Friday, February 03, 2006

Something To Chew On This Weekend


We are the world’s greatest democracy; if you don’t think so, just ask us. We brag about how free we are, how democratic.

How democratic? The past three elections have seen the entire membership of the U.S. Senate chosen. In those elections, Republican candidates have received an aggregate vote of about 90 million. Democratic candidates, in those same elections, got 93 million votes. As a result, the Republicans hold a 10-vote majority in the Senate.

Five years ago, we elected a President who finished second to his chief opponent in the voting.

We have just named, a man to the U.S. Supreme Court, who early in his career expressed serious reservations about the principle of one man-one vote.

That democratic.

How free? Let me count the way:

--The government is asserting the freedom of the National Security Agency to listen in on telephone conversations and monitor e-mail messages without having to go to the trouble of obtaining a warrant from a judge, a trouble that would require coming up with a good reason for doing it.

--It is claiming freedom to access library records to see what books you are taking out and to search Google’s records to find out what Internet sites you’re using.

--And, of course, it has exercised the freedom to arrest people without charging them and to hold them for as long as it chooses without even informing them of what they’ve been arrested for and to torture these prisoners so long as the torture stops short of death, although mistakes do happen.

The government, in other words, is free to do just about anything it damn well pleases and the rest of us will simply have to adjust. These are, after all, perilous times.

To be fair, the Bush administration says it will not use these powers indiscriminately. It will not use them on you, for example, just on the bad guys.

Which, I’m sure, makes us all feel a lot better.

One might imagine that an administration that sought so wide a curtailment of individual rights would be reticent about it. Even Richard Nixon had the decency to commit his burglaries under cover of night.

This administration is made of sterner stuff.

The other day Karl Rove, the administration’s chief political strategist, told the Republican National Committee that the party must emphasize its commitment to the war on terror in the fall elections in order to win. The administration’s refusal to be squeamish about wiretapping, Internet monitoring and the rest is an important part of that commitment, he indicated.

Meanwhile Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and other administration officials were all over the telly flogging the President’s spying program.

Mr. Gonzalez even went so far as to compare Mr. Bush’s eavesdropping policy with George Washington’s interception of mail between Britain and the colonies during the Revolutionary War.

Mr. Gonzalez: I know George Washington; I’ve visited his monument. George Bush is no George Washington.

The thing is, Mr. Gonzalez, I don’t trust you guys nor do I have any reason to.

This is the most secretive administration in my lifetime. It absolutely refuses to tell the American public anything about anything. It dragged its feet on giving information to the 9/11 Commission, it is balking at releasing records of its response to Katrina hurricane disaster and it refused to name the people Dick Cheney met with while crafting the administration’s energy policy.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that once you guys get the powers you are demanding, you will use them for political gain. Everything is politics with you people.

And once we give up our freedoms to you, we will not get them back. The President has declared war on terror, which is not an enemy but a tactic. It is not a tactic that will disappear, thus neither will the war. Nor will the President’s extravagant powers.

That might add up to freedom and democracy to you. Not to me.

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