History stutters a lot. It repeats itself, people often say.
Franklin Roosevelt pledged repeatedly in the days and weeks leading up to the 1940 election that he was not going to send American boys into a "foreign war." But, of course, once we’re in a war, it’s no longer foreign, is it? And if he could maneuver and provoke Japan into attacking us, then our war with Japan would likely activate Japan’s treaty with Germany and get us into the war in Europe as well. "Mission accomplished," as our semi-honorable incumbent might say.
Now the fact that the National Security Agency has amassed the telephone records of almost every American with a telephone is no reason to be alarmed, President Bush has assured us. They’re only looking for potential terrorists who may be calling Al Qaeda or its affiliates. "The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," Our Maximum Leader has proclaimed. So if your privacy has been violated by government activities, it follows therefore — "ipso fatso," as Archie Bunker used to say — that you are no ordinary American. You are extraordinary and should feel honored that your exceptional traits and/or activities have come to the attention of your government. Come to think of it, are any of us really ordinary? We are Americans, are we not? And we Americans are an extraordinary people. Therefore, there are no ordinary Americans. But if there were, Bush would be fiercely protecting their privacy. We have his word on that.
So much of what the government does for us reminds me of the movie, "Cool Hand Luke." I think especially of the scene where the warden of the prison, called "the Captain," explains to Luke why he is going to once again be locked up in the sweat box "for your own good."
"Cap’n," Luke replies, "I wish you’d stop bein’ so damn good to me!"
Now the Bush regime is doing all this snooping and spying on us for our "own good." It is protecting us from the terrorists, as we all know. And since there has not been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9-11-’01, whatever the government has been doing to protect us since 9-11 must be working, right?
Oh, sure, there are a few cynics and doubters out there who think there are more effective ways to spend all the money, personnel and technological resources used in intercepting our international phone calls and tracing the domestic calling patterns from a data base of literally billions of phone calls. It might better be spent, they say, inspecting cargo or hiring more translators for the State Department. And, as some have impolitely pointed out, this is the government that paid scant attention to a report, reaching the president’s desk barely a month before the 9-11 attacks, that Al-Qaeda was planning a major attack in the United States. Now it is protecting us from terrorism by scrutinizing the calling records of some 224 million conventional and cellular phone customers. The Bush administration’s idea of how to find a needle in a haystack is to order more hay.
And that evil old "liberal establishment press" has been doing its patriotic part to help the Bush administration keep us safe. The New York Times, you may recall, had the scoop on the NSA’s interception of all those international phone calls Americans are making and receiving. But the "Gray Lady" sat on the story for over a year, breaking the news well after the 2004 election. Meanwhile, right wing publisher, broadcaster and suspected vast conspirator Rupert Murdoch is raising money for Hillary Clinton. Let’s see now, as Bud Abbott used to say, "We have Who on first, What’s on second, I Dunno’s on third…"
The New Hampshire Union Leader, once a fiercely conservative paper that seldom hesitated to offer its opinion on anything, last week invited its readers to take an on-line poll as to whether they approve of the government collecting their telephone records. Two days later the paper published an equivocating editorial on the subject, noting that the program has been called "indefensible" by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (One cheer for the spotted Newt!) and that "as portrayed in the USA Today story it does appear unjustifiably broad." Gee, fellas, don’t go too far out on a limb!
Obviously, it’s going to take a lot more than a phony pretext for an unprovoked war and a warrantless snooping into the records of "ordinary" Americans to convince Bush loyalists in the Republican Congress and his apologists in the press that this president has done anything impeachable. My, how times have changed.
Is there some way we can get a strumpet with a stained blue dress into this story?
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.