Friday, December 08, 2006
Democracy is the menopause of Western society, the Grand Climacteric of the body social. Fascism is its middle-aged lust..E.J. Dionne says that "One of the many disastrous consequences of President Bush's botched policy in Iraq is that it has given the promotion of democracy a bad name." Well one man's trash, as they saying goes, is another man's welcomed death-knell of liberal imperialism. (If only it were really so.) Dionne is as mainstream a liberal as they get, somewhat to the left of main body of elected Democrats, moderately less corporatist, sometimes skeptical of Israel, opposed to the Bush administration on reasonably principled grounds, willing to break somewhat with normative liberal thought but never one to wander entirely off the ranch. He seems to be pretty well-liked by liberal bloggers, and unlike so-called liberal columnists like La Moustache and Richard Funnybone Cohen, he isn't an entirely unreconstructed apologist for empire. He has at least expressed a mild practical and ethical skepticism about the truly bloody Wilsonianism of the chronic masturbators over at The New Republic.
Nevertheless, Dionne writes:
This war has done enormous damage to the United States, and some of the damage is to our ideals. The United States still has a powerful interest in encouraging the spread of democracy around the globe. Promoting democracy must remain a core goal of American foreign policy.These are paragraphs worth unpacking.
But there are smart ways to promote democracy and there are stupid, even dangerous, ways. Creating democracy where it has never existed is a long and painstaking process. You can't whip it up by buying a cake mix or holding a single election and declaring victory.
An administration that fought a misguided, poorly planned and ill-considered war in the name of democracy should not be allowed to discredit the democratic idea itself.
"This war has done enormous damage to the United States[....]" This war has done enormous damage to Iraq. Several thousand Americans have now died there, and certainly money and matériel have been lost, but the United States as a nation or a nation-state is palpably undamaged by comparison. Our society, tawdry and wasteful though it may be, is intact. Our economy, fraught though it may be, is intact. Our territorial integrity is intact. Our basic capacity to pursue livelihoods, to raise families, to enjoy leisure, and to travel within or between our communities is intact. Our healthcare system may grind gears, but it too is intact. Our electrical grids are intact. Our water supply and our sewers and our industry--what remains of it--all of these are intact. We can say none of this for Iraq, which no longer effectively exists as a nation-state. So to begin with, Dionne's assertion of damage, like all such, is self-regarding, self-pitying, and literally inaccurate. It exemplifies the American myopia that causes us to mispercieve the principle effects of our foreign policy to be ultimately domestic, especially when that policy fails or falters.
Dionne goes on: "This war has done enormous damage to the United States, and some of the damage is to our ideals." A more accurate accounting would say and almost all of the damage is to our ideals. If you were to stop there and read no further, and if you'd already forgotten the first line of the article, you might hear in Dionne's post-comma clause the farther-left or libertarian critiques of the domestic repurcussions of the War on Terror and its Iraqi offspring: that the politics of fear and prerogatives of militarization have provided pretexts for opportunists and authoritarians to dismantle our freedoms and liberties--our "ideals." Surely to some extent that's what Dionne meant. But his next two sentences betray the real ideal that's been betrayed.
"The United States still has a powerful interest in encouraging the spread of democracy around the globe. Promoting democracy must remain a core goal of American foreign policy." To which the proper response is: Why?
It's one of the great unquestioned verities of the bipartisan Washingtonian consensus that this is true. Fourteen points, four freedoms, world safe for democracy, and all that jazz. As American as apple pie and Indian-killing. As red, white, and blue as Old Glory herself. Unfortunately, no one can explain just why it is so. You could argue, I suppose, that during the cold war, the idea of democracy promotion was born from an ideological committment to building a bloc of free, democratic nations to countervail the sphere of Soviet influence, although the true history of the period, proving the past as prelude, was of bloody intervention in the affairs of other nations with high talk about democracy and, shortly thereafter, a strongman of some sort or other, nuns thrown out of airplanes, paramilitaries, militias, contras, and the rest of the pre-post-Vietnam hustle and bustle from the Straits of Magellan to the Cape of Good Hope to the Mekong Delta and back again. Today, I suppose, the argument for promoting democracy--a euphemism, of course, for forcing political and military change in supposedly sovereign countries--is the same, with only the scowling face of this or that Supreme Soviet cartoon replaced by the bearded visage of Osama bin Laden sitting atop a packing crate full of Saddam's special-edition autographed nukes and waving to mom through the camera. As it always was, ever shall it be.
Yet there's painfully little evidence that democracy, even if instilled and even if practiced, is a meaningful hedge against the attractions of what we've come to call Islamism. Pronounce them with me: Hezbollah. Hamas. Neither group aimed its violence at the United States, but both originated as terrorist organizations, reinvented themselves as social movements with a paramilitary element, and recently reincarnated again as the sorts of armed political parties that used to go marching around Germany in the heady interwar years of that nation's failed democratic experiment. Remember: Roosevelt said that Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely (the key, he said, was education), and John Adams said that there was never yet a democracy that didn't commit suicide. The franchise is no guarantor of rights, justice, or fairness if its owners use it only to advance the cause of groups, sects, tribes, clans, or parties to which they already belong out of older, deeper, more ideological, or more emotional bonds. We're mostly wise enough to ask: "What happens when we liberate them, give them an election, and they choose a violently anti-American theocracy?" But we don't much like the answer, so we ignore it and pretend we never asked the question.
"But there are smart ways to promote democracy and there are stupid, even dangerous, ways. Creating democracy where it has never existed is a long and painstaking process. You can't whip it up by buying a cake mix or holding a single election and declaring victory." There is only one "smart way" to promote democracy: be a democracy, and otherwise, as Washington counseled:
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.All other "ways" are "stupid, even dangerous." As for "creating democracy where it has never existed," what Dionne really means is imposing democracy where it has never existed, and that is another thing altogether. He isn't talking about supporting democratic revolutionaries and dissidents in other countries, à la Solidarity, he's talking about the United States busting tyrannies all over the world, tossing the dictators out, even if no constituency committed to democratic reform and no institutions necessary to self-governing civil society exist. He's talking about Iraq, but done right. The liberal interventionist's fantasy.
"An administration that fought a misguided, poorly planned and ill-considered war in the name of democracy should not be allowed to discredit the democratic idea itself." The interventionist's cri de couer, wherein the great tragedy of the War in Iraq is less that it wrecked Iraq than that it diminished the political feasibility of intervening in Darfur. I've read the same accounts of the fiasco that was the planning, or lack thereof, for the Iraq War and its now-called aftermath, but I remain frankly unconvinced that such poor planning represents a great historical outlier to an otherwise excellent tradition of invasion and occupation. In modern times, at least, failure and mission collapse seem to be the norm, whether or not a gaudy Democracy! sign is appended to the effort. All wars to promote democracy are ill-considered and misguided, and so they're all poorly planned. They eux-mêmes embody poor planning.
The democratic ideal, meanwhile, as an American might mean it, is really nothing more or less than goverment deriving its just power from the consent of the governed, as well as six or seven other shopworn phrases that, as a society, we seem to have grown deeply impatient with. How such an idea translates into bombs away for ballots is better your guess than mine. Those who wish to "create" democracies wherever they aren't and sincerely hope to reap positive benefits should listen to neither Dionne nor Washington, but to Paul Klee, who in his diary warned us all:
Democracy with its semi-civilization sincerely cherishes junk.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
"I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic.--But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value."
In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.It isn't a promising comparison, but it is perhaps an accurate one. Can we ever be friends?
They said in their hundred voices, 'No, not yet,' and the sky said, 'No, not there.'
And as the saying goes: Max speak, you listen. While the Times natters on (Will Iraq Study Group’s Plan Work on the Battlefield?), Max explains:
[W]hat is the function of the Iraq Study Group?Read it all. Sawicky, in his primer, raises one of the quotations of the governing class that mixes shocking dangerousness, hubris, and asininity into precisely the sort of bloodthirsty truism that undergirds American thinking about its place in the world. He only quotes the money shot, but here, reproduced in something closer to its entirety, is what Madeleine "My Once-Secret Jewish Ancestry Increases My Moral Standing Because of The Holocaust™" Albright:
It is to defend the boundaries of elite discourse on national security, what might be called the ideology of U.S. imperialism.
If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.Prescience is neither the prerequisite for or prerogative of wealth or power. It's the delusion of the speculator to believe that good investment involves peering into the future rather than soberly assessing the present. Those who believe that they can accurately predict outcomes fail to plan for contingencies and lose their fortunes.
And what is the function of the Democratic Party, children?
The function of the Democratic Party from the standpoint of elites is to channel dissent into support for elite discourse. In the present context, the framework for such cooptation is advice against "precipitous" withdrawal from Iraq. The alternative to such a policy is continued, open-ended, mucking around.Here, via my buds at SMBIVA, is your basic Kossite-Democratic-ahem-Progressive self-directed legerdemain regarding Peoples' Deputy Silvestre Reyes' endorsement of Hanoi John's plan for escalation:
I'm hoping that Reyes misspoke. But, this leaves some to wonder from a policy point of view, are we getting different results from what it would be if Harman assumed the post? Are we getting different results from what we would have if the GOP kept the chairmanship?You've got to love that "from a policy point of view," don't you? Why, it's almost as if "The 'national interest' is the interest of U.S. elites, not a prerogative of popular sovereignty. Foreign policy cannot be entrusted to public opinion." Almost as if:
This does seem so out of the blue that I'm hoping that Reyes was misquoted. His position definitely need to be clarified....
I'm hoping that Reyes was misquoted. It is enough to have to worry about Leiberman betraying our interests.
A secondary objective [for the Democratic Party] is to prevent a complete meltdown of the Republican Party by entangling Democrats in the purported phase-down of U.S. involvement. The meltdown implied by the continued stubbornness of the Bush White House would unbalance the American two-party duopoly, a development which would strengthen dissent among Democrats and widen the space for third parties and for more basic criticism of U.S. foreign policy.But we're getting a bit too substantive for Who Is IOZ?
I've said before and will say again that the only way to appreciate the true absurdity of the truly absurd is to say quite literally what the thing is. So while it is true that there's plenty of lunacy in the Iraq Study Group report, it is the ISG itself that howls at the moon. Consider that our nation launched a war of aggression that was not only spectacularly wrong morally by also spectacularly wrong practically; we have ransacked the entire country of Iraq in order to find some retroactive justification for going there in the first place, and having found no publically palatable danger, we retconned the whole endeavor into a Cervantian tale of misbegotten heroism redeemed in the end by its underlying nobility and the moral coarseness of those who opposed it based on ignoble, practical concerns, or worse yet, on a countervailing moral vision that says heroes, in truth, are usually bullies or loons--or a little bit of both.
But failure was indeed inevitable no matter how we chose to redefine success, and so, four years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, a self-selected group of very old men established a sort of book club, and based membership on age and status rather than any particular set of applicable knowledge or skills, intentionally excluding anyone who might actually know something about the topic of discussion, not to mention anyone actually committed to the dismantling of the failed enterprise. For many months, they chatted, gummed down oatmeal, complained about that crap these kids listen to today, recollected the Depression, praised General Eisenhower, watched old Marx Bros. films, sent back the soup because it was too cold, told the usher that there was a draft in the theater, forgot where they parked the Buick, plugged onto the internet, woke up early, ate dinner at four, and recommitted the United States to its present course in Iraq, but with the labels printed in a different font.
Seeing that blood was rising like a tide
across Iraq; having no wish to yield
to sure defeat and wounded phallic pride;
Le Daphin père thus made a last appeal
to the Baker boys (or, AKA, the Wise
Men of Washington), who'd offer up
a toothless, bullet-pointed compromise,
to save son fils, the nation, and, with luck,
the cross-aisle notion that the Lord himself
commanded the Republic: go abroad and find
downtrodden peoples gazing at the shelf
of democratic baubles; don't remind
the voters that such failures always will
be called fine vintage when in fact they're swill.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
According to Rob Farley at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, says that Libertarians are stupid and ugly and nobody likes them:
So, again, I wonder why should waste our time listening to these people. They don't represent a constituency, their ideas are antithetical to progressive government, and they don't make any bloody sense even on their own terms.In a very huffy post, rob decries libertarians for not excommunicating Glenn Reynolds, or something. Democrats, meanwhile, who actually elected their own to office, are busy preparing to send thousands more troops to their failed war.
Farley avers that libertarianism, such as it is, "is, fundamentally, an ideology for thirteen year olds." This is actually the "third problem" in a series of three ennumerated problems, which makes one wonder if the man's ever heard of a face-saving et cetera when the last example's not so hot. One of his commenters notes that this snappy lyric ought to have its own tee-shirt, and I for one support the idea, which is a lot catchier than the "Liberalism: Acquiescing to the evisceration of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence since before the CIA introduced crack into Compton, but complaining about it and stuff, cause it's not fair, Mom, it's not fair."
Otherwise, putting in more troops is like putting more fingers in the dyke.The great, unbearable, un-killable piety of Democrats in the last election was that with the exception of Joe Lieberman, the last true believer, Democrats who had supported the war had done so only out of a dismal but pardonable sort of political expediency. In the heady early days of Showdown: Iraq, they caught the fever of war, feared Bush’s popularity, and sought to get on the right side of history, which was at the time rolling toward Baghdad. Now, sobered by the reality of failure, freed from the bondage of a congressional minority, and emboldened—a favorite word of the bipartite War Party—by the sunk popularity of the pulled-pork presidency, they could take up the banner of their true feelings, oppose the war firmly, and find a way to finally bring the boys back home and to put an end to our direct participation in this ever-widening catastrophe, even if the Donkle, like the rest of us, would suffer the aftershocks of our misbegotten earthquake for many decades to come.
Meanwhile, the great anathema of the Donkle is the suggestion that it was not support for the war that arose from political expediency, but opposition. The majority of elected Democrats are American imperialists just as much as their cross-aisle co-conspirators. They are moderately more squeamish about the public display of the tools of dominance necessary to every empire—torture, show trials, (not-so-)secret detentions, brand Terrorism burned onto every enemy, domestic and foreign. But the basic premises underlying this war and the whole rickety edifice of the War on Terror, that it is the right and duty of America to remake the world by force in our image and for our supposed interests, is a premise that the Donkle enthusiastically supports.
So the Donkle decided, as predicted, to split the difference between Madame Lockheed and Mister Stickyfingers on Intelligence, and we got Representative Reyes: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Escalation. He spoke to Newsweek:
“We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies,” Reyes said. “We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan” was before the 2001 invasion by the United States.Objectively pro-war, and objectively an idiot if he believes that 20,000 to 30,000 additional pairs of boots (whose provenance, one notes, we know not at all) are going to “dismantle” the militias, even Live and In Concert with the Iraqi Military (feat. Militia Infiltration). Like all mainstream American politicos, he can’t tell the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, and like all mainstream American politicos, he is rapturously convinced that choice “e) all of the above” will descend on Iraq like, um, an occupying army if our occupying army—the good occupying army—fout le camp and rolls out of there.
Reyes also stressed that there needed to be greater “political accountability” demanded of the Iraqi government. But on the core issue of the U.S. commitment, Reyes—a Vietnam War veteran who partially lost his hearing in that conflict—even compared his position to that of another Vietnam vet, Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. Like Reyes, McCain also has called for an increase in U.S. troop strength. When asked how many additional troops he envisioned sending to Iraq, Reyes replied: “I would say 20,000 to 30,000—for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”
Like all mainstream American politicos, he faces forward and calls the Iraqi government sovereign, then wheels back and says that “there need[s] to be greater ‘political accountability’ demanded of the Iraqi government,” which means of course that the Iraqi government must be made to prove to its patrons that it’s doing what we told it to do, goddamnit, and if not . . . what? It’s a difficult truth for Monsieur 1967 and the rest of the Washington gang to accept, but a truth nevertheless: even the Iraqi government, perhaps the one thing in that country most under the sway of America, is totally beyond our control. Even if that weren’t the case, it would make little difference, since the rest of that country is totally beyond them in turn.
I’m invariably amused, if mordantly, by these governors of ours who mouth the same worn catechism about the Iraq War and its inevitable continuation, right down to the familiar line about “not allowing a failed state” à la Afghanistan pre-Invasion. To speak of “not allowing” such an eventuality is to delude oneself by placing the failure of the Iraqi state as a contingent, future condition, rather than the actual, present condition. We have created a failed state in Iraq, and we have no power to retroactively disallow its failure.
In any event, we are in Iraq, and we are not getting out until complacent American liberalism gets off its fat, Kossified ass, gets out of the anti-Republican game and into the antiwar game, stops wasting its time doodling panegyrical hearts to the reshuffled War Court of the Dauphin and comes to understand that it is not a Republican or Democratic government that launched and that will continue this pointless, endless, fruitless aggression. It was the American government, and as long as you fritter away your energy propping up the fortunes of Party A or Party B (hereinafter known collectively as “The War Party”), then all you can expect is more of the motherfucking same.
(Tip o' the hat to SMBIVA and the inimitable Jim, who even in his farmyard metaphor vastly underestimates the force and quantity of my shadenfreude.)
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
The Bottom in the Sling in the Steamroom: Culture Tuesday Edition: The Not-Marty Peretz (They Will Otherwise All Be Marty Peretz) Edition
Via Gawker, I see that Daniel Mendelsohn shall disquisite (yeah, yeah, I made it up) upon "the 'spectacles of humiliation' that have dominated popular culture throughout the ages."
Daniel Mendelsohn. Yoy. Daniel Mendelsohn wrote a book called The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity , precisely as bad as it sounds, a sort of post-Foucault historiographic rip-off of Vidal's Palimpsest with a bit of Maupin and Isherwood and some Holocaust thrown in for good measure. The plot, basically, is Jew from Park slope becomes fag in Chelsea, tricks the fucking shit out of the place, then gets fat, hairy, tenured, and moves to Princeton. He notices himself looking more like his father. Jesus, I've still got my obliques and I notice myself looking more like my father. Revelatory it is not. There is also some stuff about how the Greeks were really fags. All of 'em. You can almost taste the self-satisfied glee as Mendelson preaches to a choir that already knows that Narcissus was punished for spuring a boy who loved him.
I ask you: why are my people represented by this man, and who will put a stop to him? If anyone who reads this is in New York, I urge you to go to this talk and, should a Q&A present itself, ask the good Professor, "Mr. Mendelsohn, you talk about 'spectacles of humiliation' as entertainment. How does that link to the book you wrote about how much you love ass fucking?"
Nothing much today. I recalled and located this, however, and felt it oddly apropos to our present moment. Enjoy.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Thanks to Roy, we can make several additions to the maybe-they're-right-to-kill-us genre of rightwing, Jesus-based snuff porn. He locates something called a "Crunchy Con," which has to do with granola, Birkenstocks, and hating faggots--the punchline, I am sure, to a long-forgotten bar joke--who avers that young Muslims, turning from Mecca to the West, see a culture so soaked in sexual license as not only to explicate but possibly even to pardon the moral grotesquerie of the suicide bombing. They "quite rightly see us as a threat to the things they hold dearest." You know: the subjugation in women, the primitive believe that an invisible man grinds the gears of the universe, aversion to the most miraculous of domesticated animals, the pig, and various and sundry other goatherders' prejudices inherited down the ages and ineradicable even during the late golden age of one of one of the great civilizations and empires in the whole history of mankind.
Oddly, while it remains a unpardonable offense to suggest that terrorist violence is at least in part a rational response to American foreign policy, there's an increasing currency to the idea that such violence is an irrational-rational response to a grave moral offense. (I can't wait to read some religionist yakking about the justifiable anger of that old anti-decadent José Bové.) Recall that Dinesh D'Souza, one of the mincing lightweights of the so-called cultural right, who mistakes stridency for masculinity even as he sounds more and more like an aging fag angry that the young guys don't buy hum drinks anymore, recently authored an approximation of a book called, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.
I was bothered all night by the feeling that I'd heard this tune before, or seen this familiar landscape evoked previously in all its depressing and familiar contours. A bit of reading helped to remember it: Mencken on the American sense of the Russian revolution. Americans were better able than anyone to understand and empathize with the Russian "debacle." After all,
they probably felt themselves, in a subtle and unconscious way, to be nearer to the Russians than any Europeans. Russia was not like Europe, but it was strangely like America. In the same way the Russians were like Americans. They, too, were naturally religious and confiding; they, too, were below the civilized average in intelligence; and they, too, believed in democracy, and were trying to give it a trial.The specter of International Communism was always enough to excite the Stalinist urges in America's anti-Commie crusaders, and it's no surprise that with a new red menace--the cresent replacing the scickle and hammer--a new affinity between our domestic paladins and their exaggerated enemies has arisen. Don Delillo said it well in his cacophonous Underworld:
And what is the connection between us and them, how many bundled links do we find in this neural labyrinth? It's not enough to hate your enemy. You have to understand how the two of you bring each other to deep completion.In the rantings of our domestic god squad, you find the rapturous sigh of "deep completion" that they imagine in every pro-procreative orgasm (male, of course) in a healthy heterosexual marriage.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
"And what I want to know is, how do you like your blue-eyed boy, government power, Mr. Managerial Liberalism?"
When Jim Henley asked the question, one-quarter in jest/serious all the rest, a few months back, some predictable cries went up that it was no fair to blame liberals for Republican misuse of the apparati of the state, which is the liberals' unintentionally ironic take on the old NRA adage that guns don't kill people; people kill people, and sometimes guns are involved. In the liberal-Democratic recycling, it's the state--in particular the modern managerial state--that does gun duty as the almost incidental mechanism through which bad people do bad things. But that's no reason to break out the trigger locks, so to speak.
I wrote at the time that there was an unfortunate tendency among liberals to buy into "the comforting notion that the Bush Administration is unique-because-it's-crazy, rather than simply uniquely crazy, and perhaps not even that."
To an extent, this is just variation on the old power corrupts theme, but it bears repeating because at the heart of contemporary liberalism, even the smart sort espoused by your various and sundry Yglesii, there remains a belief that at some infinitely-vanishing point there will be a new FDR who will weild the extraordinary powers of government to the near-universal advantage of all Americans and all the rest of the world. But the Dauphin teaches us that the willpower and nastiness necessary to bring the full apparatus of our immense, creaky, dangerous state to full operational status more likely comes in the form of an even more perverse Wilsonianism than Wilsonianism, which is to say crazy, racist, deluded, messianic, and mean. State power is not the sword in the stone, in other words. Any dynastic schmuck with muscles sufficiently developed by brush-clearing can yank that fucker out of its resting place and go chopping randomly around the ranch. State power exists indepently from its operators; it is relentlessly self-accumulating, and its effect on those within its orbit and influence is insidious. I will here resist making a Lord of the Rings allusion, but there it is. The lesson to be learned is not that George Bush is crazy, nor that his predecessors were often crazy, nor that his advisors are crazy, nor their antecedents neither. The lesson is that there is precious little that can check men in power, which obliges our vigilance in combatting and checking the power itself that we grant them.You can call it libertarianism if you like (I do), but it's really just the animating spirit of the early Republic, or at least those parts of the early Republic worth saving: not that government is inherently evil, but that left unchecked it is inevitably so. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but the shaded understanding of the latter is the great contribution of Washington et al. to politics, and the former is very little but cheap "small-government conservativism," which as everyone can plainly see is a coat quickly shed as soon as the small-goverment conservatives get themselves a government.
Those of us who've argued that all the antecedents to George W. Bush's garrison America arose just as much in Democratic administrations and congresses as Republican ones--if not more--have long been giggled at as second-hand conspiracy theorists, forever poring over our thumbed-and-dogeared copies of NSC 68 for further notes on the architecture of our imprisonment. But you hardly have to believe in the Mark of the Beast and the global Reptilian Shape-Shifter conspiracy to note that it was not, in fact, an anti-Christ bearing RFID chips for implantation nor even the more primitive Nazi tattooers who gave every American a number. It was FDR and the Social Security Administration. It was not George W. Bush who first militarized the police, turned spy agencies on American citizens, loosed the FBI on political enemies, sent American torturers to South America, or ginned up drug crime as a kind of terrorism. Since the Second World War, the surveillance state has been a bipartisan project, and to those liberals (principally) who object to this characterization and argue that the misuses of government power by criminals like our ranchin' Louis-Phillipe, I counsel Justice Brandeis' admonition: "Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent."
Glenn Greenwald today notes the ever-increasing excesses of our peeping-Tom government as it aims to protect us from various and sundry fantasms. He outlines some egregious examples, then writes:
We're not supposed to have a Government which keeps track of what we do, absent some reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Even with the most well-intentioned administration, it is self-evidently dangerous to allow the Government to maintain vast dossiers on tens or hundreds of millions of citizens. Those dangers are exacerbated -- severely -- when, as has been the case to an unconscionable degree, the Government is permitted to do all of this almost entirely in the dark, with no meaningful checks or oversight of any kind. And again, those conclusions are compelled by what we already know about all of this. The universe of what we don't know is assuredly vast. (My emphasis)"Personally," Glenn goes on to say, he'll have little patience for those who demand "tepid" and "delicate" investigations of the goings-on at the NSA and the TSA and the rest of the Washingtonian alphabet soup.
Unfortunately, Glenn finally comes to the wrong conclusion:
There is no good or even decent argument--none--for believing that those matters ought to be simply left unexplored and undisturbed by Congressional Democrats due to some unseemly eagerness to show how "moderate" they are in order to maximize their prospects in the 2008 elections.It is a constant refrain of liberal Netrootsia that elected Democrats must stop supporting wars in order to seem "tough on defense" and must stop supporting (or at least quietly acquiescing to) policies that attack our rights and liberties as citizens in order to seem "moderate" and "maximize their prospects" in whatever election. The underlying error of premise is obvious: it presumes that but for a mispercieved belief that electoral advantage will accrue to "moderation," elected Democrats would not support wars, encoachments on civil liberties, domestic spying, the databasing of American citzens, ad inf. To rob Occam of his razor: isn't it simpler and more likely correct to hold that elected Democrats supported the war because they supported the war, that they rolled over on habeas corpus because they're not particularly dedicated to it, and that their investigatory zeal is mitigated not so much by amorphous and frankly unproven electoral concerns (does "moderation" really equal advantage? are politicians really so influenced by the moderate-mongers of, say, the WaPo editorial pages? I'm frankly doubtful), but rather by the simple fact that elected Democrats aren't especially eager to dismantle extant powers of the state--even less so now that their congressional victories have brought their hands once again near the levers of power.
Prediction is never pretty, but I'm going to take a shot nonetheless: While the 110th Congress will investigate some portions of the lead-up to and conduct of the war in Iraq, and while they will hoist some of the more egregious abuses of rights and due process under the Bush administration of the last six years, its investigations into the meat of such matters will be severely limited; there will be a lot of closed-session committees looking at classified information without the bother of a reportorial record; there will be very little movement, if any, to reverse the stripping of habeas protections for citizens and aliens alike; and there will be quiet affirmations of the necessity of using state surveillance domestically for the protection of the homeland. Justice Brandeis:
The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.