H-E-R-E'S the Silver Lining!
November 29, 2001
It 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
"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,
So here's the supposed silver lining: the return to favor of Big
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
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.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St Clair of the
newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read
features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate
Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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