Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Conservatism: The 5th Estate Part Two

It all started honorably enough. Partially written by an Attorney General who as the incumbent senator of Missouri still couldn’t defeat a rotting, mangled corpse in his own reelection campaign, the USA PATRIOT Act was so named in the same sneering, hypocritical spirit that seems to verge on sarcasm. After passing a hastily revised version that was snuck back in the Capitol Building in the dead of night, this Republican stealth legislation found 66 Nays in the House but only one dissenter in the Senate.

Against 98 frightened voices (Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) didn’t vote), Russ Feingold voted against it and his largely ignored speech inveighing against the USA PATRIOT Act would prove to be pure, prophetic poetry. In fact, on October 12, 2001, before the Associated Press Managing Editors Conference at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee, Feingold had said,
“There have been periods in our nation’s history when civil liberties have taken a back seat to what appeared at the time to be the legitimate exigencies of war. Our national consciousness still bears the stain and the scars of those events: The Alien and Sedition Acts, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the internment of Japanese-Americans, German-Americans, and Italian-Americans during World War II, the blacklisting of supposed communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era, and the surveillance and harassment of antiwar protesters, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the Vietnam War. We must not allow these pieces of our past to become prologue.”

Unfortunately, we weren’t listening or we couldn’t hear because of the silent air raid horns blared at us courtesy of Homeland Security. After all, only certain members of Congress, those Republicans who stuffed that fascist piñata with last minute goodies, knew what was really in the bill. So how could we be blamed? True, we had the internet, and didn’t even need the Freedom of Information Act to learn about Sections 215 and 218. But we also didn’t have an interested and engaged fourth estate and bloggers to tell us what to think and feel.

Besides, by this time, George W. Bush confidently leaped down out of the gate and swiftly meted out red, white and blue justice for 15 Saudi al Qaeda hijackers by invading… Afghanistan and routing the Taliban, our former gas pipeline pals.

Hey, close enough, we all thought. Bin Laden was holed up in those caves. It’s not as if he was going to get airlifted out while our troops were ordered by Bush to stand down while Musharaff’s own men were loafing their way toward Tora Bora.

It looked for all the world like Grenada redux, only with a lot less water and a helluva lot more sand. It looked for all the world as if we’d toppled the Taliban, routed them from power and liberated the Afghan people so they could be free to resume being among the most impoverished and least educated people on earth. Who knew that the toppled Taliban would prove to be more stubbornly vertical than Weebles and that invading Afghanistan was more like turning on a kitchen light and scattering roaches? With only 15,000 US troops deployed for years on end, rounding up the Taliban was like, to use Trent Lott’s phrase, herding cats.

Still, for a moment, they were out. Even five years after leaving office, Charlie Wilson had won another war there. We were too busy beating our chests with simian nationalism to realize that the Taliban would regroup in the hills, continue growing opium to finance their activities, recruit new members among the increasingly disaffected Afghanis and corrupt the puppet government we’d set up so they could in a few year’s time retake key cities and provinces. It’s not as if we should’ve or could’ve gleaned any important lessons from the Soviets’ own nine year-long misadventure there, the next to latest in an unbroken string of failed conquests that stretches back to the days of Alexander the Great. Hell, it wasn’t as if we could’ve learned from our own mistakes in Vietnam and the folly of fighting a native insurgency on its own invaded, occupied and blood-soaked soil.

We’re a nation of people who impatiently sigh and tap our toes if the person in front of us in line insists on paying by check or with exact change. We pick up our cordless phones and scream at underpaid help desk people a nanosecond after our satellite signal goes out during the ballgame or American Idol. That’s because we’re an incipiently Wall-E nation of sentient amoebas who aren’t interested in solutions as we are in results.

And the result was, mere weeks after 9/11, the Taliban was momentarily routed from power. Who cared that the apparent architect of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, slipped away without anyone in either our or Pakistan’s government giving us a satisfactory explanation as to how that could have possibly happened? And why should we have cared? By March 13th of 2002, barely six months after the terrorist attacks, Bush said, “I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”

But that was alright because by then we already had the next best thing in an aging, tin-plated dictator named Saddam Hussein.

It’s perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the Iraq occupation that the Iraqis enjoyed a less divisive and fearful existence under Saddam than we did during Bush’s last five or six years in office. Sectarian tensions existed during Saddam’s long reign, to be sure. But we heard no stories coming out of Iraq every day about suicide bombings, civil wars, and government-funded death squads carrying out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing. No mosques were bombed. The only ethnic cleansing that occurred was done by Saddam himself as he massacred Kurds and Shias alike (courtesy of the chemical and biological weapons sold to him by Reagan and personally brokered by none other than Rumsfeld in December of 1983). Living in fairly integrated neighborhoods, the Iraqi people weren’t tearing eachother apart like the Bloods and Crips on PCP. That’s us you’re thinking of.

Because by the 2004 election, we were already at eachother’s throats. For eight years, we largely passively saw the rise of Fox News and perhaps viewed them for the first four years of its existence as the I Hate Bill Clinton network, a penny ante propaganda mill started up by Rupert Murdoch and a bloated pig of a Republican operative named Roger Ailes. Already with a sizable web presence by 2004, liberals who clearly outnumbered conservatives in the blogosphere perhaps viewed the latter as mere gadflies and anklebiters. After all, we were on the side of the angels, right? We had the truth and facts on our side and Kos and John Amato and Atrios and the rest of us all wore the white hats. And, as we all know, the bad guys never win, right, Dr. Lecter?

Somehow, neither Left Blogostan, Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and Eason Jordan never got that memo. Neither, for that matter, did Phil Donahue or, most recently, Dan Froomkin.

Without many of us being able to anticipate it or at least unable to effectively counter it, we watched right wing bloggers derail the careers of Mapes, Jordan and the 24 year-long anchor of the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather.

Many of us were still in a state of stupefaction as to how this could have happened and over an easily-explained technicality involving a font. The furor over 60 Minutes II’s story about Bush’s spotty and gap-riddled Texas Air National Guard record was such that even those who didn’t write or follow blogs had to listen. And unfortunately, that was the least reprehensible half of what would be a two-pronged assault by the right wing’s guerilla faction in their transformation into a fifth estate during the ’04 election.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts had, you would think, an unimpeachable war record. First thrust into the national spotlight in 1971 for his testimonies before Congress on the immorality of the Vietnam War, Kerry was a target of the Nixon administration from the gitgo. There was an active campaign to discredit the decorated war hero’s credibility by any means possible, save for one: The man who’d heavily depended on criminals such as Elliot Abrams, G. Gordon Liddy and Charles Colson never impugned the future senator’s war record. There were no Swiftboat Veterans for Truth (even if their memories of Kerry’s alleged misdeeds would’ve been fresher and more believable). There were still some things that even Hunter S. Thompson’s dependably sinister old nemesis would never do and he never did it to Kennedy and he never did it to Kerry.

33 years later, Abrams’ and Colson’s new boss took off the kid gloves and rewrote all the rules. And the question remains: How could a class of people who are so consistently and unapologetically wrong still be unconditionally believed and respectfully given house room on the national stage time and time and time again?


At August 20, 2009 at 8:19 AM, Anonymous Comrade Rutherford said...

"How could a class of people who are so consistently and unapologetically wrong still be unconditionally believed and respectfully given house room on the national stage time and time and time again"

Because the owners of the venue, the CEO-class of the obscenely wealthy, only book that one act, you know, the far-right sycophants that unquestioningly lick the CEO's asses.

At August 20, 2009 at 4:24 PM, Blogger nunya said...

Dude, the CIA has been enabling (and probably profiting from areas where drug production begins for years.

Taliban, opium growth, not a mistake. It worked for the
British Empire for a couple hundred years, didn't it?

It' a little tougher in Muslim lands, but still.

At August 21, 2009 at 2:13 AM, Blogger daveawayfromhome said...

I'm still angry about how, during the Gingrich years, Congress gave tax breaks (worth several hundred million, as I recall) to the relatively new FOX network, even as they cut funding to NPR (160 million? ish?) because they said it was "too liberally biased".



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