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