King George III was no Hitler or Stalin, but because revolutions are glorified when they succeed we happily remember ours as a triumph over tyranny. That set a low bar for tyranny, and we still live with it.
David Brooks began his column in last Friday’s New York Times with a quote from Clinton Rossiter comparing government to fire: “Under control, it is the most useful of servants; out of control, it is a ravaging tyrant.” Brooks didn’t come right out and say that tyrant is now trampling our liberties, but he sees alarming signs. “Most government workers are amazingly dedicated and talented,” he allowed, but there are too many others who “far from checking their own desire for control, have taken it out for a romp.” His eye on recent IRS and Justice Department scandals, Brooks diagnosed a “culture of unrestraint” in Washington and worried that federal regulators writing new health-care and financial rules will “expand their reach beyond anything now imagined.”
The job of a headline writer is to get to the point the careful columnist might have only hinted at. The headline over Brooks’s column said bluntly: “When Governments Go Bad.”