So Many Forgotten Lines in the Sand

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Remember Echelon,
the massive electronic spy network run by NSA and their spook counterparts
in sundry ally countries across the world? Because the existence
of Echelon and then Carnivore were revealed during the Clinton administration,
the "revelations" of the last year detailing Bush's electronic
domestic spying programs weren't surprising to those of us paying
attention — unless you can still somehow be shocked by the collective
amnesia of the public.

When Clinton
was in the White House, Republicans charged that Carnivore and Echelon
were violations of the 4th amendment, and rightly so.
They were and still are. It was a gross overreach of executive authority,
an unforgivable idea to the Libertarian-minded.

But how did
these Republicans react when the spotlight was shined on their guy,
George W., and his particular assault on the Bill of Rights? Rather
than suffer a split second of anti-hypocritical self-reflection,
they instead fervently cited the Clinton-era stories about Echelon
and Carnivore as proof that their side wasn't committing any violations
of trust that the other side hadn't already! The line, in other
words, was not going to be moved backwards after having made the
advance.

When the Echelon
spying stories broke, Republicans everywhere were inflamed with
concern about the God-given guarantees articulated in the Bill of
Rights, and nobody wanted Clinton to assume any powers not explicitly
granted to him in the Constitution. That's good and natural, and
the way that things should be — individuals should
distrust the state, should catalog the state's exercise of
coercion and surveillance, and should make noise about any
violations at every given opportunity.

So where are
these defenders of civil liberties now? How did Republicans so profoundly
squander their populist credibility as defenders of individual sovereignty
against an ever-encroaching federal government?

To borrow an
analogy from a famous Texas broadcaster, I'll just say that I went
to college and am a sports fan, so I understand what it is to support
one's favorite team. I can accept that blind partisanship exists.
But sports hold little significance in the big scheme of things.
Republicans now, by and large, are behaving as if their favorite
team is under investigation by the NCAA, and they're circling the
wagons, seemingly oblivious to what those wagons might contain,
or what those covers might conceal. They defend Bush even against
people whom they used to embrace as fellow fans.

The fact that
Bush has that meaningless "R" appended to his name apparently
qualifies him for the undying support of other self-identified Rs,
no matter what that entails, and even if his actions are
in complete contradiction to the principles that moved them to support
him in the first place. I could here cite myriad statistical data
about Bush's nanny-state entitlement spending — how he in effect
is a much more egregious, big-spending liberal than even Bill Clinton,
but I won't repeat everything Pat
Buchanan
, Thomas
Eddlem
and others have said on the subject.

You know the
types that I'm referring to here: neoconservatives, converts to
the notion that the terms "big-government" and "conservative"
are no longer contradictory, and also believers in the notion that
empire building can be noble if it's couched in enough sound bites
about the glory of democracy.

These people
at one time, I'm fairly certain, understood that this is a republic.
If they trust George W. Bush so completely, would pledge him the
lives of their children, do they not recognize that he won't be
in office forever? Is there no practical limit to compromise?

Even if they're
all wrapped up in partisan theater — the grand left versus right
distraction — how does it make any sense for them to support
the creation of legal mechanisms, such as the Patriot Act, that
Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Chuck Schumer, or Dianne Feinstein could
so readily wield against "conservatives" and other political
enemies the minute that they regain power? How do these Republican
partisans not see how plainly short-sighted and self-destructive
that is?

Hypocrisy and
politics go hand-in-glove. That's not news. The thing that distinguishes
neoconservative Republicans, or Bush Republicans, seems to be their
limitless willingness to compromise their principles in order
to sustain their support for him.

It's not that
they don't see the encroachment of the state into their lives.
It's hard to miss. But they simply refuse to acknowledge
it, like young children ignoring an unpleasant task that's required
of them. These neocons choose instead to ignore the encroachment,
to deemphasize it, to rationalize away its
significance as a part of the natural course of human development.

To neoconservatives,
life in the 21st century so far seemingly represents
the natural order of things: that government's rights will continue
to expand as it takes on more services, functions, and responsibilities.
But just like Ronald Reagan warned in his farewell address, as government
expands, the rights of the individual contract — just as predictably
and immutably as a law of physics.

Across the
board, these witting victims are willing to acquiesce to the march
of establishment authority over their formerly sovereign lives.
The establishment treads right over them and their property rights,
but the witting victims never do or say anything that might
risk them being labeled "antisocial" and could therefore
jeopardize their future standing within the mainstream.

The idea that
these new "post-9/11" laws, customs, and conditions are
in reaction to data provided to us by the very government that
benefits from the windfall in these new priorities never enters
the debate. That topic is out of bounds.

And in the
case of the baby boomer generation, at least, there's an innate
inability, it would seem, to believe that the government
would knowingly misinform the public (or worse). Of course there
are exceptions to this rule, but by and large, there's an uncomfortable
tendency to accept the word of government as benevolently authoritative.
I suffer no such illusions.

The Republicans
are not alone in this distinction, either. I'm sure that when the
GOP loses Congress this year, there will be many Democrats, vapid
left-gatekeepers, like Randi Rhodes and the Air America crowd, who
proclaim that their team, the other side of the same coin,
has effectively trounced corruption in government.

But it's the
power that corrupts. The system itself is shattered. It matters
little which team has the ball.

Whether considering
Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the Federal Reserve, the attack
on the U.S.S. Liberty, Waco, Oklahoma City, 9/11, or the London
7/7 bombings, no matter the brand of the administration in
power at the time–Republican, Democrat, or the British equivalents,
an establishment catechism always forms, a doctrine for each
event that explains away the culpability for the government in the
most convenient terms available. Plausibility and critical thought
are never limiting factors in this revisionism.

Any significant
deviation from this doctrine results in an immediate excommunication
from mainstream acceptability, enforced relentlessly across the
spectrum of the establishment news venues. For the neocons, there
apparently is no worse fate than to be accused of such heresy. And
when Clinton was in office, the Democrats showed an almost identical
contempt for anti-establishment perspectives.

This is in
spite of the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution is
a guarantee of free political speech — a stark reminder of just
how central to our republic are the notions of dissent and questioning
authority. It is not only our right to dissent, but it is
our solemn responsibility as citizen believers who share
oversight over this monster that we've nourished with our uncritical
compliance.

My continuing
question is: where will people draw the line? What would be too
much?

I stand in
awe of their suspension of disbelief.

August
28, 2006

Dave
Trotter [send him mail]
is a technical writer in Atlanta, Georgia.

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