What if our belief in self-government is a belief in a myth? What if the election of one political party over the other to control Congress changes only appearances? What if taxes stay high and regulations stay pervasive and the government stays oppressive and presidents fight wars no matter what the politicians promise and no matter who wins elections? What if the true goal of those whom we elect to Congress is not to be our agents of self-government or even to preserve our personal liberties but to remain in power by getting re-elected?
What if they use government to aid their own re-elections by bribing us with our own money - the rich with bailouts, the middle class with tax breaks and the poor with transfer payments?
What if Congress has written laws that are too complex for its own members to read and understand? What if the language of most federal laws is intentionally arcane so that ordinary voters cannot understand it? What if that language is actually written by faceless bureaucrats and not by accountable members of Congress? What if members of Congress in fact rarely read any legislation before voting on it? What if some legislation refers to secrets and secret procedures that only a few members of Congress are permitted to see and utilize?
What if when the select few members of Congress who are permitted to see those secrets do see them, those members are themselves sworn to secrecy? What if that means that our elected representatives - our supposed agents of self-government in the government - do not fully know what the government is doing and that even if they do, they can't legally tell us?
What if our representatives in Congress don't really represent us? What if they really represent a political party? What if each political party is controlled by a small leadership group that punishes members who defy it? What if Congress has written laws and rules that permit its leaders to punish members' defiance? What if another way to characterize defiance of political party leadership is political courage?
What if the laws that Congress has written about the CIA have delegated congressional power to a small, secret committee of members from both houses of Congress and both political parties? What if that committee can authorize secret wars in foreign lands conducted not by the military but by the CIA? What if the reason these folks authorize the CIA and not the military to conduct secret wars is the existence of federal laws that require reporting to and a vote of the entire Congress for the military to be used but require only the small, secret committee to approve for the CIA to be used?
Because wars cost money and often cost lives, what if the effect of the decisions of the small, secret committee is that the committee is basically a Congress within Congress? What if the Constitution says that only Congress can spend tax dollars and declare wars, but Congress has let the Congress within Congress do this? What if the voters will never know what the Congress within Congress has authorized? What if the very existence of the Congress within Congress mocks, defies and betrays the concept of American self-government?
What if the data seen and discussed and the decisions made in secret by the Congress within Congress are generated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies? What if these intelligence agencies selectively reveal and selectively conceal data to manipulate the decisions of the Congress within Congress? What if those manipulations often result in bloodshed about which the American people often never learn? What if the bases for the decisions of the Congress within Congress are kept from the other members of Congress, from the media and from the voters?
What if the folks from both political parties who set up the Congress within Congress care more about wielding power than they do about preserving self-government? What if those who pull the levers of power in the intelligence community are so far removed from the voters that they don't know and don't care what the voters think? What if they know that the voters would react forcefully and decisively if the voters knew what the members of the Congress within Congress know but they still won't tell us?
What if all this diversion of power from the elected Congress to the Congress within Congress and all this reliance on secret data has resulted in the most pervasive surveillance by any government of any people at any time in world history? What if the federal government's domestic surveillance today captures and retains digital copies of every telephone call and every computer keystroke of every person in America and has done so since 2005? What if members of Congress who are not in the Congress within Congress do not know this?
What if the Congress within Congress has authorized American spies to spy without personal suspicion or judicial warrant on the military, the courts, the police and every person in America, including the remaining members of Congress, much of the remaining intelligence community itself and even the White House?
What if the selective use of the data acquired from mass surveillance can be used to manipulate anyone by those who have access to the data? What if those who have access to the data have used it to manipulate the president of the United States? What if all this constitutes a grave but largely unseen threat to our liberties, not the least of which is the right to self-government?
What if we don't really govern ourselves? What do we do about it?
• Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is a contributor to The Washington Times. He is the author of seven books on the U.S. Constitution.