Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A little riff on the previous post....

In thinking about the reasons why Bush and Cheney would be so inclined to subvert law, there's the always appropriate "accruing power to the Unitary Executive," but, I wonder if there's more to it than that. After all, Cheney's complaints about the supposed fettering of executive power always come back to his days in the Nixon administration, and it is from that time that Cheney marks his objections.

However, the power of the Executive has grown far beyond original Constitutional limits ever since the end of WWII, with the advent of the national security state and the ascendancy of imperial ambitions on the part of hawks in both parties.

The Founders understood that any government had the capacity to become tyrannical, and both the Constitution and the Federalist Papers reflect that understanding. But, the Founders had no way of seeing far enough into the future to predict the development of nuclear physics and the weapons derived from that development, nor could they have anticipated the changes precipitated by the turmoil in the hearts of the American wealthy at the prospect of the 1917 Russian revolution and the rise of communism there. There have been countless instances when the government viewed some citizens as the enemy for ostensibly ideological reasons (the Whiskey Rebellion, in microcosm, or the Southern secessionists, in macrocosm, for example), but, with respect to the accretion of lopsided Executive power, nuclear weapons and communism were genuine game-changers, I think--with the generous help of partisan politics.

At some point in the last sixty years, more likely earlier than later, the Executive Branch came to see the public, Congress and the press as adversaries, as enemies from which that branch had to protect itself, even if that meant inflicting on the public brainpan the blunt force trauma of secrecy and a shadow government composed of the intelligence agencies and the military as coordinated by the National Security Council, the excesses of which only became obvious and seemed blatant as a result of Nixon's political paranoia.

There's always good reason to be skeptical of one's government, and Izzy Stone's dictum that "all government's lie" should always apply. That said, the most recent seizures of power by the Executive Branch have greatly reinforced the impression that the government stands in opposition to its citizens, and that calls into question the efficacy of representative democracy in this country.

Unfortunately, Obama has done little of substance to dispel the nagging suspicion that government no longer works for the people. The corporate money behind the teabaggers is hoping to exploit that fear (that much is evident from the teabagger protests) for its own purposes, and yet, that imprecisely focused fear of government is precisely what the Executive Branch has fostered and furthered over the past several decades, and that puts the interests of the corporate elite in solid alignment with the Executive, thus compounding the problem.

The irony, of course, is that the people who best understand that the government ought to fear the people, rather than the other way around, are those who are most likely to seek out peaceful means of effecting change, and are the people most likely to be ignored by a government which views them as adversaries. The people most inclined to think they can resist the government by wandering around with handguns or by hitching up with a right-wing militia or by being useful idiots in the teabagger movement are those most likely to adopt an even more oppressive form of government, just as long as they get to be on the side of the oppressor.

Ultimately, a government that solipsistically sees its interests as separate and unique from those of the people (even if it claims to be protecting the public by doing so), combined with a public that fears the government, cannot come to any good end.


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