Civil Liberties

'Trust Us,' Says the President, Even as the Government Proves It Can't Be Trusted


President Obama on the computer
White House

As Scott Shackford and Mike Riggs pointed out, President Obama returned, earlier today, to a favorite theme of his: insisting that Americans should trust the government. He did so even as that position becomes increasingly preposterous. While talking up his signature policy, the Affordable Care Act, which we'll just have to trust won't become the huge disaster it certainly looks to already be, the president was asked about revelations, this week, that the National Security Agency is scooping up information on Americans' telephoning habits and snooping on their Internet activity. But tradeoffs!, he said. You have to balance privacy and security. And we have top people on the job to make sure it's done right. You don't have to just trust us … but trust us.

From President Obama's speech in San Jose:

That's not to suggest that you just say, trust me; we're doing the right thing; we know who the bad guys are.  And the reason that's not how it works is because we've got congressional oversight and judicial oversight.  And if people can't trust not only the executive branch but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here.

Just weeks ago, the president hit us with this same astonishment that anybody could doubt the government's essential goodness during a speech at Ohio State University:

Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works.  They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.  You should reject these voices.  Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can't be trusted.

We have never been a people who place all of our faith in government to solve our problems; we shouldn't want to.  But we don't think the government is the source of all our problems, either.  Because we understand that this democracy is ours.  And as citizens, we understand that it's not about what America can do for us; it's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.  (Applause.)  And, Class of 2013, you have to be involved in that process.  (Applause.)  

The founders trusted us with this awesome authority.  We should trust ourselves with it, too. …

This is a continuing theme with the nation's chief executive, even now that we've discovered that the U.S. Justice Department has been snooping on the Associated Press and spying on Fox News reporter, James Rosen, while implying that his uncovering of information was somehow criminal. He urges us to place our trust in government officials even though we've also recently learned that this administration, like several before it, has presided over an Internal Revenue Service that targets its political enemies for special treatment.

The cinematically creepy and intrusive NSA is just the cherry on top.

Somebody needs to tell the president that it's not that a lack of trust in government leads to "some problems," it's that a litany of problems involving the use and abuse of government's coercive power have eroded any basis for trust.