Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men…
William Allingham, “The Fairies”
Allingham’s poem isn’t about anything contemporary…or real. But those first four lines spoke to me a few minutes ago. Little men are a problem of immense significance today. And they show their actual faces about as often as Allingham’s fairies.
I suppose I should mention what brought this to mind:
Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida confirmed a report that newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson is fast-tracking the release of the security footage from the Jan. 6 rioting at the U.S. Capitol.
“I can confirm that this is true and something is in the works,” said Luna on social media Friday.
“We’re going to be releasing more and making it more available to the public,” she added in a second post.
Luna was referring to a statement from Blaze News investigative journalist Steve Baker, who said he was working with the speaker’s office for the release.
Baker said it was up to Johnson whether he would release all of the 40,000 hours of footage or part of it.
Blaze Media editor in chief Matthew Peterson said in a statement that he could not confirm a report from activist Ryan Fournier claiming all of the footage would be released to Blaze News.
Stipulate all the following, purely for the sake of argument:
- That Congresswoman Luna’s statements are accurate and sincere;
- That Speaker Mike Johnson does intend the release of the footage;
- That there are no Congressional or legal barriers Johnson must surmount to do so.
What about the little men? That is, the hirelings: the people who actually have the footage under their direct supervision and control? How shall we account for them and their participation? Do we have any sense for whether they would obey a direct order from Speaker Johnson to provide the footage to Blaze Media, or anyone else? What pressures might be brought to bear on them not to do so – and from what sources of pressure?
If you’re able, recall the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark: when the functionary in the enormous government warehouse wheels the crated Ark of the Covenant into the bowels of that warehouse to be lost to prying eyes. If you’re not able, it’s below:
Consider him the iconic “little man.” Only he knows where the Ark has been put…and he might not remember it a day or two hence. Indeed, he might choose not to remember it.
There’s been a lot of angry talk about the federal bureaucracies and their usurpation of powers the Constitution never even imagined. In John Conroe’s novel Forced Ascent, he gives the following line to a federal “fixer,” who seeks to exculpate her administration from having deliberately fired several sorts of weapons, including a space-based laser, at the protagonist:
“You have to understand that it’s a huge government with thousands of moving parts. There are over three thousand agencies, departments and private companies all working on defense and homeland security. It isn’t as clear cut as you might think.”
I submit that “thousands of moving parts” is a radical understatement. There are several million such “parts,” each of them a little man who must function as ordered for the people at the top to have their orders obeyed.
But there is no way to ensure that all those little men will do so. And many of them have agendas of their own.
Once again, I find that I must repeat this citation:
[United States Senator from Oklahoma David L.] Boren, formerly a state legislator and governor, went to Washington expecting to make some changes. “What impressed me most is the great power of the bureaucracy compared to that of elected officials. All the talk about growing control by the bureaucracy is not exaggerated. The shift in power is very real…. There is almost a contempt for elected officials.”…
Senator Boren found, to his surprise, that a Senator has great difficulty even getting phone calls returned by the “permanent” employees, much less getting responsive answers to his questions.
The voters can’t “throw the rascals out” anymore, because the main rascals are not elected but appointed….
Regulatory bureaucrats have extra power because they can outlast the elected officials. “Often,” Boren explains, “I’ve said to a bureaucrat, ‘You know this is not the president’s policy.’
’True, Senator, but we were here before he came, and we’ll be here after he leaves. We’re not in sympathy with his policy. We’ll study the matter until he leaves.’”
[From Armington and Ellis, MORE: The Rediscovery of American Common Sense.]
They can do it, Gentle Reader. The little men can do as they please, under laws and regulations that were sculpted to protect them from meaningful retribution. If a functionary in the chain of functionaries who would have to comply with a “release the footage” order should decide that it should not happen, then it won’t. The footage will be lost, corrupted, mislabeled, destroyed, what have you.
So while I’m willing to give Congresswoman Luna and Speaker Johnson the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions, I refuse to get my hopes up before the last stanza of this poem is read.
Have a nice day.