An hour ago First Read reported that, "President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring H1N1 influenza a national emergency"
There can be no doubt that national emergencies do occur. Whether the swine flu deserves the status of national emergency is a different question (see Ron Paul 's comments HERE). My concern is that the very concept of a national emergency is often more dangerous than the original emergency itself because it immediately orients citizens to surrender significant freedoms.
Classical Greece and Rome had a tradition of appointing a dictator during times of national emergency. After the crisis finished, the dictator would step down and government returned to normal, usually to some form republic or oligarchy. Following this tradition, modern leaders frequently appeal to times of real or alleged 'crisis' to persuade the populace to entrust them with powers that would normally be distributed. However, there is a crucial difference. During times of national crisis the ancients would be ruled by a person, but because we are ruled by laws rather than people, the augmented power required by a crisis has to first be legitimized by legislation. And here's the rub: the legislation does not step down after the crisis is over! A dictatorial leader, for all his potential faults, is just a man and if he refuses to step down at least he will sometime die. Dictatorial laws, on the other hand, potentially abide throughout the generations.
That is why moderns ought to be wary of national emergencies. Let's not forget that Rahm Emanuel said that the economic crisis was "an opportunity to do things you could not do before." The comment was made to business leaders assembled by the Wall Street Journal in November of last year. Emanuel went on to say, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
It has been a hallmark of American liberalism to use disasters (whether economic, military, environmental or domestic) as a means for increased government control. Knowing that most citizens value security over freedom, and are only too happy to sacrifice the latter if it can increase the former, lawmakers with totalitarian aspirations have never hesitated to greet crises as wonderful opportunities.
In his book Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg chronicles the most significant liberal administrations in modern American history, showing that it was through national calamities – real or imagined – that Americans were persuaded piecemeal to surrender their liberties. In this monument of historical research, Goldberg relates how a long line of Presidents progressively scared the American public into accepting the bloated power of the executive branch as the only alternative to various crises. Barack Obama is well versed in these scare same tactics. On the first of the month, the (then) President-elect warned an audience at George Mason University of the dire consequences that would occur if Congress failed to adopt his stimulus package. Like his statist forefathers, Obama waves the magic wand of government as the only solution. As he put it, “only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.” Ignoring other credible solutions to the economic downturn – such as returning to the gold standard or abolishing the federal reserve system that caused the recession in the first place – Obama wanted Americans to believe that the only answer is to trust officialdom with control of our finances.
Similarly now: when I heard that the swine flu has presented us with a national emergency, I began holding my breath, waiting to hear what new government powers are necessary to save us from destruction. I didn't have to wait long to find out. In his well-researched article "The Threat of Mandatory Vaccinations," Adam Murdock, MD pointed out that
"House bill 492 [of Pennsylvania] proposes emergency powers to “compel a person to submit to a physical examination or testing, or both, as necessary to diagnose or treat the person.” This is to be done “without resort to judicial or quasi-judicial authority.” This legislation will also require that “any physician or other health care provider to perform the medical examination or testing, or both” under penalty of law. In addition, “the public health authority may, for such period as the state of public health emergency exists, compel a person to be vaccinated or treated, or both, for an infectious disease.” In other words, the rights of the patient and physician can be removed solely because a government public health authority believes a health emergency is imminent. This dictatorial power is to be accomplished without any judicial review.
If the swine flue is creating a state of national crisis, perhaps it is a crisis of a different sort. It is a crisis, not of health, but of freedom, brought on by a nation of citizens who would rather be safe than free.
It is at such times that Benjamin Franklin's words should be written on every street corner: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety."