August 10, 2011

I gave up Hope long before it was fashionable to give up Hope

I don't mean to pull rank or anything, but these Cassandras-come-lately such as Drew Westen in the Sunday New York Times need to respect their elders in the disillusionment game. Westen wrote a long jeremiad about the strange inability of Barack Obama to fight for anything - well, at all, but in particular for any of the progressive values which an enraptured nation thought they might have a shot at only three years ago.

I don't like it but I guess things happen that way.

I became alarmed way back in 2009 when it became apparent that Barack Obama had no respect whatsoever for the Bill of Rights. What this now "controversial" charter was all about, what engendered its inclusion with the Constitution way back in the late 18th century, was the concern of these recently liberated colonial subjects that tyrannical powers must be held in check, and the best way (the only way, as John Stuart Mill made clear in On Liberty) was a system which guaranteed the rights of the individual against the majority, and which did not permit rule by mob in matters of justice and civil liberties. When Barack Obama came out squarely against the use of military tribunals for civilian trials when he was a candidate, I thought he endorsed this principle. And then, as in so many subsequent reversals on absolutely fundamental issues of fairness, transparency, and due process, Obama just blew the whole thing off. Guantanamo is still open for business, all important criminal trials against anyone vaguely associated with "terrorism" will be conducted by military kangaroo courts where tainted evidence and torture-induced hearsay are freely admissible, and the trial itself is probably pointless because a defendant can be held forever whether he can be convicted or not.

We comfort ourselves with the reassurance that these outrages are only directed against Muslims; if you're not a Muslim, where's the problem? We often forget that our own guarantee of due process, at having a chance at fairness if a bad turn in life should suddenly propel you into the gulag of the criminal justice system, depends, first and foremost, on a mind set which honors such fairness. Once a nation allows exceptions for "special circumstances," because of a felt need for enhanced security, when it just seems too dangerous to play fair, then that country is well on the way toward tyranny. I hear arguments for such "exceptions" all the time from Republican legislators in Congress -- it's just too dangerous to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, where his crime was allegedly committed, although other Muslim terrorists have been tried in Manhattan in regular civilian (Article III) courts without incident and without endangering security. New York's Republican Congressman Peter King is especially awful at this kind of demagoguery, this fear-mongering, but he is joined in his play to the cheap seats by the likes of Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The great shame is that Obama, and Eric Holder (apparently the Attorney General, based on rumors and occasional public sightings), have played along with this profoundly unconstitutional approach. It has always seemed to me that it's possible to disagree on the substance of a subject such as terrorism, for example (how big a problem it is, whether "blowback" is responsible for the threats that exist), while still agreeing on the procedure for determining guilt or innocence for those who get caught up in our system of justice. That is our great legacy from the Enlightenment thinkers who founded our nation. It is always the most stirring theme in any movie or book featuring the legal system, when you think about it, from "To Kill a Mockingbird" to "Inherit the Wind." We were ashamed when an African-American could not get a fair shake in "To Kill a Mockingbird," despite the heroic efforts of Atticus Finch, precisely because it offended our sense of justice. It should not matter whether a person is a pariah in a given social context, that is what Atticus Finch tried to tell the jury. It remains the bedrock of due process.

I saw early on that the concepts of due process and fair play were easy for Barack Obama to sacrifice, if it meant he could pander to those same regressive, unenlightened Americans that Peter King likes to impress. If Obama could give up on something like that, he could give up on anything, and he has not disappointed.

Well, I note with satisfaction that a new CNN poll concludes that a majority of both Democratic and Republican voters, at levels around 57-58%, have expressed the opinion that their own Congressional Representative should not be reelected. Disenchantment with both political parties has reached epidemic levels, in fact, since approval of Congress does not reach even 20%. That's remarkable, as if the general electorate has awakened to the startling realization that the freeloaders under the Capitol dome don't represent them and never did. Upon such a realization stands the basis for genuine third (and fourth through nth) party viability. And if the duopolistic strangle-hold of the two big parties could be broken, why, who knows? Maybe even campaign finance reform could follow and the ownership of Congress by the military-industrial-media complex might come crashing down.

There I go, hoping again.