The idea that the U.S. actually is ruled by a shadow unelected government is not new, but Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon is the latest person to say so.
Glennon calls the shadow government a “double government.” By that, Glennon isn’t referring to a conspiracy or the Illuminati or The Powers That Be, but what others have called by a less-loaded term, “the administrative state” — the vast federal government bureaucracies staffed by unelected, faceless officials who, in “administering” the U.S., make countless policy decisions every day that affect every facet of our lives.
Jordan Michael Smith, a liberal, writes for the Boston Globe, Oct. 18, 2014:
The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.
Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer….
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
… Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA….
How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.
IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?
GLENNON: …. I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.
IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?
GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.
The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”
IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?
GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences….
There is not only one explanation or one cause for the amazing continuity of American national security policy. But obviously there is something else going on when policy after policy after policy all continue virtually the same way that they were in the George W. Bush administration.
IDEAS: This isn’t how we’re taught to think of the American political system.
GLENNON: I think the American people are deluded…that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change….policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.
IDEAS: Do we have any hope of fixing the problem?
GLENNON:The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.
Where I disagree with Glennon, who is a liberal, are:
- Glennon confines the “double government” to only the national security sector. But if we use his own argument, since it’s the unelected government bureaucrats who actually make policies, the “double government” would pervade every sector of government, not just the Pentagon.
- Glennon‘s emphasis on the role played by the “double government” minimizes — and therefore excuses — actual decisions made by Obama (amnesty for illegals via executive orders), Congress (Obamacare), and the Supreme Court (gay marriage) which greatly impact every American’s life. Of course, once those policies are made, bureaucracies are created to implement and enforce the policies, and those bureaucracies will never go away. As an example, see the diagram below on the Byzantine labyrinth of government bureaucracies spawned by Obamacare.
↓ Click image to enlarge ↓
- “The Night Watchman,” an allegory about the enduring government bureaucracy.
- Obama’s amnesty: Illegals to take over America by creating ‘a country within a country’
- Obama has issued more executive orders than any U.S. president in history
- Judicial Tyranny: Dissenting opinions on Supreme Court’s ruling on homosexual marriage