(Jennifer Nix is the editor of Glenn Greenwald’s book How Would a Patriot Act. Given the relevance of Glenn’s book to today’s revelations about the Bush Administration spying on its own citizens, I asked Jennifer to write up her thoughts. She has also made available Chapter 6 of Glenn’s book in downloadable PDF form for FDL readers — JH)
On February 15, I sat in a Chinese dive in North Beach with the online editor of well-known progressive magazine and a similarly-leaning, legendary book editor. I’d name names, but it’s only the twisted trust these men place in “conventional wisdom” that I wish to call out. And, I write this today only because the country as a whole seems to be in the grip of this same impotent and failed belief system, the one that tells us there is nothing we can do to stop the Bush administration from trampling on the Constitution and sliding this great nation from democracy into despotism.
It’s time to exorcise these demons of so-called conventional wisdom. Doing the right thing in politics and media, just because it’s the right thing, has become something of a lost art. But, maybe we can do something about it. So, here’s my tale.
I’d shown up for dinner with a bounce in my step, charged up by a number of conservatives-with-cajones stepping forward to take the Bush administration to task over its unwarranted domestic spying program, and claims that W can break any law he finds inconvenient. Republicans like Bob Barr and Bruce Fein were even using the “I” word (and the very next day, George Will would weigh in with his two cents likening Bush to a monarch). I expected that my dinner partners, as progressive thought-leaders and purveyors of information, would be fired up, too. I looked forward to a rousing discussion of how to explain Bush’s law-breaking ways, to connect the dots, and bring historical perspective to recent events.
Alas, I found no urgency, no fervent desire to inform the citizenry of what all was at stake. Instead I was treated to smug defeatism, of the brand so popular today in Washington, DC, even though we were hunched over a tiny table at the House of Nan King in liberal San Francisco. You know the stuff. The political posturing: It’s a losing proposition for Democrats to support censure or impeachment. This Congress will never impeach Bush. We’ll look weak on security. Or the ever-comfortable, elitist stance: People don’t care about these issues. They only care about American Idol. I paraphrase, but you get the idea.
“Are we supposed to stand by and do nothing?” I asked.
They looked at me like I was a five-year-old. Or, perhaps the radical fringe. I remember the book editor saying, “We can only do what we can do.” I left dinner somewhat disoriented, but after a Scotch by myself at Tosca, where I waited for my husband to come pick me up, I became even more committed to the Glenn Greenwald book project I was trying to get funded. I’d met Glenn through a fellowship at Working Assets, and had the idea that if his ideas could reach a wider audience, we might just be able to create a tipping point about Bush’s abuse of power. With Will Rockafellow, I’d put together a proposal, and about a week after my night at Nan King, Working Assets agreed to launch a publishing venture with Glenn’s project. The book, How Would a Patriot Act? formally enters the world next week, after some much-appreciated buzz on the blogs a couple of weeks ago.
But, despite my hopes for what Glenn’s book may be able to accomplish, we are still fighting an uphill battle in the public opinion arena. It is astounding to me that conservatives have been far bolder in criticizing the president over his NSA shenanigans. And even in the face of the USA Today story, detailing more administration lies and explaining the NSA’s plans to build a database of every call made within the country, we see no collective demand from Democrats to stand up and say, NO MORE!
WE HAVE GOT TO DO SOMETHING. We need a movement. We need to be our own leaders, people. It will take all of our talent, all of our knowledge. All of our cooperation.
This has to be a citizen-led movement, and it will take all of us working together to build the necessary pressure. Yes, our Congress may be controlled by the president’s party, but there are some brave elected officials for whom we can build support. And this is not a liberal or conservative crisis. This is an American crisis.
And our media—mainstream and progressive—have often been too timid to stand up to this administration, but the stories are starting to roll in. The New York Times, the Boston Globe and even USA Today are working it now.
But we have to care. We have to be outraged. We have to take action.
This is our moment. Our public servants are there to follow the will of the people. If the people want George Bush to stop breaking the law, then the people must, and can, make him stop.
So, here are some first suggestions to help citizens stand up to the Bush administration:
1) Read or listen to Senator Russ Feingold’s May 8 speech at the National Press Club [MP3]. And here’s what he had to say today about the USA Today revelations:
This Administration’s arrogance and abuse of power should concern all Americans. That the government may be secretly collecting, and using data mining to analyze, the phone records of millions of law-abiding Americans, as reported in the press today, is a frightening prospect. I am unaware of this program, and Congress needs to find out exactly what the Administration is doing and whether it is legal. It is time for the Administration to come clean with Congress and the American people. We can effectively fight terrorism and protect privacy, the rule of law, and separation of powers, but only if we have a President who believes in these principles.
2) Visit the Progressive Patriots Fund.
3) Vote with your dollars and leave the telecoms that handed over your information. From CNN.com:
AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., and BellSouth Corp. telephone companies began turning over records of tens of millions of their customers’ phone calls to the National Security Agency program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said USA Today, citing anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement.
4) Read this excerpt [PDF] from How Would a Patriot Act? for some historical perspective on just how hopeless a cause it once seemed to fight for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. And we know what happened there. Here’s one passage:
President Nixon was held accountable for his wrongdoing and abuses of power because Americans, with the relevant evidence assembled by the press and by Congress, concluded that he had seized powers that were not rightfully his to exercise. As a result, they demanded that he be forced from oï¬ƒce, because preserving the American system of government from those who sought to assault and violate it took precedence over partisan allegiances.
It took a full year after the break-in — during which top Nixon aides resigned and there were highly publicized attempts by the administration to block investigations — before Americans began, gradually and reluctantly, to conclude that the president had committed serious wrongdoing. And it took another year for Americans to demand that the president be held accountable and that he be forced from oï¬ƒce. Eventually, with impeachment a foregone conclusion, President Richard Nixon went on national television on August 8, 1974, to announce that he would resign the next day.
That two-year process — from burglary to resignation — was enabled by the checks and balances the founders instituted in order to safeguard our system of government: namely, a free and aggressive press, a Congress that takes its oversight duties seriously, and the reservation of ultimate power in the hands of the American people.
5) Stand with Representative John Conyers on the impeachment investigation resolution. Use your imagination. Be creative. Talk to each other. Build a movement. Your country needs you.
Enough already with the conventional wisdom. Let’s not worry this time about political posturing. Let’s do the right thing and stand up to a president who’s making a mockery of our Constitution. It might just work.
Update: Pach, from the comments adds one more action step "Join your neighbors in open source lobbying and media campaigns to accomplish what Jennifer describes: Email stateproject at gmail dot com and put your home state (and only your home state) in the subject line."