21 May 2004

In today's Guardian, Philip James has some fascinating and disturbing (not to mention entirely expected for those of us who were inside the Beltway during the reign of George II) observations on George III's courtiers' imperious and condescending attitude:

Russert got the chance to ask his last question of Powell, on how he felt now about all the bogus intelligence he was given to present as fact to the UN in the month before the war. But a much larger point had already been made: with the possible exception of Colin Powell, this administration believes itself to be beyond criticism. The Soviet-style manner in which Republican operative Miller, who used to work for the majority leader, Tom "the Hammer" DeLay, tried to muzzle an interviewer once the questioning no longer pleased her betrayed an arrogance that goes to the core of this White House….

Four years on, the seeds of this administration's hubris are springing up all over. A month after the world pulled back the veil on the seamy details of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the Bush spin machine would like people to believe that the outrageous actions of the prison guards were isolated incidents by a few bad apples. But documents that this White House hoped would never see the light of day clearly show that it created the atmosphere where such abuses could take place. The legal opinion of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales — that the US should ignore the Geneva Convention in its global "war on terror" — is evidence that something close to an Übermensch complex has travelled down from the top. Despite protestations that this memo was meant to apply only to Taliban and al–Qaida suspects at Guantánamo — itself a questionable position — it is clear that US commanders in the Iraqi theatre used it to justify applying torture there as an interrogation technique.

"The Ugly Face of Power" (fake paragraphing removed for clarity).

These observations are interesting and valid, as far as they go. I do not think they delve deeply enough into the mindset of totalitarians—and make no mistake, that crack about "Soviet-style manner" is far more accurate than the public actually sees—who dominate the Republican leadership and activists (and form a too-large, if in my experience slightly lower, proportion of the Democratic leadership and activists). The problem is not with policy, or even with ideology; it is with the pursuit, consolidation, and exercise of raw power. I realize that sounds rather strange coming from someone with my background, particularly my pre-law background; but this is precisely why I "lost confidence in the senior uniformed and civilian leadership of the military" and tendered my resignation. I signed on to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic—not just against the foreign ones.

We have substituted an even greater degree of intellectually and ethical dishonesty for the naked financial dishonesty and "dirty tricks" visible during the Watergate scandal. This is perhaps the best argument one can make against the "two-party system"; I am still having trouble coming up with an alternative that does not in the end have the same flaws, though, so maybe this kind of nonmonetary corruption is part of the price we pay for our form of government. One thing is for sure: This nonsense makes me a lot more cynical about those who bitch, whine, and moan about the "arrogant, imperial use of naked power by judicial activists." At least judicial activists have to give one a written opinion to demonstrate their arrogance… presuming, that is, that "judicial activism" means anything other than "judges who don't get the right result in cases in which I have a personal interest."