Democratic Underground

If This Be Treason...

February 1, 2006
By Patricia Goldsmith

I have no doubt that the Alito vote will follow senators around, for good or for ill, for the rest of their lives, in the same way that Colin Powell's infamous powdered-sugar presentation to the U.N. will follow him to the grave - and for similar reasons. With Alito in, things are going to change. Our whole way of life, in fact. The New York Times seemed to have realized this at the eleventh hour, for whatever mysterious but welcome reason.

The Times, along with the rest of the media, has, up to now, done everything they could to assist the administration in the gradual accommodation of the American people to new ways and new views. Milton Mayer, who wrote about the Nazi takeover of Germany from the point of view of the average citizen (They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1938-45, University of Chicago Press, 1955), described it so perfectly it's eerie:

What no one seemed to notice ... was the ever widening gap ... between the government and the people.

The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. ... It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway ... and kept us so busy with continuous changes and "crises" and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the "national enemies," without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. ...

Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that ... one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. ... You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. ...

But the one great shocking occasion ... never comes. ... That's the difficulty.

That is why it's so important for Democrats in Congress to start acting like something is WRONG. We are responsible for creating the shocking occasion. For finding it, feeding it, sustaining it.

I must confess that after reading that passage from Mayer, I lost some of my feeling of reflexive superiority to Germans in the Hitler era. Suddenly I had an experiential understanding of Nazism. Mayer goes on to write about the feelings of doubt and uncertainty that slowly saturate your whole being as time goes on and things keep getting worse, even for those who can see what's going on:

Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy." One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. ... In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? "It's not so bad" or "you're seeing things" or "you're an alarmist."

This uncertainty is produced and amplified by the state media, which is plugged directly into the nervous system of every individual in our society, with television screens in every public and private room - in elevators now! - always on, a constant crawl at the bottom of everyone's consciousness so no one's ever truly alone. Anyone who dares to think is accused - implicitly, explicitly, constantly, in a low-level taunting nag - of being a conspiracy nut, a sore loser, a whiner, unpatriotic. Or, best of all, a Bush hater.

Take Bill Kristol's opening opus of 2006, "The Paranoid Style in American Liberalism":

No reasonable American, no decent human being, wants to send up a white flag in the war on terror. But leading spokesmen for American liberalism - hostile beyond reason to the Bush administration, and ready to believe the worst about American public servants - seem to have concluded that the terror threat is mostly imaginary. It is the threat to civil liberties from George W. Bush that is the real danger. ...

So are we really to believe that President Bush just sat around after 9/11 thinking, "How can I aggrandize my powers?" Or that (NSA chief) General Hayden - and his hundreds of nonpolitical subordinates - cheerfully agreed to an obviously crazy, bizarre, and unnecessary project of "domestic spying"?

This is the fever swamp into which American liberalism is on the verge of descending.

"American public servants" - that's so perfect, so square and sincere. "Public servants" like Karl Rove, who has delighted, since his college years, in perpetrating what the press lovingly refers to as "dirty tricks" on his political enemies. "Public servants" like Alberto Gonzales, who prepared the background reports on the unusually large number of Texas prisoners that George Bush sentenced to death - carefully excluding all exculpatory evidence, of course.

(Junior says he spent a full 15 minutes praying - or something - over each and every one, which brings up the whole issue of the psychosexual origins of sadism: Scooter Libby wrote a novel where a caged bear has sex with children; John Bolton's wife divorced him because he allegedly made her engage in group sex; and, most horribly, all those closet cases, including the "openly" gay Ken Mehlman.)

But back to Gonzales. Gonzales, who chaired the committee that took it upon themselves to re-write the "quaint" Geneva Conventions against torture. The guy who argues - very persuasively, according to a lot of pundits - that wire-taps without a warrant are not only legal but positively noble.

Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism and Robert Scheer's editorial replacement at the L.A. Times, echoes Kristol as part of the usual RNC talking-points round-robin, but his twist is that he actually gave the matter some serious thought, and he "still think(s) that, in a perfect world, the president would try to get the laws he needs from Congress." You know, as a courtesy. But the longer he pondered it, the clearer it became that:

...this is just the latest in anti-Bush hype. The New York Times, which launched this "scandal," remains at journalistic DEFCON 1, releasing a stream of articles, editorials, and op-ed pieces as if the nation were up in arms over what some hotter heads believe to be an impeachable offense.

As if.

A lot of us actually are up in arms over the fact that our commander-in-chief/war president/unitary executive has officially declared himself above the law - and us below it. From henceforth, the intent and application of all laws he signs will be decided by his signing statement, not the law's actual language. He will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the nation, and those steps will always be constitutional and within the law, because, as the Unitary Executive, he and he alone will decide what the Constitution and the law say.

Back to Milton Mayer:

The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

Kristol and Goldberg have changed the term "domestic spying," which didn't test well, to the more accurate "spying on terrorists." Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security chief who earned the nation's undying gratitude and trust for his handling of the crisis in the "city of Louisiana" in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, explains:

"I think it's important to point out," Chertoff soothed Mort Kondracke of Roll Call, "that there's no evidence that this is a program designed to achieve political ends or do anything nefarious."

I suppose what Chertoff says is true, if you confine yourself strictly to the NSA spy program - as opposed, say, to the Pentagon spy program, which has recently been caught infiltrating peace groups, including Quaker groups in Baltimore and Florida, which the FBI considers "credible threats" to our national security.

TALON, taking up where the supposedly-defunct TIPS program left off, even has an easy-to-remember phone number, CALL-SPY that connects patriotic citizens to an operator at the Pentagon, who assures callers that anonymous tips are very welcome. I swear to god.

Some overly neurotic, conspiracy-nut types might even think that the Valerie Plame matter - where White House officials, in an act of pure political revenge, used top secret classified information to out a deep-cover CIA agent specializing in weapons of mass destruction - is pertinent when deciding whether or not Bush and his henchmen are capable of anything "nefarious." As John Dean has said, even Richard Nixon stopped short of putting out actual hits on his political enemies.

After blandly failing to connect any of these big black dots, Chertoff goes on to argue:

"If you go back to the post-Sept. 11 analyses and the 9/11 commission, the whole message was that we were inadequately sensitive to the need to identify the dots and connect them," he said.

"Now, what we're trying to do is gather as many dots as we can, figure out which are the ones that have to be connected and we're getting them connected," he said. ...

A former prosecutor, federal judge and head of the Justice Department's criminal division, he convincingly defended the program's legal basis and intelligence value.

The convincing defense? Chertoff cites legal precedent giving the president "wide latitude" following the attacks of 9/11. But Alberto Gonzales, in a widely publicized speech at Georgetown Law School, cites the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq as the statute that makes warrantless spying on American citizens legal - even though we now know that there was no connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11.

See? Nothing to worry about.

For liberals battling the label of "conspiracy loonies" on the issue of electronic voting, it's very tempting to avoid engaging the central frame that Bush & Co. fall back on again and again: the demand to know whether you're with Bush or the terrorists. But I suspect that, until we answer the charge, no one is going to care about what Ernest Partridge calls our "stinking evidence."

I think we have to answer the most deeply suppressed question - namely, "Why did this happen to us?" In doing so, we stir up the most potent unexamined assumption in a society with a heretofore large and stable middle class - normality itself. The idea that everything is as it seems - ordinary - is the primary, inviolable, unquestionable, and unthinking assumption, beyond which lies a void.

If we allow "evidence," which suddenly seems like wildly subjective, tinfoil-hat stuff, to tempt us off the path of familiar, conventional wisdom, we could end up contemplating the absurdity of an ongoing Bush putsch happening right here, right now, under everyone's noses. A silent, but deadly, coup. An American president - put into office by a conservative Supreme Court that stopped the counting of valid votes - deliberately planning and exploiting a "Pearl Harbor-type event" in order to achieve a New American Century of global military and economic domination.

Like the man said: if this be treason...

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