Thursday, January 05, 2006
Preventing Tyranny: Part One
Okay, I tried not to rant at you too much, during the POE Period... (Peace on Earth... or Purity of Essence)... leading up to New Years. (Get the reference to the greatest movie ever made?)
And, yes. I gave the new year a few days to shape up and do better than 2005, without help from me. Alas, disappointed, I will now return to carping and criticizing and offering suggestions on how we might try to help things along. So, let’s get back to the issue that’s paramount... one that boils down to nothing less than saving civilization.
The political lamp is lit...
Let me offer you a few excerpts from “The Hidden State Steps Forward” by Jonathan Schell. (Published recently in THE NATION) Schell presents a highly aggressive piece about the President and his administration. But, unlike some lefty rants, this one is pure and crystalline cogency. Partly because he presents the issue not as one of left-right policy bickering, per se, but rather, as a matter of fundamental constitutionalism.
It is a complaint that any reasonable moderate might make. Proving that “moderation” need not mean tepid lack of passion. Not when the real culture war is fanaticism versus civilization.
“When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act."
“As justification, he offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?” ...
“The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of secrecy over these and other actions.”
“There is a name for a system of government that wages aggressive war, deceives its citizens, violates their rights, abuses power and breaks the law, rejects judicial and legislative checks on itself, claims power without limit, tortures prisoners and acts in secret. It is dictatorship.
“The Administration of George W. Bush is not a dictatorship, but it does manifest the characteristics of one in embryonic form. Until recently, these were developing and growing in the twilight world of secrecy. Even within the executive branch itself, Bush seemed to govern outside the normally constituted channels of the Cabinet and to rely on what Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff has called a "cabal." Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reported the same thing. Cabinet meetings were for show. Real decisions were made elsewhere, out of sight. Another White House official, John DiIulio, has commented that there was "a complete lack of a policy apparatus" in the White House. "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm." As in many Communist states, a highly centralized party, in this case the Republican Party, was beginning to forge a parallel apparatus at the heart of government, a semi-hidden state-within-a-state, by which the real decisions were made.”
-- Please go read the article in its entirety.
Now, first off, recall I am a heretic in the matter of government “spying” on the people. Unlike nearly every other opponent of the Bush Administration, I am far less incensed over their efforts -- through vehicles like the PATRIOT Act and the NSA -- to empower our paid protector caste (e.g. the FBI etc) with better access to wiretaps and other powers of surveillance. Their increased ability to see is inevitable, and not intrinsically worrisome. Indeed, in this new century, we will simply have to get used to the fact that elites will see very, very well. Get used to it.
But this need not be the end of freedom. What I hammer relentlessly is the point about reciprocal accountability -- that average citizens must fight, like demons, to retain our ability to look back! To ensure that the protector caste can never get away with spying or meddling or doing anything else unsupervised and unscrutinized by a citizenry who are both knowing and fiercely determined to the bosses of this civilization. To stay free.
Rather than focusing on a few rogue wiretaps, it is the Bushite frenzy for secrecy, dismantling every tool of accountability and oversight, that we should find far more terrifying.
The utter insanity of our situation cannot be over-emphasized. Ask ANY of your conservative friends what their reaction would have been, had Bill Clinton done 1/10 of any of these things. Take ANY ONE category. From busting the budget to relentless secrecy, demolition of our military readiness, torture, domestic spying, ruination of all our alliances, support for monopolies, the taking of bribes in exchange for pork contracts, interpreting every law as optional under the “Commander in Chief” clause, and utter destruction of international goodwill...
. . . .or the creation of a new category of human being called “enemy combatant.” One that has no legal rights, not even those guaranteed to prisoners of war. (Remind me to go into this further, in “comments.”)
Defy your conservative friends (the sincere ones) to close their eyes and imagine if Bill Clinton had done even a scintilla of any of these things... and tried to justify it all based on a state of “war” that not only was never declared, but that does not even exist.
Then remind them that, inevitably, another Clinton someday will re-take power in the see-saw rhythm of our democracy.
Do they really want the office of the presidency - regally empowered by such precedents - to behave in such ways, so secret and utterly unaccountable?
I mean it, go ask. Find the conservatives around you who are starting to twitch uncomfortably, their rationalizations turning strained and a bit shrill. These are people who know, deep down, that America -- and conservatism itself -- are in big trouble. Talk to them about all this from the perspective of conservatism! For example, their pragmatic need to prevent the kind of backlash that will put the left in power for decades! Grab them by the scruff of the neck and pose the “what if Clinton did this?” challenge.
It is time to make them face their duty. Tell them to stand up.
== Continue to Preventing Tyranny Part 2