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If This Be Treason

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If This Be Treason
Patricia Goldsmith

While I do not know, as of this writing, whether Democrats will muster a filibuster of the Alito nomination, I have no doubt that this vote will follow senators around, for good or for ill, for the rest of their lives, in the same way that Colin Powell's infamous powdered-sugar presentation to the UN will follow him to the grave and for similar reasons. When Alito gets in, things are going to change. Our whole way of life, in fact. The New York Times seems to have realized this at the eleventh hour, for whatever mysterious but welcome reason.

The Times, along with the rest of the media, has, up to now, done everything they could to assist the administration in the gradual accommodation of the American people to new ways and new views. Milton Mayer, who wrote about the Nazi takeover of Germany from the point of view of the average citizen [They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1938-45 University of Chicago Press, 1955], described it so perfectly it's eerie:

What no one seemed to notice . . . was the ever widening gap . . . between the government and the people.

The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. . . . It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway . . . and kept us so busy with continuous changes and "crises" and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the "national enemies," without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. . . .

Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that . . . one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. . . . You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. . . .

But the one great shocking occasion . . . never comes. . . . That's the difficulty.

That is why it's so important for Democrats in Congress to start acting like something is WRONG. Filibuster. Walk out on Bush's state of the union. Do as Georgetown Law students did: unfurl a banner that says "Those Who Would Exchange Liberty for Security Deserve Neither," turn your backs on the f*cker, and pull on black abu Ghraib hoods. We are responsible for creating the shocking occasion. For finding it, feeding it, sustaining it.

Although I must confess that after reading that passage from Mayer, I lost some of my feeling of reflexive superiority to Germans in the Hitler era. Suddenly I had an experiential understanding of Nazism. Mayer goes on to write about the feelings of doubt and uncertainty that slowly saturate your whole being as time goes on and things keep getting worse, even for those who can see what's going on:

Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy." One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. . . . In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? "It's not so bad" or "you're seeing things" or "you're an alarmist.

This uncertainty is produced and amplified by the state media, which is plugged directly into the nervous system of every individual in our society, with television screens in every public and private room in elevators now! always on, a constant crawl at the bottom of everyone's consciousness so no one's ever truly alone. Anyone who dares to think is accused implicitly, explicitly, constantly, in a low-level taunting nag of being a conspiracy nut, a sore loser, a whiner, unpatriotic. Or, best of all, a Bush hater.

Take Bill Kristol's opening opus of 2006, "The Paranoid Style in American Liberalism":

No reasonable American, no decent human being, wants to send up a white flag in the war on terror. But leading spokesmen for American liberalism hostile beyond reason to the Bush administration, and ready to believe the worst about American public servants seem to have concluded that the terror threat is mostly imaginary. It is the threat to civil liberties from George W. Bush that is the real danger. . . .

So are we really to believe that President Bush just sat around after 9/11 thinking, "How can I aggrandize my powers?" Or that [NSA chief] General Hayden and his hundreds of nonpolitical subordinates cheerfully agreed to an obviously crazy, bizarre, and unnecessary project of "domestic spying"?

This is the fever swamp into which American liberalism is on the verge of descending.

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Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at
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