Those who keep up on theological discussions are proably familiar with the derisive term "cafeteria Christianity." It is usually leveled by conservative clergy and theologians against their liberal counterparts as a way of alleging slective interpretation of scripture: You pick and choose what you want Christ's word to be, and disregard the rest. (AKA "grocery store" Christianity: Pick what you want off the shelves, put it in your cart and be on your way, passing by the remainder of the items.)
I suppose lefty outfits such as the National Council of Churches could accuse the Southern Baptist Convention and their ilk of exercising cafeteria Christianity in the opposite direction, but that's a discussion for another day.
Today I'd like to coopt the cafeteria metaphor to describe the Obama administration's adherence to our nation's founding document: The U.S. Constitution.
In recent months, we have learned about the administration's wholesale contempt for the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Rather than British redcoats beating down the door and rifling through papers and documents, this is a high-tech version: getting Internet service providers and telecommunication companies to provide information on personal emails and telephone calls of millions of innocent Americans (no real need for a "seizure" if you can cow companies into cooperating via the implicit threat of hellish harassment for those who resist), and searching through those records (data mining) in hopes of finding that needle in a haystack.
The Internal Revenue Service is also getting in on the game, exercising its role as thought police and also shredding the First Amendment. While determining the eligibility of various Patriot and Tea Party groups for tax exempt status, IRS employees pried deeply into group members' personal lives with intrusive questions about religious beliefs and prayer meetings outside of Planned Parenthood clincis. One agent was caught on tape telling an applicant, "Keep your faith to yourself."
Let's face it, the federal tax code is so enormous in size and complexity, it is like one giant orchard of low hanging fruit beckoning to tax lawyers and accountants who have 100 percent fealty to the O-man's statist vision.
Then there's that political football of constitutional phrases, the "general welfare" clause found in the preamble to the constitution. It grants Congress the power to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare" of the United States.
In the minds of many progressives who love big government, "general welfare" is a Christmas tree grab bag of entitlements and goodies to pay off cronies and campaign donors. They don't pay much heed to the 10th Amendment, which states,"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people."
In some cases, the administration doesn't necessarily expand and broaden its constitutional power; it ignores certain laws (many of which directly stem from constitutional principles), such as deciding to ease enforcement of U.S. immigration laws so young illegal immigrants can remain in the country to work and study without fear of deportation. Just another end run around Congress for the O-man.
Many Republicans, such as Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, are in favor of the NSA's heavy-handed activities. Rogers has taken to the airwaves to trumpet how 54 terrorist attacks have been prevented through use of this type of surveillance. But as my esteemed co-blogger, K.N. McBride, noted a few weeks ago, "all the data-mining in the world is useless without the will to do anything with it."
A heavy surveillance routine failed to stop terrorist attacks such as the Boston bombers last April and Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in November 2009. Moreover, as the IRS scandal clearly illustrates, more personal and private information in the hands of government invites abuse. This is partly due to human nature — federal bureaucrats are always looking to score brownie points with their supervisors in hopes of getting promoted. But it's also due to the fact that, generally speaking, lifetime government bureaucrats tend to be on the left end of the political spectrum.
In retrospect, I was naive and didn't think things through when I supported enactment of the Patriot Act in 2002. I should have followed my general rule of thumb: When conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats line up and push through legislation, watch out! Turns out, many of the functions of the Department of Homeland Security were already being performed by other government agencies. The amount of duplication, overlap and waste (not to mention destructive "turf wars" among the egotists) ... this is an obscenity and permanent blot on our nation.
We are fast approaching the point, with surveillance cameras everywhere, marketers monitoring our purchases, and the NSA, IRS and FBI prying into everything under the sun, where we will have a metaphorical "armed guard on every corner." In the literal sense, an armed guard on every corner could make you a LOT safer (especially on the east side of Detroit or south side of Chicago). But in many neighborhoods, it would be useless and expensive overkill. Ditto for the current practices of massive electronic surveillance. The sad thing is, the cat's out of the bag (or the milk has already spilled on the floor, whichever metaphor you prefer).
A difficult and tortuous road lies ahead. George Orwell was right; he was just off by about three decades.