers who defy it? What if Congress has writ­ten laws and rules that per­mit its lead­ers to pun­ish mem­bers’ de­fi­ance? What if an­other way to char­ac­ter­ize de­fi­ance of po­lit­i­cal party lead­er­ship is po­lit­i­cal courage?

What if the laws that Congress has writ­ten about the CIA have del­e­gated con­gres­sional power to a small, se­cret com­mit­tee of mem­bers from both houses of Congress and both po­lit­i­cal par­ties? What if that com­mit­tee can au­tho­rize se­cret wars in for­eign lands con­ducted not by the mil­i­tary but by the CIA? What if the rea­son these folks au­tho­rize the CIA and not the mil­i­tary to con­duct se­cret wars is the ex­is­tence of fed­eral laws that re­quire re­port­ing to and a vote of the en­tire Congress for the mil­i­tary to be used but re­quire only the small, se­cret com­mit­tee to ap­prove for the CIA to be used?

Be­cause wars cost money and of­ten cost lives, what if the ef­fect of the de­ci­sions of the small, se­cret com­mit­tee is that the com­mit­tee is ba­si­cally a Congress within Congress? What if the Con­sti­tu­tion says that only Congress can spend tax dol­lars and de­clare wars, but Congress has let the Congress within Congress do this? What if the vot­ers will never know what the Congress within Congress has au­tho­rized? What if the very ex­is­tence of the Congress within Congress mocks, de­fies and be­trays the con­cept of Amer­i­can self-govern­ment?

What if the data seen and dis­cussed and the de­ci­sions made in se­cret by the Congress within Congress are gen­er­ated by the CIA and other in­tel­li­gence agen­cies? What if these in­tel­li­gence agen­cies se­lec­tively re­veal and se­lec­tively con­ceal data to ma­nip­u­late the de­ci­sions of the Congress within Congress? What if those ma­nip­u­la­tions of­ten re­sult in blood­shed about which the Amer­i­can peo­ple of­ten never learn? What if the bases for the de­ci­sions of the Congress within Congress are kept from the other mem­bers of Congress, from the me­dia and from the vot­ers?

What if the folks from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties who set up the Congress within Congress care more about wield­ing power than they do about pre­serv­ing self-govern­ment? What if those who pull the levers of power in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity are so far re­moved from the vot­ers that they don’t know and don’t care what the vot­ers think? What if they know that the vot­ers would re­act force­fully and de­ci­sively if the vot­ers knew what the mem­bers of the Congress within Congress know but they still won’t tell us?

What if all this di­ver­sion of power from the elected Congress to the Congress within Congress and all this re­liance on se­cret data has re­sulted in the most per­va­sive sur­veil­lance by any govern­ment of any peo­ple at any time in world his­tory? What if the fed­eral govern­ment’s do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance to­day cap­tures and re­tains dig­i­tal copies of ev­ery tele­phone call and ev­ery com­puter key­stroke of ev­ery per­son in Amer­ica and has done so since 2005? What if mem­bers of Congress who are not in the Congress within Congress do not know this?

What if the Congress within Congress has au­tho­rized Amer­i­can spies to spy with­out per­sonal sus­pi­cion or ju­di­cial war­rant on the mil­i­tary, the courts, the po­lice and ev­ery per­son in Amer­ica, in­clud­ing the re­main­ing mem­bers of Congress, much of the re­main­ing in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity it­self and even the White House?

What if the se­lec­tive use of the data ac­quired from mass sur­veil­lance can be used to ma­nip­u­late any­one by those who have ac­cess to the data? What if those who have ac­cess to the data have used it to ma­nip­u­late the pres­i­dent of the United States? What if all this con­sti­tutes a grave but largely un­seen threat to our lib­er­ties, not the least of which is the right to self-govern­ment?

What if we don’t re­ally gov­ern our­selves? What do we do about it?

What if the laws that Congress has writ­ten about the CIA have del­e­gated con­gres­sional power to a small, se­cret com­mit­tee of mem­bers from both houses of Congress and both po­lit­i­cal par­ties? What if that com­mit­tee can au­tho­rize se­cret wars in for­eign lands con­ducted not by the mil­i­tary but by the CIA?

ILLUSTRATION BY HUNTER

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