Blinded by the Story: Liberals and Progressives as Political Creationists
The vanishingly small number of Americans who genuinely desire liberty and peace, and who also understand what those great values require in terms of both political theory and political reality, have desperately grasped at any sign, no matter how miniscule, that a sufficient number of their fellow citizens might awake in time to prevent the ultimate catastrophe. There is no reason of any significance to find such signs any longer.
Americans now reside in the Land of the Living Dead. For the moment, the dim, blurred forms of a constitutional republic remain, but they are entirely empty and drained of life and vitality. We continue to go through the meaningless rituals of elections, many of us trying to convince ourselves that one party might be even a slight improvement over the other. As I pointed out before last fall's election, such hopes rely on willful self-delusion and an all-encompassing ignorance of history. As I have also said more than once, my estimate of how awful the Democrats' performance would be even if they took back both the House and the Senate -- and it was very awful -- has proved, in the event, to be laughably generous.
Please note -- and I underscore this point at least five times for emphasis -- that I absolutely do not include those individuals who so tirelessly work for Democratic electoral victory among those Americans who truly value liberty or peace. The criminal who currently resides in the White House and his fellow gang members may have taken the lead in destroying the remnants of our freedoms -- but they were supported and enabled every step of the way by the "opposition" party. From the Patriot Act, through both Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, and on to the monstrous Military Commissions Act, the Democrats offered enthusiastic support for the metastasizing authoritarian state or, when they meekly attempted to slow the tide, they fought in the manner of a skeletally thin imitation of a human being, about to fall over and finally expire due to a fatal lack of moral and spiritual nourishment.
The Democrats and their wholly-owned subsidiary (and one wonders if and to what extent they are compensated, financially and/or in terms of promised "influence," for their diligent and conscientious efforts), the much-lauded liberal-progressive "netroots" -- which is to say, bloggers of the kind represented by Atrios, Digby and their fellow travelers on this road leading straight to hell -- make much of the authoritarian approach and style of the current "conservative" movement. To be sure, today's conservatives manifest certain distinctive characteristics (which I have discussed in some detail myself, as in this post about David Brooks and one of his intellectual forebears, Joseph de Maistre). But in terms of the most critical fundamental principles, there is no difference whatsoever between the Republicans and the Democrats as institutions of power in the U.S. political system as it has developed over the last hundred years.
The latest example of the identity of means and ends shared by both major political parties is the FISA legislation, which the Senate approved by a wide margin yesterday. The difference between the Democrats and Republicans is now only one of style and emphasis, perhaps best expressed in the following manner. The Democrats will say to the American people: "You want us to keep you safe. You say you want 'security,' and to hell with liberty. You got it! We'll keep you safe, but that means we need a lot more power, despite the fact that all the power the government already had didn't prevent 9/11 -- but remember how much more competent we are than those lousy Republicans -- and even though we all keep telling you even more power won't prevent future terrorist attacks. But we'll do our best, provided you give us limitless power to do whatever we want. And while we're at it, we'll make sure to provide health insurance for your kids! Wotta deal, huh?"
And to this, the Republicans reply: "Nobody is better at keeping you safe than we are! Sure we screwed up on 9/11, but we're ready for those bastards now! And there haven't been any more attacks here in the Heitmatland since then, have there? But just to be sure, we need a lot more power, too! Oh, a few attacks will still almost certainly happen and we can't protect you against everything, but we do a hell of a better job than those limp-wristed, terrorist-coddling Democrats. Health insurance for your kids? We're at war, you wimp, and the war is for civilization itself. If your kids get killed by those SOBs, health insurance won't matter much, will it? Screw the insurance."
But they both agree that the government must be empowered to do whatever it wants, with no constraints at all, even if those constraints are imposed by the Constitution itself. Let's note a few passages from one story about this FISA legislation:
The Senate bowed to White House pressure last night and passed a Republican plan for overhauling the federal government's terrorist surveillance laws, approving changes that would temporarily give U.S. spy agencies expanded power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order.
The 60 to 28 vote, which was quickly denounced by civil rights and privacy advocates, came after Democrats in the House failed to win support for more modest changes that would have required closer court supervision of government surveillance. Earlier in the day, President Bush threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted.
The legislation, which is expected to go before the House today, would expand the government's authority to intercept without a court order the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States who are communicating with people overseas.
As currently written, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act already gives U.S. spies broad leeway to monitor the communications of foreign terrorism suspects, but the 30-year-old statute requires a warrant to monitor calls intercepted in the United States, regardless of where the calls begin or end.
Sixteen Democrats and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) joined all 43 Republicans in supporting the measure, which is nearly identical to a proposal prepared by the Bush administration. "We're at war. The enemy wants to attack us," Lieberman said during the Senate debate. "This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection."
Privacy advocates accused the Democrats of selling out and charged that this bill gives the government more authority than it had under a controversial warrantless wiretapping program begun in secret after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Under that program, the government could conduct surveillance without judicial oversight only if it had a reason to believe that one party to the call was a member of or affiliated with al-Qaeda or a related terrorist organization. This bill drops that condition, they noted.
Democrats "have a Pavlovian reaction: Whenever the president says the word 'terrorism,' they roll over and play dead," said Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, predicted that the bill's approval would lead to the monitoring of ordinary Americans by the National Security Agency, which conducts most of the government's electronic surveillance. "If this bill becomes law, Americans who communicate with a person abroad can count on one thing: The NSA may be listening," he said.
Adding to the urgency for the administration is a secret ruling by a FISA judge earlier this year that declared surveillance of purely foreign communications that pass through a U.S. communications node illegal without a court-approved warrant -- a requirement that intelligence officials have described as unacceptably burdensome.
On that last point, please note that this FISA legislation follows the same pattern as the Military Commissions Act: the administration demanded new legislation to exempt it from the "restrictions" ( i.e., constitutional requirements) imposed by a court decision -- and the Democrats either failed to mount any serious opposition (in the case of the MCA), or they failed to oppose the administration and supplied their own votes to ensure the legislation was passed by an overwhelming majority (in the case of FISA). In both instances, the Democrats had been on notice for several years that the battle was coming; both times, they were completely unprepared and allowed the administration to stampede them into passing bills that are abominable in every respect.
I must immediately interject that to discuss these issues with regard to FISA is ludicrous in a much deeper sense. As Jonathan Turley explains here, FISA itself is a secret court whose very purpose is to circumvent the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The FISA court is no protection against illegitimate government intrusion at all. But as Turley notes, that we are fighting over whether to grant the executive branch and FISA still more untrammeled authority to disregard constitutional rights is a measure of how far we have already marched toward tyranny. And look at this chart to see just how compliant the FISA court is.
Once again, the leading liberal bloggers profess utter bafflement in response to the Democrats' actions. Several days ago, Atrios wrote:
Don't Get It
I'm really not sure why the Dems are even bothering to pretend (or, jeebus, not pretending) to take Bush seriously on this FISA stuff. He's been breaking the law for years.
Yesterday, in a post decrying the great haste with which the Democrats moved to accede to the administration's demands (which is, I note again, precisely what the Democrats did with regard to the MCA), Digby said -- with "Deep, Heavy, Sigh" (just so we know exactly how distressed she is):
Obviously, I'm not the only one who can't for the life of me figure out why the congress is doing this.
I suggest we take these leading lights of the progressive blogs at their word: they most certainly do not get it, and they absolutely cannot "for the life of [them] figure out why the congress is doing this."
I also note that, following the Senate cave-in, Atrios has dubbed Harry Reid the "Wanker of the Day." Will all this diminish in even the smallest degree Atrios's, or Digby's, or any other leading progressive blogger's efforts to ensure a huge Democratic victory in 2008? Of course not.
The reason for that is very simple, and it goes to the progressives' central articles of religious faith: The Democrats aren't really like this, not in their heart of hearts. The Democrats don't actually favor a repressive, authoritarian state. The Democrats are good, and they want liberty and peace for everyone, everywhere, for eternity, hallelujah and amen.
People who continue to believe this have evicted themselves from serious political debate, and they have willingly made themselves slaves to their enthusiastically embraced self-delusions. They confess a comprehensive ignorance of history, a stunning inability to understand the political developments of the last century, and a desire to place the story they have chosen, primarily because it flatters their own false sense of vanity and self-worth, above every relevant fact. In terms of these dynamics, they are no different from Sam Brownback and his ludicrous defense of his religious beliefs against the evidence of evolution. As I wrote (and this essay can be considered the concluding part of that article):
This is primacy of the story, offered in very clear fashion and without apology. Note carefully the methodology that Brownback endorses. He tells us "that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome" -- that is, the story Brownback chose long ago, completely apart from whatever the relevant evidence might show, has told us the most critical conclusions in advance: that man "was not an accident" and is "unique" in the entire universe. But it's the additional part of the methodology that is the intellectual censor, and the psychological killer: only "[t]hose aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth" are to be permitted, while anything and everything that "undermine[s] this truth" must be "rejected."
It must be noted that Atrios and Digby (and many other liberal and progressive bloggers) are obviously intelligent; on occasion, they are unusually perceptive on narrower questions. But when the story upon which we insist is used to trump history and facts, even when those facts continue to scream in our faces every day, even intelligent people render themselves functionally stupid. As a result, they "don't get it," and they cannot begin to understand why the Democrats act as they do. From the earlier essay concerning Brownback:
Let me just indicate an important related point, one I will return to in further detail in the series on tribalism in politics [a series I hope to begin in the next week or two, and for which this may be considered a preview]. Brownback's article, and all those who offer similar kinds of "arguments," illustrate this point with considerable force. Whenever a preexisting and preselected narrative assumes primary importance in this way, the longer one clings to the preferred story, the stupider one becomes. This is why the truth or falsity of the stories we tell is so critical, and why our methodology matters so much. If a story that is central to our view of ourselves fails to comport with the facts, and if we refuse to give up or even question the story, this necessitates that we block ourselves off from more and more information that might "undermine" that story, to use Brownback's terminology. Rather than eagerly seeking out further facts and trying to find out if a given story remains accurate or needs to be significantly revised (and sometimes even jettisoned altogether), we will lower our heads, narrow the scope of our inquiry, and progressively restrict the kind of data we permit ourselves to examine and even acknowledge. As time goes on, our intellectual curiosity steadily decreases. We won't want certain facts and information, because we might have to wonder whether particular cherished beliefs are correct.
Brownback has his story, which he refuses to give up or even to question: "Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order." And most liberals and progressives have their story, which they also refuse to surrender: Democrats are genuinely on the side of liberty and peace. If they act in ways that are inimical to those ends, there must be some explanation of which we are unaware. Some other factor must be making them do it, because they would refuse to behave in that manner if they could act in accord with their deepest convictions.
To believe that the Democrats are dedicated to peace and opposed to non-defensive, needless war and overseas intervention, one must blind oneself entirely to the history I have examined in great detail in my continuing "Dominion Over the World" series. See Parts I, III, and VI in particular. Woodrow Wilson grafted two important elements onto United States foreign policy: an insistence that the U.S. is the "indispensable" nation necessary to ensure worldwide peace and stability, and a messianic "idealism" that trumpets "American exceptionalism." To maintain that the current Bush invented these aspects of our conduct overseas is to pretend that Wilson never existed. And look again at the attacks and invasions the United States has launched since World War II, as listed by Jim Bovard:
Dominican Republic 1965-66
The wars, covert operations, coups and assassinations went on uninterrupted, regardless of which party controlled the executive and legislative branches of government. The Democrats are devoted to peace? Try to be serious. But because the progressives will not give up their story, they continue to say they cannot understand why we are in Iraq -- when the invasion and occupation of Iraq are the logical and inevitable result of the decades-long bipartisan drive to American hegemony. Similarly, Digby cannot grasp why the Democrats continue to make an attack on Iran all but inevitable (a development I noted here):
I cannot believe that the Democrats voted for this en masses on the merits. It had to be a deal of some sort, or some kind of assurance from the powers that be or something that I'm just not getting. I'm usually pretty good at figuring out the kabuki of these inexplicable legislative actions but in this case, I'm stumped.
Digby concludes the post by confirming her ultimate bafflement: "I don't get it." Truer words...
As for the notion that Democrats are dedicated to individual liberty, we must look again at Wilson's deplorable and thoroughly repellent record, as summarized by Robert Higgs:
During World War I, the Wilson administration took sweeping actions to suppress not only individuals' freedom of action but even their freedom of expression. The 1918 Sedition Act must be read to be believed. Under it, one might be, as some 2,000 persons were, prosecuted for daring to "utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States, or any language intended to bring the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United Sates into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute." Nor was this all the statute forbade!
When convictions under the Sedition Act were challenged in the courts, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the statute. To his eternal shame, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote: "When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right." This decision and others upholding unconstitutional measures undertaken by the Wilson administration might strike the proverbial Man from Mars as odd, because the Constitution itself makes no provision for its own evisceration during wartime or other crisis, yet time and again during national emergencies the justices have allowed the legislative branch and especially the executive branch of government to transcend their constitutionally enumerated powers and to nullify individual rights proclaimed in the Constitution.
Here are further details of Wilson's destruction of freedom and civil liberties, from an essay I wrote over three years ago (this excerpt is from Thomas Fleming's book, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I:
In Congress...another brawl raged over an "omnibus bill" that gave the president wide powers to deal with spies, saboteurs and other forms of subversion; to control exports of materials that might be needed for the war effort; and to bar "treasonous" materials from the mail. The quarrel erupted when senators spotted in the middle of the bureaucratese the president's demand for the power to censor the nation's newspapers. Almost as infuriating was an appropriation of $100 million to fund the Committee on Public Information--with no accounting to Congress on how this large sum would be spent. Republicans--and many newspapers--were already viewing Creel's committee as a Wilson publicity machine.
Woodrow Wilson's low opinion of the press and fears of its supposed distortions had not been assuaged by George Creel's arguments in favor of government expression. The president's demand for censorship powers had Democratic support, but Republican progressives such as Senator Hiram Johnson of California went berserk over this attempt to repeal the First Amendment. Predictably, the New York Times and other papers agreed, calling the "spy" bill a tyrannous measure. ...
After weeks of wrangling, in which the president was repeatedly described as a would-be tyrant by the Republicans, Congress finally voted down the sweeping censorship powers Wilson demanded. But the lawmakers left in the hands of the postmaster general the authority to decide which newspapers were seditious and liable to prosecution. The Committee on Public Information also emerged with its power to control official war news largely intact. Even more worrisome--and largely ignored by the bill's opponents--was a passage stating that anyone who made "false reports or false statements with the intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces" or interfered with the recruiting of those forces would be subject to a $10,000 fine and twenty years in jail.
These words would soon inflict misery on thousands of Americans. The sponsors of the bill brushed aside worries about free speech expressed by some members of Congress. They were told that "policies of the government and [the] acts of its officers" would always be open to criticism. Only makers of "willfully false" statements would be prosecuted.
Elsewhere in the United States, the reality of the war was being brought home to people in less heroic ways. At Columbia University in New York, President Nicholas Murray Butler fired two professors, one for working with antiwar groups, the other for petitioning Congress not to send draftees overseas. The New York Times praised Butler for "doing his duty" by striking this blow against "disloyalty." Historian Charles A. Beard resigned in protest. Many other colleges soon followed Butler's lead, firing professors who declined to support the war.
[L]ike most Americans, including the president, [Attorney General Thomas W.] Gregory was convinced that the country swarmed with German secret agents and homegrown admirers of Kaiser Wilhelm. How to track them down was the problem. ...
The answer to Gregory's predicament emerged in Chicago, where a middle-aged businessman named Alfred M. Briggs offered to recruit twenty or thirty affluent men of his vintage who would hunt spies and other hidden enemies of the war effort gratis. They would even provide their own automobiles. ...The [Bureau of Investigation] head listened attentively while Briggs proposed a nationwide organization, the American Protective League (APL), which would operate under cover as "Secret Service Divisions" in cities and towns throughout the United States.
Bielaski swiftly persuaded Attorney General Gregory to approve this bad idea. By June the APL had 250,000 activists in its ranks and was rooting out dissent in six hundred cities and towns. It was ridiculously easy to join. A dollar bought a man membership and entitled him to call himself part of the "Secret Service."
Local APL leaders were usually prominent men in their communities--bankers, lawyers, clergymen. Unfortunately, their presumably good education did not include a course on the Bill of Rights. Their methods frequently involved opening suspects' mail, burglarizing their homes and offices, tapping their telephones and planting listening devices in their parlors and bedrooms. ...After the APL turned out in massive force to make sure there were no disruptions on draft registration day, Gregory told the president he thought they were a wonderful group of 100 percent Americans, and Wilson dropped the subject [of whether the APL should be stopped]. ...
The government also played a direct role in suppressing dissent. ... In Boston, labor union members staged a protest parade down Tremont Street, near the Common. They carried banners such as : "If This Is a Popular War Why Conscription? We Demand Peace!" The paraders were attacked by well-organized squads of soldiers and sailors commanded by uniformed officers. For three hours the military pursued, clubbed, kicked and battered the paraders, often forcing them to kiss the American flag on their knees. Afterward, the police, who watched the fracas in bemusement, arrested five of the marchers on charges of assault and battery. The Boston Journal called the riot a disgrace that would "harden the hearts of our already numerous skeptics of our war for democracy."
In West Virginia, the state secretary of the Socialist Party wrote a pamphlet attacking the draft as a foreshadowing of a "militarized America." He got six months in jail. In Philadelphia, another socialist was sentenced to six months in jail for possession of an antiwar pamphlet, Long Live the Constitution of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the sentence; liberal Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes affirmed the legality of the Espionage Act under the doctrine that in time of war, antigovernment critics can be "a clear and present danger" to victory.
At first, some judges dismissed charges against men and women who distributed literature or spoke out against the draft. Popular among the protesters was the pamphlet The Price We Pay, which described the war in France in horrific terms. In Albany, a man named Pierce gave a copy to one John Scully, who was holding forth against the draft in a saloon. Scully was working undercover for the American Protective League, and Pierce was soon in jail. His indictment declared that the statements in the pamphlet, which included a diatribe against fighting for J.P. Morgan, were "wholly false and untrue." Therefore Pierce was obstructing the war effort. When Pierce was convicted, this interpretation of the little-noticed clause in the Espionage Act swiftly became gospel in courts across the country.
I can't remember now who it was, but I recall that a very wise observer once noted that when Wilson proclaimed World War I a "crusade" to make the world "safe for democracy," he appeared to omit the United States from his calculations.
And here is Higgs on the record amassed by the greatest Democrat of them all -- and therefore and without question the greatest defender of liberty and peace -- Franklin Roosevelt:
World War II became the occasion for unprecedented repressive actions by the U.S. government. More than 10 million young men-about 63 percent of all those who served in the armed forces during the war-were drafted to fight, and hundreds of thousands of them died or suffered serious wounds. The government imprisoned nearly 6,000 conscientious objectors, most of them Jehovah's Witnesses, who refused to obey the conscription laws. Totally without due process of law, the government confined some 112,000 innocent persons of Japanese ancestry, most of them U.S. citizens, in concentration camps in desolate areas of the west. Perceived enemies of FDR's administration came under surveillance by the FBI, whose special-agent ranks mushroomed from 785 to 4,370 during the war.
The government built a massive apparatus of economic controls between 1941 and 1945 and displaced free markets for the duration. No one should pooh-pooh the wartime economic controls because they entailed a sacrifice of "mere" economic liberties, as opposed to "precious" civil liberties. Men were sent to prison for violating price controls, and people were displaced from their homes to make way for military construction projects. Wartime taxation itself was no trivial assault.
To pay for the gargantuan munitions production, the government imposed new taxes and raised the rates of existing taxes to unprecedented heights. Payroll withholding of income taxes was instituted, as portentous an action as any, because it created a virtually automatic means of snatching people's earnings and thereby greatly facilitated the government's subsequent financing of its ever-growing expenditures. Despite the vastly increased taxation, the government had to borrow most of its wartime revenue, and the national debt swelled by $200 billion (equivalent to roughly ten times that amount in today's dollars), or about fivefold, creating liabilities that would hover over taxpayers ever afterward.
Let us pass over several of the subsequent decades, even though the destruction of liberty continued apace (and the wars also continued, as noted above), and consider just one of Bill Clinton's many contributions to the defense of individual freedom, as explained by the indispensable Jim Bovard. Please note that the title of Bovard's article is, "The Hypocritical War on Terrorism" -- and it dates from December 1996:
President Clinton is continuing to agitate for new powers to suppress terrorists. He is demanding more powers for wiretaps, more powers to prevent people from using encryption for their e-mail, more powers to classify normal crimes as terrorist offenses, and so forth. As usual, Clinton's solution to every problem is more power for himself and his cronies. Clinton has scorned opponents of his terrorist proposals, claiming that they want to "turn America into a safe house for terrorists." ...
Further evidence of the political abuse of the terrorist issue comes from comments by FBI Director Louis Freeh last year. Freeh repeatedly portrayed the new wiretap powers as vital in the fight against terrorism. But a report by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in May revealed that the FBI and other federal agencies have dismally failed to use existing legal authority against domestic terrorist groups. Though the federal and state governments imposed a record number of wiretaps in 1994 (1,154), not a single wiretap was installed in the pursuit of arsonists, bombers, or gun-law violators. No such wiretap against alleged terrorists has been requested since 1988. The vast majority of wiretaps were targeted against drug and gambling criminals.
Further evidence of Clinton's hunger for more power is clear in his proposed antiterrorism bill. David Kopel and Joseph Olson recently observed in the Oklahoma City Law Review:
"The new terrorism bill defines virtually any crime as 'terrorism,' whether or not related to actual terrorism. 'Terrorist' offenses are defined as follows: any assault with a dangerous weapon, assault causing serious bodily injury, or any killing, kidnapping, or maiming, or any unlawful destruction of property. Snapping someone's pencil, breaking someone's arm in a bar fight, threatening someone with a knife, or burning down an outhouse would all be considered 'terrorist' offenses. Any attempt to perpetrate any of these terrorist crimes would be subject to the same punishment as a completed offense. Even a threat to commit the offense (i.e., 'One of these days, I'm going to snap your pencil') is likewise labeled 'terrorism.' The extra federal power created by the legislation is superfluous to genuine anti-terrorism. It was already a serious federal felony to make a real terrorist threat, as by threatening to set off a bomb, or to assassinate the president."
Clinton and Democratic congressional candidates this year are making political hay over the fact that the Republicans have not yet kowtowed to this particular Clinton power-grab.
Clinton's proposed antiterrorism legislation also greatly expands federal wiretap authority. The Clinton administration wiretap legislation would allow the use of illegal wiretaps in federal court and would also allow "roving wiretaps" — covering a large number of pay phones in the hopes of catching some lawbreaker. There is widespread fear among both liberals and conservatives that the Clinton administration could use the new wiretap authority to go after vast numbers of critics of government policy who pose no threat of violence.
Clinton's proposed legislation would allow wiretaps against suspected violators of any federal law. Jamie Gorelick, a deputy assistant attorney general, fanned such flames on May 3, 1995, when she told House International Relations Committee that tax protesters could be one type of "criminal" targeted by the expanded wiretap authority. ...
The Clinton administration also announced that it had issued a new interpretation of the guidelines under which the FBI surveils domestic political organizations. The revised guidelines will give the FBI a green light to infiltrate far more private groups and political organizations. Assistant Attorney General Gorelick told the Senate Judiciary Committee that even "without a reasonable indication of a crime, a preliminary indication can be undertaken" and "you could use informants and you could collect information, and then determine whether you have reasonable indication for a full-fledged investigation."
Another example of politicians' hunger to increase federal power over terrorism comes from a bill by Rep. Charles Schumer to create new mandatory minimum prison penalties for alleged terrorists. Kopel noted:
"Some of the new proposed mandatory minimums for 'violent antigovernment extremists' would impose a two-year mandatory minimum on someone who shoved a policeman during an argument over a traffic ticket, a two-year mandatory minimum on a jilted teenage girl who sent her rival an anonymous letter 'I'm going to tear your eyes out,' and an eight-year mandatory minimum on a homeowner who waved a baseball bat at a zoning inspector."
The Democrats are opposed to an increasingly repressive, authoritarian state? Try to be serious.
But perhaps liberals and progressives think Hillary Clinton will represent an improvement on her husband's baleful record. Honestly (if that's the operative word, which I strongly doubt)? "I'm a strong believer in executive authority," she said in 2003. "I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority."
As I noted in my post about the then-impending 2006 election, the Democrats will do nothing but make an attack on Iran more likely, check -- they will not end the occupation of Iraq, even if a Democrat -- any Democrat -- is president in 2009, check -- and they will not repeal the Military Commissions Act, check. They have not even made a serious effort to restore habeas corpus, upon which all our other rights depend. And let us not forget the Defense Authorization Act of 2006, or how easy that legislation makes it for the president to declare martial law -- or that Carl Levin co-wrote the key provision, and it was enthusiastically endorsed by many Democrats, including Ted Kennedy.
Recently, there was much commotion on the progressive blogs, as the liberals breathlessly anticipated the possible impeachment of Gonzales. A voluminous record supports the immediate start of impeachment hearings for Bush and Cheney, which is where one would and must start if one were serious about stopping even one of these continuing crimes, and if the Democrats genuinely wanted to forestall an attack on Iran. But, contend many progressives, if we start with Gonzales, we can then begin to establish a record that will make the impeachment of Bush and Cheney more likely.
Passage of this FISA legislation, which approves and expands the unconstitutional and criminal acts already engaged in by the administration, turns any future effort to impeach Gonzales into intellectual hash. To approve this legislation and to simultaneously push for the impeachment of Gonzales represents the triumph of utter incoherence. The Democrats may have feared Republican attacks on any impeachment effort, and that the Republicans would accuse them of acting only out of partisan motives, devoid of any concern for political principle whatsoever. The Democrats themselves have now handed the Republicans conclusive proof that the Republican attacks would be entirely correct. If the Democrats were actually concerned about Gonzales' eminently impeachable actions, this legislation would have been laughed off the Hill.
But for the reasons set forth above (and a full case would fill many volumes), the Democrats are not going to impeach any of these criminals, barring events entirely unforeseeable at present. And they will not for one overwhelmingly significant and determinative reason: always with regard to the underlying principles, and frequently with regard to the specifics, the Democrats are implicated in every single crime with which they would charge the members of the administration. The Republicans' crimes are their crimes.
I turn to another Robert Higgs article for a critical overarching point:
As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent "failed" policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.
When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the "peace process" never gets far from square one, etc., etc. – none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not borne by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.
What is true in foreign policy is also true in domestic policy. The Republicans and the Democrats both advance the growth of the corporatist state, as they have for the last century -- a state where key and hugely influential financial interests ally themselves with government power (including perhaps most significantly the military-industrial-congressional complex). As it expands and becomes increasingly corrupt, the corporatist state is also an authoritarian state: individual rights give way more and more to state power, in the form of proliferating laws, regulations, edicts, wiretapping and surveillance.
As Higgs notes, none of this serves the interests of the "ordinary" citizen, whose life and security become ever more fragile and disposable. But none of that concerns the ruling elites: their lives are ones of immense comfort and privilege, far removed from the petty concerns of those who pay for it and whose servitude makes it possible. As I said in that earlier essay: the concerns of the ruling elites are not yours or mine, and their motives are a universe apart from ours. Except for rare historic moments of huge and possibly threatening public protest, the elites don't give a damn at all about you or me.
The corporatist system itself is irreversibly corrupt. To restore anything even approaching the original design of a constitutional republic, another revolution is required. There is still time for a peaceful revolution, one led by those with a radically different political vision, but just barely. An attack on Iran and its likely aftermath, or an attack or series of attacks here at home, would almost certainly finish us off. But the liberals and progressives who remain devoted to Democratic electoral victory are completely unable to grasp this larger picture, and usually they have rendered themselves incapable of seeing even a small part of it. They remain committed to the story that gives their lives and their precarious sense of self meaning and succor: the Democrats will save us.
They will not. Try to grasp this finally, before it is too late: the Democrats may differ from the Republicans on matters of detail, or emphasis, or style. But with regard to the fundamental political principles involved, everything that has happened over the last six years -- just as is the case with everything that has happened over the last one hundred years -- is what the Democrats want, too.
This should not be a difficult point to understand. The historical record is compelling in its clarity, and overpowering in its length and volume. A corporatist, authoritarian state is what the ruling elites want, and it is precisely what serves their interests, Republican and Democrat alike. They know it; they count on your inability or refusal to see it.
So far, most liberals and progressives oblige them, just as the conservatives do. One would think the fact that they have become the Sam Brownbacks of political discourse would at least give the progressives pause. To date, it hasn't caused them to miss even a single step. And does anyone doubt that all the leading progressive and liberal writers and bloggers will eagerly fall into line for Hillary Clinton, if she is the presidential candidate? I certainly do not -- Hillary Clinton, warmonger, lover of ever-expanding executive authority, and endorser of state torture. If that last element isn't a deal-breaker for you, I have nothing further to say to you. She will be no better than Bush; in certain respects, she is likely to be significantly worse. And keep in mind that in the context of a deadly and oppressive authoritarian state -- which is what we've got and will have much more of, my friend -- competence is the last thing you want. The extent to which Clinton may be more "competent" than the current criminals is the precise extent to which she will be markedly more dangerous to anyone who wants to live in anything remotely like freedom.
But she's a Democrat and a self-proclaimed "progressive," the other progressives will bleat. She will save us.
Those of us who find ourselves in the newly-constructed domestic detention camps for "terrorists," dissidents, and other protesters against the state religion of power without end or limit will remember your immense and unforgivable betrayal. And even as we are imprisoned, beaten, starved, tortured and murdered, we will laugh at you -- for unless you finally wake up and begin to recognize reality, contempt and ridicule are all that you deserve.