If This Be Treason...
February 1, 2006
By Patricia Goldsmith
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
of Louisiana" in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane
"I think it's important to point out," Chertoff soothed
Kondracke of Roll Call, "that there's no evidence that
this is a program designed to achieve political ends or do anything
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
which the FBI considers "credible threats" to our national
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
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
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...