(Pt. I of this discussion can be found here.)
Glenn Greenwald’s groundbreaking book How Would A Patriot Act? Defending America From A President Run Amok debuted at #11 on the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list today and deservedly so. Independently published and arising out of liberal blog culture to address the country’s crisis of leadership with an immediacy seldom seen in the book world, it’s a genuine grass roots phenomenon and Glenn’s success will hopefully pave the way for many more to follow.
One of the things that struck me in the book was the way that the calculations of the Bush Administration embody the specific abuses of power the founders feared when they established a system of checks and balances for a new nation. Glenn quotes John Adams:
Fear is the foundation of most governments, but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to aprove of any political institution which is founded on it.
And yet the GOP has used "terror" not only as the exclusive lens with which it views both international and domestic events, but as a foundation upon which it bases all policy. As Pach noted the other day, questioning this assumption has become anathema; John Kerry was piloried for saying that "we have to get back to the place where we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they’re a nuisance."
Glenn surveys the damage this has done to political discourse:
It has become an inviolable piety that there is no such thing as overstating the terrorism risk. One is compelled to genuflect to, and tremble before, the supremacy of this ultimate threat, upon pain of being cast aside as some sort of anti-American, terrorist-loving radical.
[O]pinions about terrorism are the new form of political correctness and been hinting that this threat is not the all-consuming, existential danger to our republic portrayed bby the White House is liable to draw questions about one’s patriotism and one’s sanity.
While the intellectually impoverished right will immediately leap to equate any sort of reasonable scale for this matter with treason and the coddling of terrorists, Glenn rightly turns the bedwetting that underlies this straw man argument on its head:
[O]ne an protect against the threat of terrorism with courage, calm, and resolve — the attributes that have always defined our nation as it has confronted other threats, including many at least as significant. Hysteria and fear-mongering are the opposite of strenth. The strong remain rational and unafraid.
Yet this pimping of fear is, as Glenn argues, a pillar of the Bush power-grab. In a concurring opinion written in the Youngstown Co. vs. Sawyer case, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said of the nation’s founders:
We may also suspect that they suspected that emergency powers would tend to kindle emergencies.
And yet the idea that we are in some sort of permanent, undeclared war against "terror" is the assertion Bush uses — nay, must have — to ignore any law he so choses and appropriate any power he wants.
Glenn draws an amusing contrast between the self-soiling Bush enablers and the bold courage of the founders. Patrick Henry spoke on behalf of their revolutionary sentiments when he said "give me liberty or give me death" — a clarion statement that the freedoms and rights they demanded from the British crown were worth the price of their lives. How different is the cringing fear-filled admonitions of those who are ready to sign over all our liberties to George W. Bush if he will just save them from the boogeymen.
"None of your civil liberties matter much after your dead," said Sen. John Cornyn. And according to Sen. Pat Roberts, "I would only point out that you really don’t have any civil liberties if you’re dead." Willing to give up their lives to defend our freedoms? These men are not willing to suffer so much as a hangnail.
As Glenn notes:
Once we choose to assuage our fears rather than protect our liberties, the type of fear being promoted by the administration and its supporters compels us to relinquish our freedoms, endorse government excesses, and sacrifice everything that distinguishes America and has made it great and worth fighting for. Attempting to persuade Americans to adopt this fear-driven mentality has become the first priority of the administration.
Wallowing in fear is inimical and antithetical to the national character, and as Glenn points out we make remarkably bad decisions as a nation when we let it overcome us: witness the Alien and Sedtion Acts in 1798, or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II that nobody this side of Michelle Malkin looks upon as anything other than a travesty and a disgrace. Glenn’s book is a battle cry to all Americans to get out from under the bed, look straight at the Chief Thief and Terror Pimp and say "enough" with the exploitation of our fears that is enabling the destruction of everything that makes this country great.
It’s what a patriot would do.
(Join us next week when the FDL Book Salon is devoted to the Roots Project, and stories about delivering copies of Crashing the Gate to every member of the House and Senate. The FDL Book Salon schedule of upcoming events can also be found in the left sidebar.)