Monday, January 16, 2006

A Lone Voice In The Wilderness

It can often times be difficult being a liberal in Bush's America. After all, I opposed a war that conservatives had been dreaming of for 10 years. I don't subscribe to the Republican myth of supply-side, free market economics. I don't believe that tax-free capital is a good policy, since it grossly exacerbates the income gap in the nation. I'm not a Christian and I don't subscribe to the notion of America being better off with a weak separation of church and state. I think consenting adults should be able to marry without state interference in the matter. I am hopelessly out of step with the conservative Republican view of what American life should be.

Unfortunately for myself, and many like me, our representation in the political realm, including the media, has not been stellar lately. I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that the media is biased against liberalism per se. I believe the media is biased towards its corporate ownership, towards sensationalism and towards the easily digested 30-second soundbite, which has been the most effective ideological weapon the Republicans have had against liberalism. The nuanced foreign policy positions of a liberal realist cannot compete in the No Attention Span media era with "Fightin' 'em there so we don't have to fight 'em here!" or "Mission Accomplished!". The Right has perfected jingoism, allowing the masses to receive tiny blerbs of political-sounding information, while imparting no real knowledge or policy of any kind. The Republicans have been able to either box liberal ideas into phony corners of ideological nonsense, or gotten them excluded from the public discourse altogether. It's no accident that exit polling after the 2004 presidential election demonstrated that a majority voting for Bush believed him to hold views on issues that were the opposite of what he actually campaigned upon. The media, so afraid of the dreaded accusation of "liberal bias" so prevalent from the Right, avoids all pretense of reasoned discourse on substantive issues, instead turning politics into a struggle of personalities and power ties.

The result of all this tends to be that true, intelligent liberal voices rarely get much of audience in the national media or, when they do, are mercilessly pot-shotted for the most inane, empty-headed reasons (anyone remember the "Dean scream"?). As a liberal, I begin to feel as though perhaps the country has changed too far for my particular ideals to have any place here. I begin to wonder if perhaps a majority of the country really does want women's rights taken away, really believes we're locked in a global holy war with Islam, really does believe that social welfare and taxes are evil. It makes the nation of Jefferson and Madison seem awfully far away when looking at a reality of unending war, unchecked executive power and unabashed privilege for the wealthy and incorporated. The America I and like-minded folks want to live in seems an ethereal pipe dream some days.

Which is why, when a liberal intellectual finally breaks through the media's zone defense of pointless inanity, it feels like cool water in the desert. Such a moment came today, finally, on C-SPAN, with a well-timed speech by former Vice President Al Gore. Al Gore's loss in 2000 (even if questionable) was a wake-up call for me as a liberal. It really demonstrated to me that those supporting conservative causes place their ideology above all other concerns in an election. There is simply no objective measure by which George W. Bush could be considered better qualified to be President than Al Gore, and Bush's appointment to the Presidency in 2000 remains a stark indicator that conservatives would rather have their own incompetent ideologue as President than a superbly qualified and seasoned expert from the other side of the political spectrum. For conservatives today, "compromise" is synonymous with "surrender" and that is something they simply will not abide.

After reading the transcript of Gore's speech, I can only say that it was like manna from heaven hearing an intellectual of his stature confirm exactly what liberals like myself have been saying about Bush's activities of late. I care about the Rule of Law and the role of government under the Constitution, and Bush's belief in unchecked executive power during a contrived war flies right in the face of the ideals our country was founded upon. But don't take my word for it...

Former Vice President Al Gore, via firedoglake:

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that "the law is king."

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

This is why the Alito nomination is important to every American. A unitary executive that is all-powerful during a time of ongoing and never-ending undeclared official wartime has no check, no balance, especially given a Congress which has abdicated its responsibilities of any meaningful oversight. In this context, an independent judiciary becomes more important as a balancing mechanism -- and a judiciary which has been purposely packed with rubber-stamping ideologues cannot provide an adequate balance.

[Bolded comments are from ReddHedd at firedoglake.]

More, via AmericaBlog:

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable.

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws...

The excruciating irony of Gore's speech is that it would have been met by thunderous Republican applause...if it had been given by Newt Gingrich in reference to President Clinton's impeachment. The Republicans pretended to be very interested in the Rule of Law and the limits of executive power then. How quickly their memories fade...

In the past few weeks, liberals have been subjected to Joe Lieberman's undying support of the President's invasion and occupation of Iraq, Joe Biden's scatalogical bloviating during the Alito hearings and Diane Feinstein's practical surrender on the Alito nomination. Not a very respectable showing for the party that liberals are generally forced to support for lack of a viable alternative. How spectacular it was, then, to see a true heavyweight like Al Gore thundering away at the depraved reality of Republican controlled government. It served as a powerful reminder that the Republicans don't own America and don't hold the license for patriotism. Perhaps a few more voices added to Gore's and Feingold's and Dean's, could help remind "Red State America" of why we Americans don't tolerate incompetent crooks in the White House and Congress.

Of course, I suppose the future of our nation really pales in importance compared to two men getting married, so I won't hold my breath.

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