HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

October 15, 2007
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


History's Conclusion

I suspect that one of the main preoccupations of future American historians will be an attempt to decide whether George Bush and the pack of attitudes and policies associated with him should be seen as an aberration or a culmination. I would like to believe in the former, but the evidence doesn't support my desires.

The United States was well on the way to a militaristic empire before George Bush appeared on the scene. The difference between him and his predecessors has been that he has made no effort to cover up what we're becoming. Rather, he has celebrated it openly. That he remains unaware of the nature of the differences between a democratic republic and an aggressive empire doesn't change the truth that he's a cheerleader for the latter.

We see much commentary about the timidity of the Democrats in opposing Bush's policies. It's generally attributed to a fear of appearing weak on security questions. But it's doubtless true that major sections of the Democratic Party don't really oppose Bush's goals. It's just that they find him boorish and ineffective in seeking them.

If Bush is actually just a glaringly vulgar manifestation of what the American power structure has wanted for some time, then political reform will be a much more difficult and long lasting process than we have been ready to imagine. That is, if you believe that political reform involves the restoration of a democratic republic. If you like the idea of a great American empire, then your reform is much easier. All you have to do is find a smoother George Bush who doesn't embarrass you every time he opens his mouth.


Invulnerable

The United States government claims it can do anything to anybody any time, no matter how criminal, how dastardly, how vicious, how murderous, and not have its actions examined by a court, if the nasty thing it did involves a state secret. And guess who gets to say what a state secret is?

So far, the courts of the United States have complied with this claim.

It is, of course, a completely absurd position for any government professing to be democratic and constitutional. It says, in effect, "We'll be democratic and constitutional when we want to be, but when we don't, we can become an utter tyranny and nobody has any right to question us."

It's a stance which will increasingly bring contempt on the government and dissolve any shreds of respectability it may retain in some people's minds. The recent case of an innocent German citizen, kidnapped and tortured by the U. S. government, is just one of many instances that will continue to be brought to the attention of the world.

The people of the United States are foolish if they think they can support a government that does this and not, over time, increase the risk to themselves -- both from their own government and from the scorn and hatred of foreigners. But right now we have few politicians who will attempt to protect us from this burgeoning danger.


Mr. Snideness

The insults to the intelligence of the American electorate pumped out each night by Chris Matthews on his TV program, Hardball, are astounding, coming as they do from a self-styled tribune of the people.

Last night, commenting on the Republican debate from Michigan, Matthews couldn't get over the argument between Rudy and Romney about the line item veto. What's going on with these guys? Matthews exclaimed over and over. Why in the world would they think that anybody cares about the line item veto or even knows what it is? How esoteric can they get?

Obviously, anyone who doesn't understand the significance of the line item veto is a political ignoramus. So, the underlying point of Matthews's incessant and gleeful amazement was that most American voters are so ignorant of the processes of government, candidates are unrealistic and naive even to raise them in their campaigns.

Matthews may well be right about the knowledge of the average voter. But, if he is, it should be a matter of concern and not the whoop-it-up jocularity he habitually uses to address it. Regularly, he celebrates stupidity rather than viewing it as a political problem. And even though he tries to come across as the champion of the guy with his dog, and his gun, and his boat, somewhere up there in the Michigan lake country, scratching his nether regions and drinking his beer, who doesn't give a damn about how government works as long as it doesn't bother him, he's actually presenting that voter as a total fool.

I wonder if Chris knows that, or if he, himself, is so dumb he doesn't understand what he's saying.


A New God Rising

I wonder if the media will continue to pay attention to Carol Gotbaum and what her death tells us about the kind of country we have become. She's the woman who was killed by security guards at the Phoenix Airport after she became distraught because airline employees wouldn't let her board a plane she was slightly late for.

Maybe you think I'm extreme in saying security guards killed her. But they used force on her in a way that caused her death. As far as I'm concerned, that's killing.

I was glad to see Judith Warner's column in the New York Times this morning about the Gotbaum case, and particularly her statement that in airline travel "for passengers, it's one petty insult and indignity after the other."

The trouble is, of course, that's not just in airline travel that we are facing increasing intimidation by officialdom, an intimidation that generally includes an implied threat of death or incarceration. It's all around us in the form of police arrogance, prosecutorial misbehavior, claims that the executive power of the nation is accountable to no one, loss of the right of habeas corpus, secret prisons that can't be reported in the press, arguments that government officials shouldn't be bound by treaty obligations, and the incessant proclamation that we the people can't decide whether our tax dollars should be used for mass killing because we don't know what they know.

And what is the justification for all this? It's the same as the justification for the killing of Carol Gotbaum -- security.  Security is the new religion of America, a thing simply to be worshipped and never, ever, to be questioned. It's the sole platform of the major Republican candidates for the presidency. If they didn't have it, they would be nothing.

A people that will accept this deity, and lay out their treasure to build vast new churches in his honor, is a people for whom the issues of freedom and justice simply don't signify.


Planned Viciousness

I've just read another column about Carol Anne Gotbaum, the woman who was killed recently by employees at the Phoenix Airport. I hope the columns keep coming forever. No subject can teach us better who we -- the great American public --have become.

A. L. Bardach in the Washington Post explains that U.S. Air and their subcontractor Mesa Airlines regularly overbook their flights. And when they confront a passenger who desperately needs to get somewhere, they don't care. They won't even let other passengers surrender their seats for distraught persons. U.S. Air and Mesa Airlines have put these policies in place because they want to make more money. That, as you know, is the principal religious impulse in this great country of ours.

We continue to accept behavior from economic and political officials that no self-respecting people would accept. There ought to be an ongoing uproar about corporations who treat customers as Carol Anne Gotbaum was treated. It's not too much to say that we should put U.S. Air out of business for this killing. Don't fly on it. I know that sounds extreme, but unless we start taking strong action against the array of forces that are humiliating us and treating us like cattle, then that's what we are -- cattle -- with no more rights than a herd being led to the slaughterhouse.


The Real One

Mitt Romney is going around the country proclaiming, and issuing commercials saying, that he is the real Republican in the presidential race. His tactics have irritated John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, but those of us who don't have the same stake in the Republican nomination race ought to celebrate Mitt's claim.

He's the real Republican, and what is that?

A real Republican is a man or woman who believes in perpetual war, supports killing as the main tactic for solving the nation's problems, wants the United States to keep more people in prison than any other country in the world, thinks American belongs to a corporate elite, loves to employ barely-masked racism in political campaigns, will do anything to prevent the American people from having an efficient medical treatment system, thinks education is a matter of answering questions on multiple choice exams, and is determined to insult all the other people on the globe by wagging a finger in their faces and screaming, "We're Number One."

That's Mitt. That's a Republican. Help him with his message.


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