by Alexander Cockburn
had seemed to me that one absolutely certain fact, beyond all dispute or question, is that the terror attacks of Sept. 11 had no silver lining, no unexpectedly beneficial fallout. It was, is and will be a terrible business with endlessly terrible consequences. It killed thousands, and impelled a punitive expedition that will almost certainly procreate further martial forays. The war party is agitating for an onslaught on Iraq, maybe on North Korea. Here in America, the backwash of Sept. 11 has shriveled civil liberties and political dissent, and we will spend the rest of our lives trying to recapture lost ground.
But no. The editor of the Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, (whose periodical has promoted the notion of a "just war" in Afghanistan) has now coauthored a column with Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin/ Madison, published in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 25, proposing the following:
"If anything, the war on terrorism creates an opening for progressives, not closure -- indeed, it presents the opportunity of a lifetime ... War's mobilization of the populace against a shared threat also heightens social solidarity, while underscoring the need for government and other social institutions that transcend or replace the market ... Sept. 11 has made the idea of a public sector, and the society that it serves, attractive again.
So here's the supposed silver lining: the return to favor of Big Government.
You want to be reminded of what Big Government has been up to in the past few weeks? The Antiterrorism Act passed by Congress at the president's request in late October guts the Constitution's guarantees of habeas corpus, presumption of innocence, and due process. It allows the federal government in the form of the Justice Department, CIA, FBI and INS) to incarcerate or detain non-citizens on nonexistent or secret evidence, conduct wiretaps and surveillance without evidence of wrongdoing, conduct searches and seizures without warrant, eavesdrop on private conversations between defendants and their lawyers in violation of attorney-client privilege, and investigate private citizens without "probable cause." The bill also allows the government to wield the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) as a weapon to harass dissident organizations under the guise of fighting terrorism, subjecting them to unconstitutional search and seizure.
Add to this trashing of the Bill of Rights the president's order for military tribunals. All this, and the liberal Democrats see this as a time of opportunity to invoke the benefits of big government! On this form, these people would hail concentration camps as encouraging pointers toward a "new sense of collectivity."
Years ago I learned that most mainstream liberals don't give a hoot about the Bill of Rights, or about the paramount importance of independent, 12-member unanimous juries, whose central role pervades the Bill of Rights. The liberals' vision of big government is coercive to its core. I learned from one of Eric Hobsbawm's books that the model for the organization of the rational society used by many social democrats in the interwar period was the German War Plan of 1914. FDR's New Deal was basically cribbed from Mussolini's New Order.
So who's raising a ruckus about these devastations of the Constitution? The mainstream isn't raising a ruckus, even against the notion of torture. For voices of conscience and sanity we have to turn to a thin, red line of anti-imperial leftists, to the radical bar whose overworked members toil for the immigrants and the poor. We can turn to the libertarians, such as Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has delivered powerful speeches in Congress against Ashcroft's jihad against the Constitution. Ron Paul alone spilled the beans on how a cabal of House Republicans and Democrats rammed through the final version of the Patriot Act without it even being read by House members.
The strongest journalistic voice against the military tribunals has been William Safire, even more forceful than Nat Hentoff, whose own denunciations of the rape of the Constitution have been appearing in the Washington Times. From Italy, Gore Vidal has been equally robust.
Ralph Nader delivered a powerful speech against the war, and the various green parties have all issued decent statements. The ACLU has shown understanding of the necessity for broad coalitions of left and right to defend the Constitution. It has brought together left civil libertarians with such icons of the far right as Paul Weyrich, Grover Norquist, Phyllis Schlafly, Bob Barr and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, recruiting all these names to the terms of its opposition to the Patriot Act.
Only one U.S. senator, Feingold of Wisconsin, voted against the USA Patriot bill. Though Rep Dennis Kucinich voted for war-making, he has since tried the "left" in Congress to pull the plug on Bush's military tribunals, but as of Nov. 28, could only find 37 colleagues to agree with him, one of whom is Bob Barr, the conservative former prosecutor who also was among those attacking from the earliest days the provisions of the USA Patriot Act. And guess who wrote this: "Today, America is being stampeded into a new, undeclared war against Iraq. This is a time for truth ... a time for Congress to do its duty, and debate and decide on war or peace. We do not need to have our politics poisoned for yet another generation by the mutual recriminations of a War Party and a Peace Party in the aftermath of yet another undeclared war ... No more undeclared wars. No more presidential wars." It was Patrick Buchanan, who, like Safire, wrote speeches for Richard Nixon.
I've often said that the true contours of American politics are in no way reflected by the conventional political maps. The post-Sept. 11 events have confirmed that analysis with acid clarity.
November 28, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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