One of the preconditions for regaining some measure of our liberty is that the institutions of the Federal Government should be discredited in the eyes of the American people. Libertarians should thus welcome anything that exposes the venality and corruption that lurks behind the curtain of Oz. While watching Fahrenheit 9/11 this past weekend, I saw cause for hope that this goal is slowly being realized (though one must always remain skeptical…this establishment has shown remarkable ability to overcome obstacles in the past).
One of the ways that a governing system maintains power is to mythologize itself in the eyes of its subjects. The recent funeral of Ronald Reagan is a perfect example of how elites raise themselves to the level of Olympians in order to reinforce their vaunted status over those whom they rule. Even a man like Reagan, who at least preached the ideology of small government, was used by the system to achieve this propagandistic goal.
But the curtain is slowly being pulled back, and the reality of that which lurks behind it is becoming too obvious for even the most concrete of mentalities to ignore.
One by one, the institutions and individuals who make up this system are being exposed and revealed for what they truly are.
Take, for instance, the office of the Presidency. The successive administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have done more to de-legitimize the Emperorship than a century’s worth of libertarian oration.
From almost the moment Clinton took office, his presidency was besieged by waves of accusations concerning a variety of misdeeds. Many of these Arkansas-style corruption scandals, such as Whitewater and the cattle futures scam, involved simple graft and greed. Others were the product of the physical appetites of Clinton himself. Americans got a ring-side seat as the president told provable, undeniable lies right to the face of the public. We witnessed numerous disgraces, including discussions of stained dresses and unusual cigar tricks. The President was even forced to submit a hair sample for DNA testing.
Not to be outdone, the Bush Administration followed-up Clinton’s act with a new series of lies and distortions. Once again, the people watched as numerous prevarications were mouthed right into the television cameras. The most celebrated was, of course, the non-existent WMDs in Iraq (with the Niger yellowcake and the flying, chemical-spraying drones coming in a close second and third). The arguments surrounding our Middle East adventures are pock-marked with now-infamous distortions and half-truths.
But we are not just talking about the Presidency here.
Take, for instance, America’s intelligence apparatus. How much money have the American taxpayers spent on these bloated, bureaucratic agencies? (Actually, we don’t know…given that our government has decided to keep the intelligence agencies’ budgets a secret from the public. One could dissect the Constitutionality of the policy whereby billions of dollars of our money is spent on institutions that the feds don’t even publicly admit exist…but what would be the point? The Empire considers the Constitution to be largely passé.)
But whatever the cost…what do we have to show for it? The CIA and FBI did not prevent the 9/11 attacks (though the terrorists left clues that even the Keystone Cops could have detected). And where is Osama bin Laden? Where is Mullah Omar? How did our intel agencies botch the assessments of Saddam’s WMD capability? Why was our military caught totally unprepared for a guerilla war in Iraq? And weren’t we promised a "cakewalk"?
And worse yet, showing how utterly unaccountable our Imperial structure has become, not a single head rolled anywhere in the intelligence community for any of these debacles (Tenet’s recent "retirement" is still an object of conjecture. But he should have been history by mid-September of 2001).
And then there is Congress. Has there ever been a more obsequious, weasely legislative body in the history of democracy? This "distinguished" entity passed the Patriot Act despite hardly any of its members ever having read it. They wilted in front of Bush’s pro-war propaganda and timidly voted for a war resolution on Iraq. When the final story of this period is told, theirs will be a legacy of unremitting cowardice. The only thing that seems to concern them is keeping their head down and getting re-elected.
And I believe that the next Imperial domino to fall will be the Federal Reserve. Alan Greenspan has spent the last several years engaging in what is perhaps the most irresponsible fiscal policy in the history of American central banking. His manipulation of the money supply and his suppression of interest rates to irrationally low levels have fueled the creation of numerous speculative bubbles. Given such easy credit, the American consumers have gone on a debt-spending binge that has exploded our trade deficit and created hideous fiscal balance sheets.
No one is saving. Everyone is in debt up to their eyeballs (which is, of course, the natural result of insanely low interest rates).
When these bubbles pop, we may well face a dollar crisis and a deflation of the housing market that will be gruesome for everyone involved.
So the Empire has been taking a lot of bruises lately. Starting back with Monicagate, Waco, and the White House Travel Office…and working our way up to Abu Ghraib and the WMD debacle…it has been a rough decade.
But have the past few years been significantly different from previous administrations? Have things gone qualitatively downhill? Are the times more corrupt now than in the past?
I believe that they are not.
Certainly, Clinton was a letch. But was he substantially different from JFK? As for his financial scandals…those have been fairly routine in Washington going back at least as far as the Teapot Dome Scandal.
And yes, Bush distorted the truth to con us into invading Iraq. But that trick has a long history too. LBJ lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to increase our involvement in Vietnam. FDR pulled a variety of deceptive maneuvers to get us into WW II. And Wilson was blatantly dishonest in scheming us into WW I.
As for the Fed, it has a rocky history as well. Their manipulation of the money supply and their policy of "easy money" helped inflate numerous speculative bubbles in the 1920’s. The deflation of these bubbles was one of the major underlying causes of the Great Depression.
So why does it seem as though the Empire is in crisis now?
I contend that the difference is the Internet.
The stark reality is that the mainstream media has long since "gone native." The Founders envisioned an aggressive media which would act as a watch-dog on those with power. But our major media outlets, and the "journalists" who cover Washington, are now part of the establishment. Their central paradigm, whether conscious or subconscious, is to protect the system.
I have not quite figured out exactly why they have abandoned their duty to be adversarial towards the government, but it is undeniable that they have. Some speculate that the corporations that own the media get some sort of payoff from the political system (tax breaks, etc). Some contend that these corporations feel threatened by the regulatory power of Leviathan, and thus elect to "play it safe." Some believe that the journalists want "access," or desire to hold positions in some future administration themselves, or simply want to be invited to all of the right parties.
But over the past several decades, the mainstream media has not aggressively hectored the ruling class. At the time, everyone thought that JFK was a family man. No one ever questioned how LBJ left office a millionaire. Nor did the media seriously question his Vietnam policy, or his Gulf of Tonkin fraud, until the war had gotten completely out of hand.
Chances are that without any new media outlets, none of us would have ever heard of Monica Lewinsky, the Buddhist Temple campaign donations, or those missing FBI files.
Nor would we have heard of the neocons, the Office of Special Plans, or the Project for the New American Century.
The reason why everything is different now is the Internet. It has provided the American people with a spotlight with which to observe the inner workings of the Imperial elite. And it is totally outside the control of the establishment. People can log on, share information, and debate opinions in a forum that is wild and free. It can’t be co-opted, bribed, threatened, or cajoled.
And rest assured that they hate it. I guarantee that the elites throughout our system rue the day they ever heard the words "world wide web."
In the days of the Roman Republic, the machinery of the state fell into the clutches of corrupt elites who used their power to loot the common citizens. In retaliation, the people demanded the creation of a new office: The Tribune of the People. Its sole purpose was to watch over the workings of the government, and to veto any act which was deemed harmful to the citizenry.
In our day, the Internet is now filling this role. It is the major reason why the Empire is sliding into crisis. The Empire can’t control the terms of the debate, and it can’t feed the people unchallenged lies. The elites are engaging in their usual shenanigans, but they have not yet truly come to grips with the fact that they can no longer operate in an unaccountable environment. Even Michael Moore’s recent movie would not have been possible without the groundwork laid by various brave pioneers on the web. The audience simply would not have had the background knowledge necessary for the documentary to make sense.
In ancient Rome, the office of the Tribune was eventually corrupted by those in power. They learned to maneuver their own candidates into the position, and it ceased to function as it was intended.
Thus, it is of utmost importance that Americans of all political stripes zealously guard the integrity and the free-wheeling nature of the Internet.
For eventually, one way or another, Leviathan will move against it.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.