By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO
I am not a fan of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. He presided over the politically conceived, patently unconstitutional, and anti-free market taxpayer bailouts of banks, automakers, and insurance companies in the latter part of the administration of former President George W. Bush, when he was the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and during the first term of President Obama, when he was the secretary of the Treasury.
In those years and still today he has argued that aggressive government intervention leads to a stronger financial system because the government will take risks with taxpayer money that the taxpayers themselves will not take with it. He believes in the use of government coercion, rather than the voluntary choices of consumers and investors.
Those of us who embrace the free market do so not only because it has produced more broad-based prosperity than any government has, but also because it offers the only moral system of financial exchanges for goods and services because in a truly free market every exchange is voluntary. Coercing money from taxpayers to pay for the failures of businesses is theft.
We also argue that the recession of 2008 was largely caused by the bursting of the housing bubble, and that bubble was induced by the government. The Federal Reserve, on whose board Geithner sat, commanded artificially low interest rates that encouraged wild speculative borrowing, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, those federal government garbage cans, used taxpayer dollars to buy all the bad loans the imprudent lenders could sell them. This, too, encouraged wild and speculative loans to people who could not afford to repay them.
But I write today not to rehash old arguments. Regrettably, the government today — the welfare and warfare states in which we Americans now live — is comfortably in the hands of progressives. With the exception of the Goldwater and early Reagan years, the leadership of both major political parties has been dominated by progressives — heavy progressives in the Democratic Party and light progressives in the Republican Party — since World War II.
These politicians are disciples of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, two presidents who turned the Constitution on its head.
James Madison stated that he wrote the Constitution conscious of the need to restrain the federal government — to limit it to the specific areas of governmental authority set forth in the Constitution and to guarantee areas free from all government regulation. Wilson and TR viewed the Constitution as liberating the federal government to do whatever its leadership wished, except when the Constitution expressly prohibits the wished-for behavior.
When it comes to understanding the powers of the federal government, Geithner is in the Wilson and TR camp. Those of us who believe in maximum individual liberty are in the Madison camp. Yet, Geithner tipped his hand a bit earlier this past week in a new memoir, and that tip caught the public’s attention.
The tip revealed that in 2009, shortly before his first round of interviews as Treasury secretary on the Sunday morning television network talk shows, Geithner endured a prep session administered to him by Dan Pfeiffer, then the senior adviser to Obama.
Pfeiffer instructed Geithner to suggest to the American public that Social Security is operating in the black and thus is not a contributing cause of the ballooning federal deficit. He stated that the president needed that message to go out to his base as a “dog whistle to the left” — meaning a signal to the president’s political base, the truth be damned.
Did Pfeiffer ask Geithner to lie? The secretary apparently thought so, even though the government’s fuzzy math can make red ink look black. Whatever the truth, Geithner’s version is that both he and Pfeiffer believed the ink was red, and when Pfeiffer asked him to deceive the public by claiming it was black, he declined.
This requested deception is telling. This is not spin. Spin is the artful use of words so that the speaker needn’t lie. Geithner believes he was being asked to tell a lie. Can the government morally remain silent to preserve human freedom? Of course it can. Can it deceive by lying to the public on a material matter? If it does, it will shatter the social contract it has with the people, and the officials who lie risk becoming a law unto themselves, because after they are caught, no one will believe them.
The Geithner allegations bring to sharper focus the litany of Obama administration lies. The president and his folks lied about Obamacare (“You can keep your doctor and your insurance,” the president proclaimed incessantly). They lied about the NSA spying (“No, sir,” Gen. James Clapper replied when asked before Congress whether the feds were engaged in massive government spying on innocent Americans). They lied about Benghazi (“It was a spontaneous eruption over an American film,” said former UN Ambassador Susan Rice).
The president even lied about lying (“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency”).
Can government officials legally lie? Regrettably, yes. The courts have ruled that the remedy for government lying is to vote it out of office, even when it prosecutes people for harmlessly doing what it has done to shatter its bonds with us. So, why were Roger Clemens and Martha Stewart prosecuted for petty lies about private matters that affected no one, and Clapper and Rice, who attempted to lull the country into a false sense of comfort, not prosecuted?
Perhaps because the president needed some dog whistles to the left, and Clapper and Rice provided them.
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(Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom.)