Friday, January 25, 2008

Bush, fascism, and the war on democracy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Following up on posts by Carol and Libby yesterday...)

The headline at the Times says it all:

Yes, Bush and his Republican enablers are winning this fight -- and the Democrats, some of them, caving in, selling us out, are playing right along:

A White House plan to broaden the National Security Agency’s wiretapping powers won a key procedural victory in the Senate on Thursday, as backers defeated a more restrictive plan by Senate Democrats that would have imposed more court oversight on government spying.

The vote moves the Bush administration a step closer toward the twin goals it has pursued for months: strengthening the N.S.A.’s ability to eavesdrop without court approval, while securing legal immunity for the phone companies that have helped the agency in its wiretapping operations.


As the Senate opened debate on the security agency issue, it agreed by a convincing vote of 60-to-36 to set aside a bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would have given a secret intelligence court a greater role in overseeing wiretaps on terrorism and espionage suspects. The defeated measure, while imposing more judicial restrictions, omitted immunity for the phone carriers that aided the agency in its wiretapping operations.

The Senate will instead consider a measure passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that has the backing of the White House. It would give legal immunity to AT&T and the other phone companies against some 40 lawsuits growing out of their alleged roles in eavesdropping. It would also give the N.S.A. a freer hand to eavesdrop on foreign-based communications without judicial checks.

The White House has agreed to "give members of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees access to internal documents on the N.S.A.’s wiretapping program and the legal foundation for it," and that's a significant concession, but so what? With the Democrats divided and the Republicans backing the White House, as usual, Bush's anti-freedom agenda is moving forward.

And just what is that agenda? It is an agenda to enhance executive authority by removing, or at least restricting, legislative and judicial oversight, an agenda to protect corporations and corporate interests friendly to the White House and to the agenda itself, an agenda to wage the so-called war on terror, a war of Bush's defining, autocratically and without regard for civil liberties, an agenda -- let's be frank about this -- to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Bush's surveillance bill, the Protect America Act, expires next Friday, a week from today. Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid want a one-month extension so that there can be further debate, but the Republicans have objected to any extension, just as they have objected to Democratic amendments. They want their bill now, a bill that gives Bush wants he wants, extra-legal executive authority and corporate immunity. Besides, the issue isn't about time, or about an extension, or about more debate, but rather about the objectionable content of the legislation. Democrats would cave in a month from now just like they're caving in now.

As usual, Bush is playing the terrorism-is-everywhere fear card: "If Congress does not act quickly, our national security professionals will not be able to count on critical tools they need to protect our nation, and our ability to respond quickly to new threats and circumstances will be weakened." In other words, if he doesn't get what he wants, al Qaeda will get us.

It's the classic strategy of authoritarians and totalitarians everywhere. In using propaganda to stoke public fear, in trumping up or simply manufacturing threats from enemies both at home and abroad, and in protecting corporate friends and interests, Bush is proving once more that he is, in essence, a fascist.

I don't expect Republicans to do anything other than to give Bush what he wants. It may not be wise of me, but I expect more from Democrats, from the party I have long supported, often enthusiastically, sometimes against my better judgement. Unfortunately -- and to our great misfortune -- far too many Democrats either haven't learned a thing or are happy playing along with and even encouraging the undermining of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.

(See also the Post and Paul Kiel at TPM.)

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