HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 16, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


Single Policy Party
June 11, 2008

The Republicans have decided to launch an attack on Michelle Obama as a way to bring Barack down. The National Review recently ran a cover picturing her with the caption, "Mrs. Grievance." Big surprise. What else can they do but adhere to their ongoing stance? And what is that? Racism, pure and simple.

The Republicans have no other policy and haven't had another for at least the past thirty years. Every position they take can be traced back in one way or another to an underlying racism.

They are fond of using the term "un-American" as staple of their attack mode. Anyone who uses that term as a criticism of someone is racist to the core.

The political difficulty in confronting this nauseous behavior is that Barack Obama can't address it head on. His campaign is based on a pledge to diminish racial animosity. So, he can scarcely point out that the character of those opposing him has been raised up out of racial prejudice. It doesn't matter how true it is. He just can't mention it.

So, who can? Obviously, people like me, who have no political ambitions. But our weakness is that we barely have a voice. Still, small statements can creep into public consciousness if they are repeated often enough. So, at the least, we need to keep on saying what we know.

In the end, we have to face the truth that presidential politics will be determined by whether or not a majority of the American people are in the grip of racial bigotry. And we also have to admit that at the moment we don't know.

Still, win or lose, it's healthy to get clear in our minds who the Republicans are.

I should add, as a footnote, that for me seeing a person as a racist does not read him or her out of the human race. Racial prejudice is an ancient, deeply embedded sentiment that we can't expect to disappear overnight.  Many racists are decent people in other respects. But I do think the time has come for us to step beyond racism, to put it behind us. It should no longer play a part in our politics. Consequently, the people who hold onto it need to be neutralized as a political force. For us that means the Republican Party should be rejected by those who seek a new and better world.


The Difficulty With Bush
June 12, 2008

Roger Cohen has an intelligent column in the New York Times today in which he says the president's problem is not his intelligence as much as it is his temperament. Cohen is explicit. Mr. Bush, he says, is "mean, vindictive, surly, controlling and impatient."

I think Cohen's right. Bush is, technically, intelligent enough to do his job. It's his nastiness that has led to one dopey decision after another.

When I think back over the past seven and a half years, I realize that my main complaint against the president is that he has tried to steal my country. He has tried to take it over for the purpose of making it into something I never imagined it could be -- an image of himself.

I grew up thinking that America might not be the most sophisticated place in the world, but that it was essentially generous and goodhearted. Now, generosity and kindness of heart are the last things most people around the world associate with the United States. We can't say the shift is entirely the result of Bush and the pack of intellectual freaks with whom he has associated. But they have certainly been a major force in shoving us away from who we thought we were. They have taken the country I thought we had and tried to dump it down a drain hole.

There's much scorn being directed now at Dennis Kucinich for introducing articles of impeachment into the House. They will go nowhere, people say, so what's the use of them? The use is to establish an American expression of who George Bush is. It's important to have that recorded officially somewhere.

If we want to get our country back, then we need to know what it was that has been trying to take it away from us. I think we owe Mr. Kucinich a debt of gratitude for performing a task that won't win him anything most people regard as practical. It remains true that often the impractical is, over the long run, the most practical thing of all.


Shadow Over Success
June 13, 2008

The victory for the writ of habeas corpus at the Supreme Court yesterday is being widely celebrated across the land. And, it's right that it should be. There is nothing more fundamental to liberty and to the Constitution than denying government the power simply to bury someone in prison and never be required to show why. That such a case had to be brought to the court shows the extraordinary circumstances we've been living under during the Bush administration.

It's hard to find anything more unambiguous in the Constitution than its stance on the right of habeas corpus, that is, the right of anyone imprisoned by the government to appear in court, to demand to know the charges against him, and to be allowed to refute them if he can.

Yet, we all need to be aware that four members of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, voted against that right. I use the word "voted" advisedly. These four men were not ruling on the constitutionality of the government's behavior. They were voting for the kind of government they wish to see imposed upon the people of the United States. The idea that they are "strict constructionists" is so ludicrous I don't know how anyone can get the argument out of his mouth without gagging.

One more court appointee by George Bush and habeas corpus would simply have been dumped.

Remember back when John Roberts had been nominated? Recall all the talk about how, though he was somewhat "conservative," he could be counted on to preserve the basic rights of the people no matter what the government tried to do? As far as I can tell, he has been almost perfectly political since his appointment. And his politics are almost perfectly in line with the politics of George W. Bush and the gaggle of extreme ideologues around him.

There's not much doubt about the kind of politicians John McCain would put on the court. And he would have only to select one in order to flush dozens of what we used to think of as civil rights down the drain. Maybe you should get that straight in your head if you're a little worried about Barack Obama's funny name.


Constitutional Confusion
June 14, 2008

The most surprising -- and dismaying -- feature of the debate about the Supreme Court's ruling on habeas corpus for persons imprisoned at Guantanamo is its demonstration that many Americans don't understand what this basic legal privilege is. They seem to think habeas corpus can be maintained for some persons and denied to others. But that's a logical impossibility.

Once the government has the right to seize someone and then to refuse to offer any explanation about the seizure -- which is what the Bush administration has claimed -- then no one is safe from seizure. If the government can put someone in prison and give that person no opportunity to defend himself, then everyone is in danger. You can say all you wish that the government can do this to aliens but not to citizens, but how is the seized citizen to demonstrate his citizenship if he has no recourse to the courts? A man locked deep in a prison can't say anything to anyone who counts unless he is brought into the light of day and given a chance to defend himself. His jailers can simply laugh at any assertion he makes.

When habeas corpus is suspended, it is not suspended just for some people; it is suspended period.

Right now, the public takes comfort in the presumed low numbers who have been denied access to the courts. But how do we know what the number is? With habeas corpus shoved aside, the government doesn't have to release information about how many people it has rounded up. I guess you could say that if prominent people were disappearing by this means their friends and family would bring the power of public opinion to bear on the government. Consequently, the government can't be using the suspension of the writ to silence its political opponents, as has happened in many tyrannies. But the only point you would be making is that the government hasn't yet chosen to use the device of silently removing everyone of whom it disapproves. Besides, the Constitution is not supposed to apply only to people with influential associates. It's supposed to apply to everyone.

Actually the only argument being made by people who attack the court's decision is that the president can be trusted not to do anything bad. That argument has been refuted over and again by the current occupant of the White House. Anyone who believes it is extremely naive and no friend to constitutional government.


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