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k a t h e r i n e  m c n a m a r a


The president ignored the immediate threat to this nation posed by al-Qaida, about which he had been briefed several times, including the week before his inauguration. The vice-president and the attorney general did likewise. The terrible attacks of September 11 shocked them into overreacting to the consequences of their inattention. Atty. Gen. Ashcroft is on record as having said: “There are no civil liberties that are more important than the right to be uninjured and to be able to live in freedom.”

And so, in American public and, often, private places, everyone is now under suspicion. We are becoming used to the fact that a government agent can search our goods, our most private records, and ourselves, for the ostensible purpose of protecting us from terrorism. What are we learning from this? To be docile? To be afraid? To expect that, wherever we go, some federal agency will be keeping track of us? What are the consequences for our democracy, when the government of the United States can legally search any, and all, of us? What freedom are we talking about, here? Recently, I took a flight, the first in more than two years. I had been warned about security, but was irked when I was asked to remove my shoes, and coldly, wildly furious at being “wanded” and “patted lightly” by a stranger, who had no probable cause to search me. In the airport, I was treated like a suspect. I was hardly alone; I was one of the masses so treated. I think this is unconstitutional, and I am deeply ashamed of this country. For, I do not believe that the “war on terror” is a real war, which is the business of killing. I observe that, because of our policies, this nation has real enemies, and that an international consortium of police action is necessary against non-state terrorists. But as a means of consolidating a monopoly power of government, I fear that same “war” may be very effective at home, and that its consequence is undermining the Constitution.

Shady and stolen elections are not new in our history. In 1960, Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the candidate for president, and Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago and father of the present, civic-minded mayor, made sure that Chicago voted early and often for J.F.K. Richard Nixon decided not to challenge the ballots – though he might have won the election, if he had – because he knew that the Republican irregularities in downstate Illinois were egregious, and entirely known to his opponents; and that a challenge would open a serious and disruptive court fight that could weaken the presidency. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” as Mr. Dooley said.

But the 2000 election was different. One candidate for president won the majority of the popular vote by a huge number if a very small proportion, while losing (finally) the electoral vote; and his opponent was selected for the presidency by five members of the Supreme Court in a partisan, political decision. It was a constitutional crisis, though we could not bear to face it straight on, and it was an American kind of coup, of which the real story – it would be one of the great American novels – has not been written. It would be the story of how our system of democracy was broken.

A grave error was made in the selection of the president, which was a formal sundering into two parts of the body politic. Can the error be corrected? If not, what consequence do we face?

The American polity does not claim for itself the right to vote directly for its president. In 1913, the country ratified the 17th Amendment to allow direct election of Senators; but it but retained the distancing mechanism of Electors chosen by ballot. Was this meant to give us a chance to breathe deeply before installing our president? Perhaps the common voter is feared, at least subliminally, by the donor class, which prefers an indirect validation. Perhaps we are even afraid of ourselves en masse at the polls.

This president has misrepresented his reasons for going to war against Iraq. If in that land are chemical and biological weapons, they are so well hidden that in searching for them, American lives and treasure have been expended on a chimera. This is a matter of the national security, for when a president lies about the public business, he betrays (once again) the trust the citizenry have placed in him. President Eisenhower, a former general, was not impeached in 1960, though the shock of his lie about Francis Gary Powers’ U2 intentional flight over Russian territory was huge (I remember it as a child); but it was an election year, and the lie was more or less accepted by the populace as perhaps having been necessary. President Johnson lied his way into escalating the war in Vietnam, and was forced to concede the prospect of a second term to the wrath of the voters. Lying about sexual behavior is silly, petty, and probably necessary, but President Clinton was “stung” into his lie by a band of prurient Republicans who peeked into private business like the elders spying on Susannah at her bath.

The Constitution was damaged by the trivial basis on which that president was impeached. History – I am recalling the Watergate hearings, which led to hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon – repeated itself, not as tragedy but as farce. The instrument of impeachment has been dulled, but it should be honed and made ready for use, for there is a growth upon the body politic far worse than a cancer. The legislators who must wield that instrument would best gird themselves in sorrow and righteous anger, and they must come from both sides of the aisle. For the American president has lied outright to the citizenry, to us, on a matter of national security. Further, and damningly: he has not secured our nation even reasonably against our likely enemies and for our civil defense. I believe the serious and grave case must be prepared, to charge him with high crime against the body politic.

We groan: Oh, no, can we bear this again? The matter now is more complicated. The president is not the only responsible party. His vice-president, Cheney, is a principle architect of the war policy and seems to have influenced the production of intelligence estimates in ways not fully made known yet. He is also culpable of conflict of interest because of his intimate relationship with the people and corporations who and which have benefited and will continue to benefit most directly and richly from the wars overseas.

The House of Representatives would have to bring a shocking bill to the floor. The Senate would have to try and convict. The party in power intends to monopolize the American government from top to bottom. It considers its opponents un-American usurpers of the power due its own propertied, oil-based class. It intends to dominate Earth and Space by military means, including nuclear weapons, and claims the right to destroy any other state that might conceivably challenge its megalomaniac dominion. Does anyone believe that party would remove its chief and symbol of power?

But our system is broken, and unless the president, the vice-president, and their administration go from office, I fear this nation and its Constitution will not be repaired. And if this is so, we are a terrible loss to ourselves, and a worse loss to the world. For if our great democratic arrangement truly is gone – as at this moment it may nearly be – then where will come the hopes of the world?

This administration, and the deformed Republican Party which is their base of power, does not believe in domestic government. How, then, will they govern us?

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said famously, “There is no society; there are only individuals.” These our governors are Thatcher’s individuals, whose nature is red in tooth and claw.



Previous Endnotes:

Patriotism and the Right of Free Speech in Wartime, Vol. 7, No. 1.
A Year in Washington, Vol. 6, Nos. 3/4

Lies, Damn Lies, Vol. 6, No. 2

The Colossus,  Vol. 6, No. 1

The Bear, Vol. 5 No. 4

Sasha Choi Goes Home, Vol. 5, No. 3

Sasha Choi in America,Vol. 5, No. 1

A Local Habitation and A Name, Vol. 5, No. 1

The Blank Page, Vol. 4, No. 4

The Poem of the Grand Inquisitor, Vol. 4, No. 3

On the Marionette Theater, Vol. 4, Nos. 1/2

The Double, Vol. 3, No. 4

Folly, Love, St. Augustine, Vol. 3, No. 3

On Memory, Vol. 3, No. 2

Passion, Vol. 3, No. 1

A Flea, Vol. 2, No. 4

On Love, Vol. 2, No. 3

Fantastic Design, with Nooses, Vol. 2, No. 1

Kundera’s Music Teacher, Vol. 1, No. 4

The Devil’s Dictionary; Economics for Poets, Vol. 1, No. 3

Hecuba in New York; Déformation Professionnelle, Vol. 1, No. 2

Art, Capitalist Relations, and Publishing on the Web, Vol. 1, No. 1



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