Monday, February 06, 2006

"The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself."

It's such a familiar and well-worn turn of phrase that most of us don't stop to consider any longer what it means. But we should. We're living in the days of the Fear Presidency, when all other concerns about American life are being consumed by an irrational fear of problems abroad. The Bush administration's entire policy package revolves around an unceasing fear, spread around among various areas of public policy.

The first round of hearings are happening even now in Washington over the NSA spying scandal. The President has send Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to be his advocate, though fortunately for Gonzalez the Republicans on the judiciary committee refused to make him testify under oath. That has undoubtedly saved him from perjuring himself, as his testimony has been mainly lies and artful dodges thus far (see firedoglake for live blogging and comments). All attempts by the Republicans and the "So-Called Liberal Media" to frame this issue as a legal debate are nothing but a smokescreen designed to add an air of phony intellectualism to the news coverage and political spin. The facts of the case are blindingly simple, and every time Bush or Gonzalez takes to the bully pulpit in defense of the NSA spying program, they only make the case against themselves that much stronger.

However, it's the character of their main defense for the program that really concerns me today. The statutory and constitutional law issues are clear: the President is in clear violation of both. The only route left for a defense, and they're making great use of it, is pushing the issue into the court of public opinion. Sadly, that's where the Bush administration is able to gain some traction to defend its actions.

The Bush administration traffics its policies in fear, plain and simple. They have created a massive existential threat to the United States out of one band of terrorists who scored a lucky hit. 9/11 was not, and will never be, a defining moment in my life or in my view of the nation. At least, not in the way that George W. Bush would like it to be. The rule of law and our expectation as Americans to be safe from its abuse by our government is one of the pillars of American society. Bush and the Republicans supporting him would like to tear that pillar down and replace it with the unitary executive theory, turning the "Land of the Free" into an armed bunker under an unchecked "Commander in Chief".

Members of Al-Qaida are likely plotting right now to attack the United States again. And they may succeed. Republicans always talk so dewy-eyed about the price of freedom and liberty, while they cower in abject fear of the notion that they may be the ones called upon to pay that price. I don't see the dead of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or Flight 93 as victims primarily, though they certainly are in the sense that they had no expectation of being attacked that day. However, I see them as martyrs to the soul of American liberty who laid down their lives, unwittingly, as testimony to the importance of a free country. In a police state, in a state ruled by fear and bereft of personal liberty, an attack like 9/11 would have been all but impossible. But the price of that protection is victory for Al-Qaida and an end to the civil liberties that define America.

I am not advocating for reckless bravado, such as Bush's "Mission Accomplished" stunt or "Bring it on" jingoism; far from it. Violent religious fundamentalists are a very real threat to modern nations and vigilance is required. However, that vigilance must be tempered in a respect for our freedoms or else we've given away that which was worth protecting in the first place. The United States, like all nations, has enemies and some of our enemies are likely determined to bring harm to the nation. But just as has been true in the past, so is it true today that the greatest harm done to America is always self-inflicted. Such wounds are always deepest when we allow fear and ignorance to cloud our better judgment.

George W. Bush is using his dwindling public support to change our nation into something unrecognizable, and he is able to engineer that change by feeding the fears of many Americans. Fear has allowed Bush to break the law and violate the Constitution with an illegal domestic spying program, which his supporters defend because they are afraid of another terrorist attack. Bush launched a pre-meditated, unprovoked and ultimately illegal invasion of Iraq, which his supporter defend because they are (or were) afraid of Saddam Hussein and the terrorists they believed (falsely) that he supported. Freedom for the Iraqi people as justification came well after the fact. Bush and his administration are ramping up an almost hysterical fear of Iran, based on the potential for a nuclear program at least 10 years from fruition, which his supporters defend because they are afraid of a nuclear-armed Iran. Humanity is long past the danger point of nuclear proliferation; one more small player doesn't seriously up the ante.

The point being in all this is that the Bush administration has done a masterful job peddling fear to the American people; so much so that even those who once considered themselves "conservatives" have been only too willing to throw away all in which they pretended to believe, for a weak promise of protection. Thousands of Americans have died on Bush's watch, so his ability to protect anyone is questionable at best. Conservatives cave in to the notion that the President has some sort of extra-legal authority in a "time of war", ensconced in a radical re-interpretation of the role of the President as "Commander in Chief" of the entire nation. When faced with a potentially un-ending war, like the "War on Terror", opposition to this new interpretation of Article II becomes crucial. The United States has never been, and never should be, a nation abdicating the responsibility "of the people" to govern in exchange for a dictatorial strong man's promises of safety. The attempts by the Republicans and the Bush administration to do so is nothing but a white flag of surrender to the very terrorists from whom they claim to be protecting us. That's the real "cut and run"; cutting away our laws in order to run away with our freedoms. No thank you!

The surest way to stop the cowardice of Bush and his Republican allies from further degrading the culture of our nation, besides a few elections, is to throw off the stifling blanket of fear with which they've draped our nation. For my own small part, I've added the "Litany Against Fear" to my by-line for the month of February. Now, some may say that I include it because I'm a science fiction nerd and because the "Dune" series is my favorite bit of fiction, and they'd be right, of course. But I also think it's a brilliant mental exercise for steeling the fear-ridden conservative mind for the challenges of living in a free country. That it was part of a novel written as an allegory about the struggle for oil amid western colonialism just adds to the relevance.

For those supporting Bush's fear initiatives, please repeat after me:

I will not fear.

Be concerned, be vigilant and be unwavering, but don't be afraid.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear trumps all reason and rationality. It makes one believe crazy things like Saddam Hussein had ties to Al-Qaida or that the President has extra-special powers outside the Constitution granted him whenever the military deploys.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

Nothing that Al-Qaida can do to America will ever come close to what the Bush administration would like Americans to fear that Al-Qaida can do. Conservatives defending Bush's illegal policies are helping to weaken America and accomplish Al-Qaida's goals for them.

I will face my fear.

That means standing up for your country and its laws, not the men who break them. The nation and the Presidency are far bigger than George W. Bush.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

The world looks very different when one's not afraid of it.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Those who don't learn from history (Nixon, interment camps)...

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

This is essentially what FDR was saying in the quote I borrowed above.

Only I will remain.

One can be a conservative and a Republican and still not allow one's leaders to run roughshod over the Constitution. It has nothing to do with partisanship. Conservative or liberal, Bush is taking the nation somewhere no American should want to go. The hearings in the Senate today may come to some fruition, but probably will not. The Republicans have placed loyalty to the party above all else, and are unlikely to turn against the President. Unless, of course, the voters do so first and demonstrate as much at the ballot box later this year.

Fear is the only weapon the Bush administration has left. Once that fear is gone, nothing else remains.

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