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Poisoning the Well

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Message Dan Fejes

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the additional headaches we will have to confront as a result of the Administration's attempts to radically expand executive power. There are problems in existing areas as well, and here are just a few examples.

The Independent (UK) reported how the Pentagon now has "'information operations' as its fifth 'core competency' alongside land, sea, air and special forces." This is a long way from having a PR operation and putting the best possible spin on what's happening. Instead it is a system-wide effort to produce content for local media to plug in transparently with legitimate news content (Karen Ryan, anyone?) They are also increasingly integrated with State Department programs, and keep in mind State has proven to be entirely inept at persuading through propaganda. Prior to this administration we could point to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe as examples that were clearly pro-American but still respected as news organizations. Since then we've had Radio Sawa and al Hurra catapulting propaganda for unimpressed audiences. If it isn't already entirely discredited then adding the perception that the military is strong-arming its own version of the news into the mix will surely finish the job.

Another broken department is the Federal Elections Commission. The FEC is currently operating at one third strength because all nominees to the vacant positions are being held up over Democrats' insistence on a separate vote for an obviously corrupt Republican Party hack. In the last few years there has been a great deal of emphasis on vote fraud (without turning up any actual instances) along with creative new forms of voter suppression such as caging. It appears the administration's goal is to make the FEC either a wholly owned subsidiary of the party or a toothless watchdog. In the short term the prospect of Bush's endorsed Presidential nominee dangling in the wind because an agency he crippled can't even achieve quorum is wonderfully amusing; in the long term we have the perception that the FEC is just another chunk of the political apparatus. Obviously that has serious implications for the degree of legitimacy we give to our elections.

Then on Sunday there was the "60 Minutes" report on former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. It now looks like the Justice Department may have broken the law in an effort to convict him of bribery. Mounting a Soviet-style show trial in order to wreck the life of a political opponent is about the worst action a government can take against an individual short of threat of or actual violence. Keep in mind this scandal is independent of the firing of U.S. Attorneys for not actively advancing the interests of the Republican Party. In these and other ways Justice has been compromised. As Christy Hardin Smith notes it "is not only antithetical to what 'justice' means, but it taints the entire process with a coat of slime that decent prosecutors will be working to undo for years -- which puts communities at risk because juries will suspect a taint even where there is none."

The cumulative impact of the administration's project to politicize everything is summed up nicely by Kargo X:

It's no longer just your basic looting of the Treasury. Dollar-based corruption we at least understand. But corruption of the actual mechanisms of the government itself? Corruption not meant to enrich, but to corrode public trust in the only system we have for actually holding corrupt officials to account?
It's probably a running joke the world over that government is inefficient, bureaucratic, Byzantine and at times almost comically inept. It's a caricature grounded in truth, but our current leader wants us to believe it is a portrait of the entire truth. He may have been unintentionally revealing when he jokingly stated (via) his preference to be a dictator - he clearly chafes at following rules or being subject to oversight. He seems to believe that he knows what is right and should be free to pursue it without constraint, and one crucial part of that pursuit is sowing doubt everywhere (even where reasonable doubt has been long erased). Has State Department media been reduced to a laughable house organ? Is our elections commission able to fairly monitor the election system? Does the Justice Department pursue the law wherever it may lead? He prefers us to doubt all that and more. In order to act without the restraints of convention, norms, ethics or even the law itself it is essential that we doubt the abilities of our institutions to function competently and honestly. It doesn't matter if we strongly suspect something is wrong, only that we not be able to determine what is right. Such a large-scale loss of faith in our government will take a long time to repair, but of course that will be of little concern to him as he retires to build his temple to himself in Texas.

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Dan Fejes lives in northeast Ohio.
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