There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.For all my complaints with the dying newspaper, the New York Times, this time they got it right.
It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.
The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.
Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.
In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.
We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.
Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.
The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.
Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.
In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.
The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.
These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.
We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.
This is a reflection of George W. Bush, write large in the administration over which he presides. But Bush is a reflection of the panic and anger that is movement conservatism. It's not like the Democrats are going to be the nation's saviors, either. Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment off the table, and she represents the Democrats in Congress who have seniority. Don't rock the boat. Protect the establishment at all costs.
The pundits, led by David Broder the (senile?) Dean of the Press Corps, are touting the bipartisan administration by New York City's billionaire Mayor Bloomberg. Salon's Glenn Greenwald explains what a travesty of establishmentarianism that is.
He [Bloomberg] also is as enamored of government control, police powers and surveillance as anyone in the Bush administration. He is an unrestrained advocate and enforcer of the War on Drugs (despite his own acknowledged use of marijuana, of course) and advocates the creation of "a DNA or fingerprint database to track and verify all legal U.S. workers," about which the NY Civil Liberties Union said, with extreme understatement: "It doesn't sound like the free society we think we're living in. It will inevitably be used not just by employers but by law enforcement, government agencies, schools and all over the private sector."So the Bush administration consists of out and out reactionary loonies, so find someone just like Bush to replace him. and if David Broder puts his fingers in his ears and whistles real loudly he won't hear any Partisan complaints at the sloppy job he is doing as he tries thinking and writing about what is wrong with America.
Clearly, this is just exactly what our country desperately needs, what it is missing most -- a neoconservative, combat-avoiding, Bush-supporting, Middle-East-warmonger who sees U.S. and Israeli interests as indistinguishable and inextricably linked, with a fetish for ever-increasing government control and surveillance, and a background as a Wall St. billionaire. We just haven't had enough of those in our political culture. Our political system, more than anything, is missing the influence of people like that. That's why it's broken: not enough of those.
Bloomberg is basically just Rudy Giuliani with a billion or two dollars to spend to alter the election. When it comes to foreign policy, war-making and government power, he offers absolutely nothing that isn't found in destructive abundance among the most extremist precincts in the Republican Party, while his moderate to liberal stance on social issues would prevent him from actually winning the support of his natural GOP base.
In fact -- despite his steadfast neoconservatism -- it's hard to see how the candidacy of a divorced, unmarried, stridently pro-gun-control, pro-choice, socially liberal New York City billionaire would accomplish anything other than offering the Republicans their best hope of winning in 2008. All of this seems to be intended as punishment meted out by the Establishment to the Democrats -- using Bloomberg's billions as the weapon -- for not repudiating their loudmouth, restless liberal base strongly enough. That, more than anything, seems to be the oh-so-noble and trans-partisan purpose of David Broder, David Boren and Sam Nunn: to find a way to stifle the populist anger at our political establishment after 8 years of unrestrained Bush-Cheney devastation, increasingly represented (on the Democratic side) by the Scary, Angry, Intemperate John Edwards campaign.
A Bloomberg candidacy would have no purpose other than satisfy his bottomless personal lust for attention and bestow the wise old men threatening the country with his candidacy with some fleeting sense of rejuvenated relevance and wisdom. His political views are conventional in every way and he's little more than an establishment-enabling figurehead. The whole attraction to his candidacy has nothing to do with any issues or substance and everything to do with an empty addiction to vapid notions of Establishment harmony and a desire to exert control, whereby our Seriousness guardians devote themselves to a candidate for reasons largely unrelated to his policies or political views, thus proving themselves, as usual, to be the exact antithesis of actual seriousness.
Whatever happens, the Bush administration is incompetent and down-right scary, but the Democratic leadership does not want to rock the boat any more than David Broder and the pundits do. So they are all shrieking about the horrible Populists who are popping up in both parties (sounds suspiciously like people who are facing similar problems and finding similar solutions when it happens in both parties.) In the Republican Party it is first Huckabee, and to some extent also Ron Paul. In the Democratic Party it is the Dirty Hippy Bloggers who are doing all the complaining. David Sirota discusses the situation:
A pretty reliable gauge of Establishment fear is how far away from factual reality its chief spokesmen stray at election time. With economic populism now driving both the Democratic and Republican presidential contests, professional political pontificators in Washington are attacking candidates for being crazed and angry - when in fact their own rhetoric shows it is the pundits who are the angriest of all. An uprising is on - one against the hostile takeover of our government by Big Money interests. And inside the walls of the Washington palace, the elite are freaking out.America is coming up against major changes, and the establishment is freaking out. George W. Bush himself represents an effort by movement conservatives and evangelical fundamentalists to deal with the changes that have been pounding more and more Americans for a generation, but Bush has been a solution driven by fear and ignorance and trying to apply military power and authoritarianism to solve the problems. The problems are real, but the Bush-led solutions have made the problems much worse.
Well, centralization of power, militarism, authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism have all failed, so we are seeing a rise in populism. The establishment is all cozy in financially protected ghettos with security guards, and they are getting panicked by "the rise of the masses." The pundit's solution is just ignore the problems and they will go away. That's the solution of the well-to-do geriatric set like David Broder.
It's time to try something new, and whatever it is, should embody the dream of Liberty that created America in 1776 and that established the U.S. Constitution. Those are two very powerful forces, and they can deal with the economic and social changes that are causing so much disruption in America today. Maybe we can remind Broder and the Establishment what they are?
They'll be better for it.
[See also The last stages of American world dominance have arrived for an explanation of what is causing all the problems that the conservatives and populists are reacting to, and that the establishment pundits and Wall Street want to ignore.]