Maybe Orwell was right. Maybe we have entered that world he warned us about, and Ridley Scott so fabulously portrayed on Super Bowl Sunday, after all.
The slow incursion of PC-speak has been creeping upon us for years. My earliest recollections are from the mid 1980s, when I would routinely get into arguments with a certain friends liberal mother about the threat posed to society from the revisionist historians and speech police invading college campuses and our high schools. She of course, like any good member of the proletariat, denied its existence or concern.
I don't recall any awareness of its impending attack as far back as 1984 (the connections would have been obvious), but this was certainly on the radar by 1987-1988. However, for me to have caught on to what was occurring, when I was simply a punk teenager in the Jersey suburbs (prescient as I was of current events, even back then), means it must have been stewing for a couple of years at least among the left wing liberals terrified over Reagan's success against their Evil Empire.
Nevertheless, as damaging as PC-speak has been to society, Orwell's vision didn't fully threaten us until much more recently.
The attacks of September 11 brought about Congress's quick passage of the Patriot Act (Countertop's Law of Better Public Policy #1 - Whenever a tragic event gives rise to calls for immediate Congressional action, Members of Congress best serve the Republic by going back home, serving their famous bean soup in a homeless shelter, where they can't cause any harm, rather than f*#% things up more by showing up to work.) Since its passage, we have witnessed a frightening expansion of federal policing powers and the threat of an FBI more powerful than even J. Edgar Hoover could have imagined.
This expansion, and its concerns, are not the fault of any one person, but simply a product of Washington, D.C. itself. The President signed what Congress, in its best efforts under a short time frame, could draft. Attorney General Ashcroft, the scape goat of the hour, is simply doing his job by enforcing the law as its written. Most claims of abuse are overstated and based simply on misunderstanding the dynamics of federal bureaucracies. When they come from presidential aspirants with a deep knowledge of D.C., they are duplicitous, or more troubling, representative of a serious lack of intellectual capacity.
Will these powers continue to expand unchecked? Unfortunately, without a serious re-evaluation by Congress and the President, I think they will, and they could lead us into a world like that which Orwell warned about (well, maybe not exactly).
Now, its true, as some have pointed out, that the Patriot Act has been a corner stone of our success in the war on terror. I completely agree with this assertion and fully support its continued use. Furthermore, the inclusion of a sunset provision in the act was a most welcomed and rare sign of reason and foresight by our elected officials. However, I think its important that when Congress begins the process of reauthorizing it, that particular attention is paid to both oversight of the agencies under its jurisdiction, as well as inclusion of prophylactic measures to prevent its perversion by a runaway and unaccountable judiciary.
Government agencies are like the blob. They don't think, they just keep rolling along, absorbing all they can. As I mentioned earlier, when good, well intentioned citizens come to Washington, they take a few sips of the water and go native (thats why I drink bottled water).
In the hands of misguided bureaucrats, interested only in their own power and titles, the Patriot Act can become a dangerous tool. Transformed by a run away judiciary, its powers are frightening. Congress and the President need to proceed towards it reauthorization with due care, and should consider creation of an oversight body, not unlike the Office of Information and Regulatory Policy within the White House Office of Management and Budget, but located outside of Washington, D.C. to best protect its autonomy.
In the meantime, we can thank Apple Computer for reminding us that we still face these serious threats, though with slight, and very much 2004, difference.