Monday, April 10, 2006

How Strong Is Our Democracy Really?

Okay, I’ve taken a lot of heat in the past for continually bringing up fascism, and I think I’ve finally figured out that I’ve been asking the wrong question.  It isn’t whether or not we are moving toward fascism, the real question is, how strong is our democracy?

My aunt, a lovely lady, not overly political but an informed citizen, actively gives back to her community, a working mother and wife of a very politically minded Republican, has expressed concern about us not really being as free as we think we are.  I went on a local cable access television show about a month ago and after the airing, she called me up to, of course, tell me what a great job I’d done and how much she enjoyed watching it.  The topic of the show was religion and politics (one of my favorites) and I said many things not flattering about the Bush administration, and my aunt said, “While I was watching it, I thought, oh my, I hope there isn’t a black sedan out in front of the studio waiting to take her away, never to be heard from again.”  Now mind you, she said this in a joking manner, but there is a hint of fear in that kind of thinking, a tinge of how we really feel when we make jokes like that.

I can see how some people could call me a “tin foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist”, it’s not true or fair, but I understand how some could view me that way, but my aunt, no way.  Yet she and I (and I would venture to guess more and more people everyday) have the same sense that our freedom is in some ways an illusion that we willfully buy into because not to, is just too scary.  

When we read news stories about citizens arrested for refusing to show ID while riding a public bus, “free speech zones”, pacifists and Quakers investigated by the FBI, toy stores forced to remove toys from their shelves by Homeland Security due to copyright infringements, getting a ticket for displaying an anti-Bush bumper sticker, being fired for supporting progressive radio, paying off credit cards and triggering an investigation from Homeland Security, a retiring Supreme Court Justice warning of dictatorship, and the latest in this string of disturbing incidents, a teacher handcuffed and slammed against a car by Homeland Security agents in front of the elementary school kids for asking the agents to move their car out of the school bus zone, it’s hard not to wonder how free we really are.

As Leander Pickett, the teacher involved in the bus zone incident, said, “You now you hear these stories everyday and say, 'This will never happen to me,' but yesterday it happened to me.”  While I will concede that these stories do not mean we are moving toward fascism, the fact that they are happening is clearly having an affect on whether or not many of us feel as if we are, at the very least, moving into uncomfortable territory.      

It’s a combination of the authority we are willfully giving to the executive branch, the way in which the current administration handles that increased authority and how their lack of concern for individual rights is trickling down to those charged with exerting that authority over the people.  Whether or not we are moving toward dictatorship as Sandra Day O’Connor warned, in the end may not be as important as the way we process that kind of warning.  If we feel oppressed, we will act accordingly and avoid confrontation by censoring ourselves and that is a direct threat to our democracy.  I already feel uncomfortable expressing my displeasure with this administration, even in my own home.  Sure, I do it anyway, but I’m somewhat confrontational by nature and to me security is overrated.  But how many other people, like my lovely aunt, will stop expressing themselves out of fear, or if not fear, just the desire to not be hassled for it.  

Life is challenging enough for most people with work, family, friends and community, why make expressions of political thought one more thing we have to censor in our lives? Especially since we were raised to believe that we didn’t have to.  That’s a lot of history to overcome and behavior that we, as Americans, have become accustomed to.  Is security really worth changing, in a fundamental way, how we operate as a county?  I certainly hope not.

13 Comments:

Anonymous geocrackr said...

"(T)in foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist" has become tainted -- the new appellation is "independent speculative investigator" ;)

I'm surprised nobody has bitten on this yet. Personally, I'm not willing to concede "that these stories do not mean we are moving toward fascism," and most of the people who "doth protest too much" are the ones to whom not willfully buying into the illusion is just too scary.

That said, I also agree with your first point -- just how strong is our democracy? I would like to give attribution, but I just can't remember who it was I heard say "America has a strong immune system" (or words to that effect), which I completely agree with. I also agree that it is easy to lose historical perspective in a culture that is not at all historically literate. But at the same time, we are not the frogs of the parable -- we can and should recognize when the heat is being turned up, and be able to judge when it is approaching the boiling point and it's time to get out of the pot (so to speak). Asking that question is not the same thing as saying "the time is here" no matter what the illusion-buyers desperately want you to believe.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Yellow Dog said...

I wouldn't be so paranoid if the government asn't out to get me. My fiends know that I am a in-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist. It's one of my endearing qualities. It's kind of amusing to them. Unfortunately, I don't get the last laugh if I am right

2:15 PM  
Blogger Bryon Rogers said...

Like it or not, people choose their government, and until people stop worrying about which celebrity is the most emaciated or how small their cell phone is (and how many mp3s can they fit on it) it is likely the government will continue to slip further and further out of the hands of the people. I'm not trying to be condescending to the American people. It's human nature.

Other than the works of Epicurius himself, almost every political theory links these examples of extreme wealth (and extreme divisions of wealth) to the downfall of a people, especially when luxury replaces a strong national sentiment. And Americans, even the poor, are extremely wealthy on a global scale.

Naturally, Marx tried to combat this focus on the accumulation of wealth with the idea of a government equally dividing it among the people. The obvious and well-tested flaw being that when a few men are responsible for more or less all of a nation's wealth, they're going to do everything but share it.

Sorry, I'm going off on a tangent. The point is: our democracy is weak right now because our people do not care unless Bill O'Reilly or Chris Matthews say they should--of course, until they remember American Idol is on.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

LG~

I'll echo G-crakr's comments about America's immune system and the lack of historical perspective.

We've lived in a 'National Security State" since the late 40's. The amount of internal surveillance during the Red scare years and during the civil rights/Vietnam era makes today's seem familiar if not tame.

In fact the list of incidents sound like a recitation that many a 50's, 60's era African American could make RE their experiences with Jim Crow.

As I've also suggested in
past comments, I think we're 'late in the cycle'.
When your seeing statements from former SCJ's together with one damaging revelation after another Re this Admin's criminal negligence and incompetence, we're probably closer to our own 'regime change' than
Iran is!

Just today we have the exposer of the Vietnam My Lai massacre attributing threats
of resignation to high ranking pentagon officers over plans to use nukes against Iran.

And read what a former Marine Corps general had to say in this week's Time mag:

" My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results."

As eloquent and credible a denunciation of the chikenhawks who led us into the morass as we're likely to read.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1181629,00.html

In sum, while I do not take lightly the drift toward facism, neither do I sell short the mounting 'resistance' from the blogs to the halls of the pentagon and all kinds of places in between.

60% disapproval of the chimp does not bode well for the continued 'drift'!

4:07 PM  
Blogger thehim said...

There is one very simple barometer to measure how healthy our Democracy is. If the people in the executive branch of our government, and those employed in their services, are not held accountable to the laws of the land by Congress, then we are heading towards fascism.

The incident at the school shows that not just the President feels that he's above the law, but many of those who are being paid to "protect the homeland" do as well. This is fascism. Today, it's only isolated incidents. If it doesn't alarm us now, then they won't be isolated any more.

And I'd be a lot happier if I got at least some sense from the Democrats in Congress that they understand this.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

dale-

Thanks for illustrating our historical myopia in a way I could not.

You have suggested before that we're 'late in the cycle', and all your points are true as far as they go. But they were also true during the '04 election cycle, and what happened -- despite polls before and during the election predicting a landslide win for Kerry and the Dem's down-ticket, a whole slew of electoral "surprise upsets" in FL, OH, TX, GA, NM, etc, etc threw the "election" to Shrub and the Congressional Wingnutistanians (thanks for that term, to, BTW). And the Dems just rolled over and begged to stop being kicked.

The results have been mixed. On the one hand we got perceived condoning of the administration's criminal enterprises; one straight-out corporatist and one established fascist on the SCOTUS, with a 3rd likely before '08; wholesale giveaway of the federal treasury which responsible people are going to be paying off for decades; and the complete dismantling of the public safety regulation system. On the other hand we have a totally disgraced Rethuglican party, one that doesn't deserve the respect and deference one would give a pimp down on the corner and yet which people continue to take seriously.

So yes, you're probably right about the groundswell of public disgust growing to epic proportions. What are the possible implications of that? One is what you say: people are coming to their senses, the pendulum has started to swing the other way, etc. Frankly, I hope you're right. Of course for that to take effect requires a functioning electoral system, which may function in certain localities (here in WA we seem to still have things under control) but as a system has been functionally corrupt for decades and, as the last 3 election cycles shows, is now subject to massive vote fraud (I mean, when the best thing you can say about the '04 "election" is "we have no way of knowing who got the most votes," your election system is completely fucked-up). As far as that goes, if I were to delve into the realm of speculation I might wonder exactly why the Wingnutistanians have been operating as if they didn't have to worry about being re-elected any more. But let's say that, since they're in disarray right now, since the wheels are coming off the cart, they don't have as tight a grip on their organization as they did during the patriotic fervor of the reaction to the mass murder of US citizens and the illegal invasion of another country, and maybe they are afraid of the elections now.

Well, then there's the second possible implication. The administration sees that they're under attack, Congress and most local governments may be lost, so they decide they've got nothing left to lose and go totally bat-shit insane. We already know they're completely delusional and incompetent -- why shouldn't we think that not only are they capable of going through with something like this, that they see it as their only path to salvation. And as an extra bonus, just think what a retaliatory hit on, say, one of our unsecured ports (like Seattle, for instance) would do to rally the doubters and naysayers behind the flag and, by extension, the administration. Iran may not have production capability yet, but I'd be willing to bet they know how to get their hands on one or two loose Russian warheads if they were pressed. The administration may have deluded themselves about what a nuclear strike would do in Iran, but they know good and well what it would do here. We also know that they have no regard whatsoever for the Constitution, that they hold themselve above the law, so why not, say, suspend the elections for the duration of the crisis (I remember that was a particularly visceral fear during '04, but then we weren't sure yet that they didn't have to worry about the elections). Or it doesn't have to be so blatant -- how about just rounding up a few "traitors" (and, Hey! whadyaknow -- they're Democrats!) and whipping up patriotic frenzy using the compliant corporate media. Then where's your groundswell of public disgust?

But let's say for the sake of argument that the Wingnutistanians do disintigrate, that they're so disorganized now that their election fraud isn't completely effective and they lose the House and the Senate and the White House. Are the Dems going to try anyone in the administration for violating their oath of office? Are they going to shut down the Iraq occupation and start making reparations? Are they going to recover all of the money BushCo handed out to their war-profiteer cronies? Are they going to enact a wholesale purge of all of the Shrub/Cheney flunkies that have been seeded throughout every executive agency? Are they going to enact impeachment proceedings against all of the actual activist judges that were installed with their "advice and consent". Are they going to start rebuilding the national infrastructure that's been languishing for the last 6 years or re-funding public services or implement trade protections that protect American workers or set up a single-payer health care system? Are they going to develop and implement a sustainable national energy policy that recognizes the increasing scarcity of petroleum? Are they even going to implement a secure and verifiable national voting system?

I'm not going to hold my breath.

So, frankly, even under the best scenario we're looking at another generation or two before we can even get to the point of having any form of actual representational government at the national level. That's if global warming or the impending economic collapse resulting from BuschCo's shenanigans hasn't caught up to us already. And, in all likelyhood, I'll be dead by then.

to thehim -- word.

6:47 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Geocrackr--Thanks for the perspective, I needed another independent speculative investigator's point of view to remind me that I'm not crazy for being concerned.

Yellow Dog--I too am the one everyone laughs at, although my friends are all laughing in an increasingly uncomfortable way. I think they are starting to see that I'm not as far out there as they'd been hoping I was.

Byron--And that's the most depressing thing of all.

Dale--I am taking comfort in the fact that there are still people working within the government that are diligently trying to counter the increasingly unaccountable power wielded by this administration. I just hope that they can keep up with the escalating sense of entitlement that those in power seem prone to. I also wish that those few dissenting voices would stop resigning in protest, I mean really, what good does that do?

TheHim--See now, there you go getting me all riled up again after Dale spent so much time trying to talk me down.

Geocrackr--That was a mouthful and a great read, thanks. I unfortunately share your fears that I wish were only wild, paranoid delusions. I guess there’s still hope that they are.

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

G-craker~ That is SOME apocalyptic shit!

LG~ An aside on the aluminum foil hats. I've never seen one. Is it just foil folded down and conforming to the head, or is it perhaps a more sylish Jiffy-Pop shape?

So that I can muster the will to awake tomorrow, put one foot in front of another and put the key in the ignition, I submit the following:

Let's first concede that the rubes got 'fooled again' in '04 and that there was voter fraud in Ohio sufficient for a 2nd
successful 'steal'. There still was no landslide predicted by any poll taken within days before the voting and the Republican national vote total, this time, was beyond the margin of error/theft.

IF '06 congressional election polls show Republicans getting swamped in specific races, and those results turn around in favor of Republicans
then I predict they will be challenged. There can't be a single Dem candidate who doesn't have a contingency plan to police/challenge
voting fraud.

Notice that the 'half-life on reporting on this Admin screw-ups and scandals
is getting shorter and shorter? I'll stand by my predictions that we are at or close to 'critical mass' with the electorate's patience. (2nucular...Dubya's
spelling... metaphors in consecutive sentences. Pretty good!)

Let's see where the polls bottom out and whether or not the election turns out to be nationalized as predicted by many pundits.

Lastly, for your dismal trend to continue we have to assume a Republican
level of competence that is simply nowhere evident. And, if in fact Hersh's
New Yorker story is accurate, the Pentagon is showing some pushback.

Could you live with a, seasonally timed, "Seven Days in May" scenario if it resulted in members
of the 82nd Airborne frog-marching Bush and Cheney out the front door
of the White House?! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058576/

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear LGND, NIL (niece-in-law)... Just for the record, I'm not a Republican, I'm a conservative Independent (I stole that from O'Reilly!) who has seen the light with regard to the Bush administration. He's
scaring the hell out of me too. Although we may not see eye to eye on a lot of issues, I thoroughly enjoy your posts - I read them everyday as I think it's good to be exposed to all sides of important issues (not to mention the fact that you're the only "semi-famous" person I know!). Keep up the good work. Hope to see you soon.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

LG, Dale -- I just get it in my head to go off on a tear sometimes...

Dale, I'm not sure what you're getting at this time. First, yes the rubes got fooled again in '04 and there was voter fraud in Ohio (and FL and TX and GA and NM...). Additionally, I checked and you are right that there was no "landslide" a la Reagan '84 predicted by the polls -- on reflection I recalled that was my own prediction based on what I thought was a reasonably informed opinion and a denial, ne disbelief that America really is half-full of ignorant, racist, homophobic savages. But then you veer off into your own denial with that entirely spurious claim of "the Republican national vote total... was beyond the margin of error/theft." There is simply no evidence available that makes that a reasonable statement. To counter it, on the other hand, is the Conyers Report, Mark Crispin Miller's Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too, and the national exit polls that put Kerry ahead 53% to Shrub's 47% (until they were "corrected" to conform to official tallies).

Next: "There can't be a single Dem candidate who doesn't have a contingency plan to police/challenge voting fraud." On what evidence are you basing that? I was saying the same thing in '04, on as much evidence I suspect, the results proved otherwise, and I've seen or heard nothing that suggests the Dems even recognize that this is a problem for them.

Then follow a series of non sequiturs involving a couple of nice nucular turns of phrase, a reference to Rethuglican incompetence which I believe I addressed in my scenarios, wrapping up with the bogeyman of a military coup which I never mentioned nor believe is likely. I'm familiar with the military, and as a general rule they are professionals who take their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States very seriously (unlike the administration). What I'm noticing about the Hersh article is that senior military officials are pushing back by threatening to resign... whereupon they'll be replaced with professional sycophants who'd be happy to nuke some anti-American ragheads.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Gratis said...

LG,

"My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I'm closed even for a day that would cause undue stress."

When I read this quote from the toy store owner my first thought was "SS". Because it does indeed ring loudly of fascism. As for the tin-foil hat, I leave that to Miss Conspiracy-Theorist, my alter ego who I allow to blog occassionally.


IF '06 congressional election polls show Republicans getting swamped in specific races, and those results turn around in favor of Republicans
then I predict they will be challenged.


Except in Ohio, where it just became law that there couldn't be any challenges to national elections, courtesy of J.Kenneth Blackwell, the Sec. of State. And, unfortunately, other Republican states are trying to do the same thing.

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

G-craker~

What, only one of us can 'go off on a tear' per blog?!

It's not as though I haven't chosen some obscure, satire laden paths to my points before!

The 'coup' was just tongue in cheek musing.
For that matter, when can you recall discussion of resignations of 'high level' military officers, let alone actual resignations? Not even Clinton's 'don't ask don't tell' policy caused that.
I think the impact would be enormous, assuming they released statements outlining their real reasons for resigning.
For all we know, the mere threat may have an effect on staying the nuclear hand.

No evidence that the 3 M margin of 'victory' for Bush
was valid? No hard evidence that those #'s are an accurate measure of the breadth of fraud either.

Exit polls? Considering the
quality of the candidate, can you rule out a degree of sheepishness, if not outright shame, in some Bush voters admitting to that?!

As for Dem candidates 'recognizing there's a problen'. If I'm running I don't run around talking about voter fraud, but rather look into means to prevent it. I would think that most polling places, if they have electronic voting at all, are not 100% electronic.
If a district leaning heavily to a Dem shows an 'anomaly' in the vote totals in favor of the Repub on the electronic machines, but not on the paper/mechanical ballots, then you've got a 'case'for a challenge. if I can reason that out, do you really think with all the time effort and money involved that Dem candidates
wouldn't?

Aren't some districts/States challenging or removing the electronic machines?

6:59 AM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Dale--I've made my tin foil hat into a tiara shape!

Uncle G--Sorry for mistakenly calling you a Republican. Can't say I'd like that very much either. ;)

GeoCrackr--Yeah, what you said.

Gratis--And there were some results in the last Ohio election that varied wildly from polls, and still no outrage.

Dale—I hope you’re right about those resigning actually going public with their reasons. I’m still waiting for Ari Fleisher and Colin Powel to give their public statements of truth.

3:51 PM  

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