“You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson shouted at Tom Cruise during the climactic court-martial scene in the movie “A Few Good Men.”
Caught in a lie that exposed his “above-the-law” mentality, Nicholson’s character, Col. Jessup, justifies his lawlessness, declaring, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!”
It’s a riveting scene, pitting security against the rule of law. But before agreeing with Jessup that lawfulness conflicts with freedom, Think Again.
In fact, both truthfulness and equality under the law are essential to freedom, justice and the trust that binds civil society.
Because humans are wired to believe their ends are virtuous enough to justify immoral means, America’s founders designed a liberty-preserving system to thwart excessive government power.
Their revolutionary principles included limited government, popular consent and human equality, meaning no one — not a president, congressman, IRS official or Bureau of Land Management agent — can be the ruler over another because the government’s power is citizen-derived.
If this sounds quaint and obsolete, it’s because the federal bureaucracy has grown so autonomous, it constitutes a fourth branch of government. Dwarfing the other branches’ combined impact, its 15 departments, 452 agencies and 2,721,000 administrators produce 26,000-plus pages of regulations annually.
This increasingly powerful, unaccountable and hydra-headed bureaucracy can be deployed against countrymen with impunity — and virtual immunity. When weaponized to target and stifle divergent opinions, its capacity to wreak havoc should terrify every American, for where equality under the law goes, so goes freedom.
Whereas half of Americans viewed the government as a protector of individual liberty in December 2012, an April Rasmussen poll shows only one in five do now, while nearly three in five believe government threatens liberty.
Much blame goes to a politicized and unaccountable IRS — the omnipresent and invasive agency charged with tax collection and Obamacare enforcement. This week, the IRS is reeling from reports that it gave bonuses to 1,100 employees who didn’t pay their taxes, meaning taxpayers are rewarding tax collectors who are tax-cheats.
These revelations occur amidst the ongoing investigation of the IRS, which apologized last year for unfairly applying tax-exemption laws and abusing its power.
Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal what Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward said, “there’s obviously something there” at the IRS, adding, it’s “very unusual … for the president to ... say there is not a smidgen of evidence (of corruption) here.”
Despite stonewalled congressional investigations, we know the ex-chief of the IRS tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, was the lynchpin in a multi-agency effort to use the machinery of government against advocates of limited government.
Twice refusing to incriminate herself by testifying, Lerner is in contempt of Congress. Nevertheless, her emails reveal that the day before apologizing for the IRS’s “inexcusable” targeting of conservative groups, she was coordinating with Justice Department officials to criminally prosecute the same improperly targeted organizations.
We also know elected Democrats encouraged the discrimination, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee’s ranking member.
Calling Congress’ IRS investigation a witch-hunt, Cummings wants the case closed, an outcome virtually assured by the appointment of Democrat-donor Barbara Bosserman as lead investigator.
Among the scores of organizations trapped in the government’s dragnet was “True the Vote,” a vote-fraud watchdog group founded by Catherine Englebrecht that trains poll workers, registers voters and supports a voter-ID requirement. In 2010, it applied to the IRS for the same nonprofit status that similar social-welfare organizations readily obtained.
Since then, Englebrecht, her business, nonprofit organizations and family have endured an administrative Star Chamber, suffering time-consuming, expensive, high-pressure, KGB-like scrutiny by a syndicate of government agencies — including the FBI and the IRS — and by Cummings.
In her congressional testimony, Englebrecht evoked Patrick Henry’s “liberty or death” creed, declaring, “I will not ask for permission to exercise my Constitutional rights.” Refusing to rest until justice is served, she’s filed an ethics complaint against Cummings and a lawsuit against the IRS.
As Jessup learned upon his arrest, justice requires accountability, which depends on an active media, an informed citizenry and a shared belief that the truth and the rule of law matter.
All were present during Watergate, though not today. Instead we depend on embattled citizens like Englebrecht to fight for the truth in a system that decrees the law must apply equally to everyone, even government officials.
That’s why President Lincoln believed, “If given the truth, (Americans) can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
Think Again — Though we can’t vote out bureaucrats, shouldn’t we insist politicians stop granting evermore power to those, like Jessup, who believe they’re above the law?
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.