Addressing the Paradigm of King

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Sid Blumenthal this week describes how the President’s lust for executive force and fiat is being rebuffed and restrained. Rule of law may be said to matter still, albeit couched in the apologetic and obligatory language of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision concerning Al Marri vs Wright.

In correctly refusing the President’s desires to detain and hold indefinitely whomever he wishes, the Circuit Court also demurs, with "Of course, this does not mean that the President lacks power to protect our national interests and defend our people, only that in doing so he must abide by the Constitution. We understand and do not in any way minimize the grave threat international terrorism poses to our country and our national security."


Also this week, CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry had a charming report:

Students press Bush about alleged torture of detainees

High school students urged the president in a letter to "stop violations of the human rights of detainees."

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush got a little more than he bargained for when he invited high school students from the Presidential Scholars Class of 2007 to the White House for an event promoting reauthorization of his signature No Child Left Behind education reform law.

CNN has learned that a couple of the high school students privately gave the president a handwritten letter before the official event, signed by 50 teenagers, urging the commander-in-chief to "do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants."

The letter began, "We have been told that we represent the best and brightest of our nation. Therefore, we believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions. We do not want America to represent torture."

A senior administration official confirmed that the president received the letter from the students and responded that the U.S. does not torture terror detainees. "We respect human rights," the president told the students, according to the senior official.

The confrontation with the students occurred on the same day White House spokeswoman Dana Perino faced a barrage of questions from reporters about a Washington Post four-part series suggesting the vice president has pushed the envelope in the war on terror. "All that we have undertaken has been lawful," Perino said, insisting the U.S. has not tortured detainees.

Later, CNN TV interviewed three of the students, three articulate, serious and well-informed teenagers. The CNN newsreader asked what it was the President actually said to them in response to the letter — a valid question, given the "senior official" version above. None of them directly answered that question, but I’m sure they are thinking about it.

Then we had the June 25th White House press conference, mentioned at the end of the CNN blurb above. Willowy blond Presidential spokeswoman Perino exhibits a finely tuned sense of the absurd, something all Americans would do well to develop these days. But in repeating Presidential and Vice Presidential denials of state torture and sadism, and in trying to explain how Dick Cheney is both legislatively and executively endowed, as it suits His Highness, Perino seemed as surreal and irrelevant as the jailhouse saga of Paris Hilton.

At one point, a reporter commented, "We should get someone out here who can answer our questions."

Indeed. We should get someone out here who can answer our questions.

But that presumes that truth matters. It presumes the willing accountability of the President and the rest of the executive staff to the legislative and judicial branches, and at some level, to the people. The entire history of the twentieth century American presidency clearly opposes this line of thinking. All three of these stories, from three very different sources and perspectives, illustrate the modern American presidential paradigm as imperial, and happily, as dying.

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions explains paradigms in science. Kuhn’s key exploration is how paradigms shift and change. He writes,

At the start a new candidate for paradigm may have few supporters…. Nevertheless, if they are competent, they will improve it, explore its possibilities, and show what it would be like to belong to the community guided by it. And as that goes on, if the paradigm is one destined to win its fight, the number and strength of the persuasive arguments in its favor will increase…Gradually the number of experiments, instruments, articles and books based on the paradigm will multiply. Still more men, convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly hold-outs remain.

An American empire and an American king are both fundamentally unworkable ideas. They are unscientific, and unsustainable in the long term. Like a Rube Goldberg design, our empire and our kings consume far more energy, creativity and imagination to build and maintain than they produce or deliver. In fact, today the Bush-Cheney kingdom exists solely at the mercy of the energetic moral, ideological and semantic gyrations of its dwindling number of supporters and financiers.

The tentative court, the teenager’s letter personally handed to the President, and the visceral recognition of the indefensible and illogical language of diktat in Washington by its very own spokesperson — all point to ongoing paradigm change of American government.

In his book, Kuhn devotes a whole chapter to "The Invisibility of Revolutions." In science, the new paradigms emerge and grow invisibly, silently, ignored in many ways until they become universally obvious, and then they catastrophically supplant the old ways of thinking and perceiving.

In politics, ongoing paradigm shifts — and the identities of the remaining "elderly hold-outs" — are not so invisible, if you know where to look.

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.

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