Sunday, January 1

Is Joe Lieberman the Future of Liberalism?

In case nobody's presented him with a suitable award yet; I think that Joe Lieberman is clearly the leading candidate for the prestigious, "Grover Norquist Domesticated Democrat of the Year Award." The award was conceived based upon Norquist's remarks to a Washington Post reporter:

"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such."

Rumor has it that the gratuity this year may include a cabinet post from the White House , while, in the most heartening development that I've seen in several years, it appears that the progressive grassroots may attempt to deliver
Lieberman a large, full-featured clue-by-four.

Could it be? Could the progressive community actually take down some of the spineless, supine wretches that have cashed in the slender dime's worth of difference that once existed between the two parties - and take out the Democrat political consultants who have destroyed the receipt and stolen the change?

And how did the progressive community become so marginalized in the first place? I have some theories, but first I'd like to digress a bit...

I've been thinking about this since the latest revelations of another of Bush's impeachable offenses (the warrantless spying) came to light. The nearly insurmountable obstacles to getting Congress to investigate even the most egregious of the Bush administration's offenses highlights how marginalized progressives have become and how little representation they have in any branch of government. Also significant is how conservatives who once might have been considered principled about limiting the intrusive powers of government are shackled and gagged by party discipline. They shy away from standing up on their hind legs and protecting their own power by defending the Constitutional prerogatives of Congress against encroachments by the executive branch. They seem even less interested in risking the wrath of the party apparatus by standing up for the the rights of citizens and the rule of law.

The whole topic of Bush's excesses, public opinion and tipping points reminds me of other episodes of executive overreach, particularly in the Wilson administration. The Wilson administration engaged in terrible excesses , created an enormous propaganda machine to sell a war to the public and persecuted political opponents, even jailing the candidate of another party for "sedition." The candidate, Eugene Debs , managed to win almost a million votes in a presidential election while cooling his heels in jail.

A number of interesting comparisons between the Wilson and Dubya eras pop into my head. First, there's the vesting of extreme power in the executive and the willingness of the public and much of the Congress to play along. The Senate in 1919 unanimously passed a resolution pressuring the administration to "inform it whether [it] had yet begun legal proceedings against those who preached anarchy and sedition." The biographer of Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer wrote that:

after passage of the Senate resolution, Palmer decided that the "very liberal" provisions of the Bill of Rights were expendable and that in a time of emergency there were "no limits" on the power of the government "other than the extent of the emergency." -- more here

Second, there's the identification of internal enemies of the state and the use of extraordinary measures against them. (From the same source as above):

"During the months following the "Palmer raids," a group of distinguished lawyers and law professors prepared a report denouncing the violation of law by the Justice Department. They included Dean Roscoe Pound, Felix Frankfurter, and Zechariah Chafee, Jr. of the Harvard Law School, Ernest Freund of the University of Chicago Law School, and other eminent lawyers and legal scholars. The committee found federal agents guilty of using third-degree tortures, making illegal searches and arrests, using agent provocateurs, and forcing aliens to incriminate themselves."

Another interesting parallel was the use of the military and military intelligence within the US and the blurring of distinctions between foreign and domestic intelligence-gathering:

"Parallel to the Justice Department and Immigration Bureau operations, military intelligence continued its wartime surveillance into the post-war era. After a temporary cut-back in early 1919, the Military Intelligence Division resumed investigations aimed at strikes, labor unrest, radicals, and the foreign language press. The American Protective League disbanded, but its former members still served as volunteer agents for military intelligence as well as for the Bureau of Investigation. While the military did not play a significant role in the "Palmer raids," troops were called upon in 1919 to control race riots in several cities and to maintain order during a steel strike in Gary, Indiana, where the city was placed under "modified martial law." Following the 1920 round-up of aliens, J. Edgar Hoover arranged for mutual cooperation between the GID and military intelligence. Reports from the Bureau of Investigation would be shared with the military, and investigations conducted at military request. In return, military intelligence agreed to provide Hoover with information from foreign sources, since the State Department had refused to do so and Hoover was prohibited from having agents or informants
outside the United States."

Third, and in many ways most interesting, is the tipping point in public opinion. In 1920 at the height of the public fear engineered by A. Mitchell Palmer and his stenchly henchman, the young J. Edgar Hoover , Palmer declared that a communist insurrection was imminent on the First of May, creating a public panic. When the revolution failed to manifest, public opinion began to turn against the Red Scare tactics. In the aftermath, both Wilson and Palmer failed in attempts to obtain the Democratic Party's nomination to run for the presidency in 1920. The election of 1920 and the public's embrace of Harding's "return to normalcy" was in many ways a repudiation of the Wilson administration. It seems to me that when historians look back at the Dubya era, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction or validate any of the neocon rationales for embarking on the Iraq war will likely be identified as the tipping point in public opinion.

The swing of the political pendulum is a messy thing, affecting both babies and bathwater , diminishing both, but fully disposing of neither. In the wake of the Red Scares the ACLU was born and wriggled in the tub. Unfortunately, J. Edgar Hoover was left to dirty the water and leave a nasty, filthy ring, menacing the public and civil liberties for decades afterwards. While public interest in protecting civil rights and liberties was renewed, unfortunately, memes were set in the public mind, organizational structures were built and patterns were set for later repetition.

An interesting thing to consider is that the groups that were targetted for attack, anarchists, communists, socialists, organized labor, women's rights advocates and advocates of racial equality all continued to be harassed, infiltrated and disrupted for years to come by the government. The more radical groups were neutralized first, and perhaps among them there were indeed a few people who were not interested in political change through civil persuasion. Unfortunately, the government didn't stop there. The government that was formed to protect your life, liberty and property engaged in tapping Martin Luther King's phone to dig up dirt and tried to coerce him to commit suicide on the eve of recieving the Nobel Peace Prize. J. Edgar Hoover and his agency considered MLK a threat to America:

"We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security... it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees." -- William C. Sullivan, head of COINTELPRO, in a memo written shortly after King's "I Have a Dream" speech of August 28, 1963

By the mid 1950's the government worked up to infiltrating and attempting to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of an extremely broad range of dissenting political and social movements and their leaders as well as popular culture figures like John Lennon. This campaign went on for more than a decade before it was exposed and allegedly terminated.

It seems to me that the effect of this history of government neutralization of challenges to the established order has been to steadily diminish the ability of Americans to freely engage in a social conversation, organize themselves politically or express themselves artistically without reprisals or fear of them. As the Church Committee report put it:

"Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that...the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propogation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence."

Given the Pentagon's recent domestic spying actions, it appears that the government hasn't learned much since the 1920's; it still has a little trouble
discerning what is dangerous.

It strikes me that in these days of terror threats and mounting rhetoric about how "liberals," while perhaps well-meaning are dangerous because they just don't understand what it takes to stop dangerous, radical, Terriss groups.

“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends,'’ -- Attorney General John Ashcroft, Dec. 6, 2001 before Senate Judiciary committee

"Liberalism is a mental disorder that has undermined our families, our society, and our national security" -- Michael Savage, interview 2/1/03

The likely end result of targetted assaults on "liberal" groups and individuals will be the further narrowing of the diversity of political beliefs that can be espoused and championed by candidates for office and a chilling effect on free expression by citizens.

By the time Bush and his minions are done, Joe Lieberman may represent the "extreme liberal" viewpoint and be the standard-bearer of liberalism.

It seems to me that now is the time America needs some fire-breathing, stand-and-fight progressives. It's time to let the current crop of spineless
wimps know that they will either have to fight for us or pay for their perfidy at the polls. They can stand with us, shoulder to shoulder or toe to toe.

I think we better get busy, we don't appear to have time to mess around.

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