For those who might continue to entertain thoughts that President Bush is a "conservative," or a good president, the new "Citizens Corps" initiative should eliminate any doubts.
George Bush is not any kind of conservative.
Consider the slogan that runs with the giant photo of Bush's head on the Citizens Corps web site.
We want to be a Nation that serves goals larger than self. We have been offered a unique opportunity, and we must not let this moment pass.
God help us. Goals "larger than self?" Is Bush a republican (with a small "r") or a communist?
Where in the American political tradition does one find the notion that the individual should be subject to the masses? In John F. Kennedy. Outside of the notable Democrat, Mr. Kennedy, one finds this sentiment expressed by the Nazis and by Karl Marx.
For example, the German National Socialists ("Nazis") of the 1930s and 40s famously attacked the "bourgeois" notion that individual concerns were somehow superior to the concerns of the omnipotent Third Reich.
And what, pray tell, is the "unique opportunity" to which Mr. Bush refers? The tragedy of September 11, apparently, in the aftermath of which the majority of the American citizens have abandoned what little good sense they had in their rush to forfeit their liberty in exchange for the illusion of "security." War, after all, is the health of the state.
It might be palatable if the Citizens Corps were merely an outlet for dweebs and morons who feel compelled to dress up in uniforms and pretend to be important, like the juror who wore her Star Trek uniform to court because it was a "formal occasion." These are the "adults" who long for the days of secret decoder rings and "junior G-men," but cannot satisfy such cravings in antique stores or comic books.
This would be stupid, but relatively innocuous.
Citizens Corps, however, has the potential to turn every obnoxious jerk of a neighbor in the United States into a government informer.
Consider the changes to the Neighborhood Watch Program. As the Citizens Corps web site advertises,
Community residents will be provided with information which will enable them to recognize signs of potential terrorist activity, and to know how to report that activity, making these residents a critical element in the detection, prevention and disruption of terrorism.
We will be publishing information which will assist citizens in organizing Neighborhood Watch Programs, knowing what to look for in the community, and understanding what to do if they observe suspicious activity.
What signs of "potential terrorist activity" are anyone's neighbors likely to observe, anyway?
Husband: "Hey, Marge, what do you suspect the three Arabs on the corner with the machine guns are up to?"
Wife: "They're probably only running for Congress, dear. Pay them no mind."
Bush's Civilian Corps is an invitation to snoop, and for personal vendettas to be turned into federal cases.
The Civilian Corps is also the fruition of the Republican view of citizenship that dates back to Lincoln, namely, the view that every citizen is a fair target in war. If one can blow up civilians on the grounds that their failure to overthrow their own government makes them an enemy, it is logical to view one's own non-rebelling citizens as a "citizens corps."
Of course, the total state and only the total state will reap the "benefits" of the Citizens Corps: private liberty and private lives will be brought even more under the power of the almighty State.
Perhaps the most disgusting part (there is much to be disgusted about) of Citizens Corps is Operation TIPS. The disgusting part, of course, is not the moronic, trendy name. Every program needs a hip name in contemporary Washington, DC. There was the USA-Patriot Act, and now there is Operation TIPS, which, if you hadn't guessed, is all about — drumroll — snitching on your neighbors.
As the web site proclaims in very serious tones,
Operation TIPS, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice and developed in partnership with several other federal agencies, is one of the five component programs of the Citizen Corps. Operation TIPS will be a national system for reporting suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related activity. The program will involve the millions of American workers who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places.
Now we can all breathe a little easier: TIPS will be run by the Department of Justice. You know, the department controlled by the Attorney General. Remember Janet Reno?
It's a good thing such an ambitious program for spying on American citizens will be in place the next time there are Clintons or other upstanding democratic socialists in the White House. Now Hillary won't be forced to sneak around with "confidential" FBI files. Spying is encouraged!
This is worse than a recipe for disaster. The abuse of such absolute power is inevitable. If the Citizens Corps is not disbanded, the United States will have effectively forfeited its alleged "victory" in the Cold War with the adoption of this Soviet-style "Citizens KGB."
What exactly is now alleged to have been the matter with Senator Joseph McCarthy, or with Watergate? Presumably nothing. In contemporary American politics, the end justifies the means, and the Constitution and Bill of Rights are dead letters.
As the TIPS spiel continues,
The Department of Justice is discussing participation with several industry groups whose workers are ideally suited to help in the anti-terrorism effort because their routines allow them to recognize unusual events and have expressed a desire for a mechanism to report these events to authorities.
So Mr. Bush and the federal powers-that-be will trust corporations and their employees to report suspicious activities to the FBI, but they will not trust corporations to report their earnings to the SEC? How eminently logical.
Very much to my disappointment, the "Frequently Asked Questions" part of the Citizens Corps web site fails to include the only question that I have: if I want to see the Citizens Corps abolished forever and for all time, should I simply write my Congressman?
The Citizens Corps and Operation TIPS have no place in American life. They are contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The explicit justification for these groups is the notion that individual lives are inferior to the collective. Precisely because that notion is repugnant to the American political tradition of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Citizens Corps and Operation should be abolished.
July 22, 2002
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2002 David Dieteman