America the Fearful
By Bob Herbert
York Times" -
-- -- In the dark days of the
Depression, Franklin Roosevelt counseled Americans to avoid
fear. George W. Bush is his polar opposite. The public's fear is
this president's most potent political asset. Perhaps his only
Mr. Bush wants ordinary Americans to remain in a perpetual state
of fear - so terrified, in fact, that they will not object to
the steady erosion of their rights and liberties, and will not
notice the many ways in which their fear is being manipulated to
feed an unconscionable expansion of presidential power.
If voters can be kept frightened enough of terrorism, they might
even overlook the monumental incompetence of one of the worst
administrations the nation has ever known.
Four marines drowned Thursday when their 60-ton tank rolled off
a bridge and sank in a canal about 50 miles west of Baghdad.
Three American soldiers in Iraq were killed by roadside bombs
the same day. But those tragic and wholly unnecessary deaths
were not the big news. The big news was the latest leak of yet
another presidential power grab: the administration's collection
of the telephone records of tens of millions of American
The Bush crowd, which gets together each morning to participate
in a highly secret ritual of formalized ineptitude, is trying to
get its creepy hands on all the telephone records of everybody
in the entire country. It supposedly wants these records, which
contain crucial documentation of calls for Chinese takeout in
Terre Haute, Ind., and birthday greetings to Grandma in
Talladega, Ala., to help in the search for Osama bin Laden.
Hey, the president has made it clear that when Al Qaeda is
calling, he wants to be listening, and you never know where that
lead may turn up.
The problem (besides the fact that the president has been as
effective hunting bin Laden as Dick Cheney was in hunting quail)
is that in its fearmongering and power-grabbing the Bush
administration has trampled all over the Constitution, the
democratic process and the hallowed American tradition of
government checks and balances.
Short of having them taken away from us, there is probably no
way to fully appreciate the wonder and the glory of our rights
and liberties here in the United States, including the right to
The Constitution and the elaborate system of checks and balances
were meant to protect us against the possibility of a clownish
gang of small men and women amassing excessive power and
behaving like tyrants or kings. But the normal safeguards have
not been working since the Bush crowd came to power, starting
with the hijacked presidential election in 2000.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, all bets were off. John Kennedy once
said, "The United States, as the world knows, will never start a
war." But George W. Bush, employing an outrageous propaganda
campaign ("Shock and awe," "We don't want the smoking gun to be
a mushroom cloud"), started an utterly pointless war in Iraq
that he still doesn't know how to win or how to end.
If you listen to the Bush version of reality, the president is
all powerful. In that version, we are fighting a war against
terrorism, which is a war that will never end. And as long as we
are at war (forever), there is no limit to the war-fighting
powers the president can claim as commander in chief.
So we've kidnapped people and sent them off to be tortured in
the extraordinary rendition program; and we've incarcerated
people at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere without trial or even the
right to know the charges against them; and we're allowing the
C.I.A. to operate super-secret prisons where God-knows-what-all
is going on; and we're listening in on the phone calls and
reading the e-mail of innocent Americans without warrants; and
on and on and on.
The Bushies will tell you that it is dangerous and even against
the law to inquire into these nefarious activities. We just have
to trust the king.
Well, I give you fair warning. This is a road map to
totalitarianism. Hallmarks of totalitarian regimes have always
included an excessive reliance on secrecy, the deliberate
stoking of fear in the general population, a preference for
military rather than diplomatic solutions in foreign policy, the
promotion of blind patriotism, the denial of human rights, the
curtailment of the rule of law, hostility to a free press and
the systematic invasion of the privacy of ordinary people.
There are not enough pretty words in all the world to cover up
the damage that George W. Bush has done to his country. If the
United States could look at itself in a mirror, it would be both
alarmed and ashamed at what it saw.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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