The Wrong Type of Closet for Authoritarian Skeletons
With a Democrat president and Democrats ostensibly holding a majority in the Senate, perhaps one of the most troubling feelings during these months of revelations about our creeping security and military apparatus is how quiet, or even inimical to transparency, some democratic-voters have been.
And it’s not just our friends, or too many in congressional leadership. Polling bears out an ugly reality even among some Democratic voters. As broken down at the Guardian, many Centrist and Blue Dog Democrats continue to support the aggressive surveillance state.
While liberals/progressives, “left-of-liberals,” labor and even some conservatives are adamantly opposed to both creeping state secrecy and the erosion of civil liberties, the neo-liberal, centrist and most heavily corporate-subsidized parts of the Democratic party (much like the neo-conservative, centrist and most heavily corporate-subsidized parts of the Republican party) are in fact major strongholds of support for increasing the power and secrecy of the (often corporate-engineered) surveillance and military industrial complexes.
Clearly some of what is at play here, whether we want to admit it or not, is not just the predictable sellout by Blue Dogs (a shifty, undependable corporate bunch that for years has kept the Democratic Party from becoming an actual institution of working class or even leftist solutions). The Blue Dogs have long been on the side of the surveillance apparatus and its corporate masters. Nothing’s changed in that respect. Progressives, like a certain Senator Obama though, have in fact supported limitations on the surveillance state that President Obama seems to oppose (here’s a list of 5).
But Democratic voters themselves who are sitting out the anti-surveillance struggle, either afraid of today’s boogie-man (today it’s fundamentalist terrorists, before that commies, before that anarchists, before that…) or too afraid to criticize their own side (in what has too long been an exclusively two-sided political conversation), are essentially saying “hey that’s our team–we root for our team–stop booing because booing gives the other team the win,” a boorish oversimplification within (and perhaps even partially because of) our winner-take-all bipartisan electoral system.
So how do we talk to non-right-wingers about both creeping state secrecy and the surveillance apparatus?
First. remember that regardless of what our national “leaders” do, actual ethical and organizational leadership on the left, and in all democracy movements, has to come from the bottom. So you’re not splitting with leadership by criticizing–you’re defining what leadership should be.
In general, any political successes accomplished for the American People have been actualized by the American people, with politicians and their political parties being but one of our democratic tools to accomplish those successes. The base moves the leadership or, unsupported, the leadership begins an immediate loss of legitimacy (whether it’s recognized or not, you’ll see the punishment come election day, come fundraising, come the picket-line).
That means viewing successes gotten through the Democratic Party as activists’ and organizers’ successes, not the party’s or its individual politicians’. That further means that if the Democratic Party shifts away from the Democratic grassroots, it is the Democratic Party that is wrong, not the Democratic grassroots.
This means that criticizing the Democratic Party is not only legitimate, but highly necessary, for it to reflect any power or direction from the 99%. The Democratic party doesn’t make Democratic voters. Democratic voters make or break the Democratic party.
For our Democrat leaning friends who mistakenly believe that criticizing this secretive Democrat representative or that un-forthcoming Democrat president is tantamount to a)discarding any successes gotten via the Democratic Party and/or b)throwing the game for Republicans, we should gently remind them that it is us as the grassroots, we the people, that deserve the bulk of the credit for having accomplished the handful of progressive wins of the last few years (sometimes by using the Democratic Party, other times by using other mechanisms of democracy), and it will be us, not some Party, that will continue to be the heart of the American Left in the future.
Furthermore, in a political field where corporate America can buy unbridled access to the public’s representatives, it is only the perpetual antiseptic of transparency and the constant, thorough, critical analysis of our government operations that keep our public representatives from voting according to their NASCAR-like corporate sponsor list. The game is such that Corporate America gets the default win–every single time–unless we fight for a better alternative.
At the end of the day, it is not some combustible paranoia that is the “constant vigilance” that liberty requires–it is the thoughtful, candid, democratic investigation of what we do, what we’ve done and how we can do it better.
But let’s say that line of reasoning doesn’t get our centrist democratic buddies all the way into the anti-surveillance-state struggle.
President Palin and the Impunity Machine
If that doesn’t work, I resort to a simplistic, but effective, rhetorical posit. It’s a simple question, but it’s enough to send shivers down my spine:
What if this was Palin’s NSA?
Personally, I find the question adds a tremendous amount of clarity to my own thinking on the issue. Perhaps it will also help your centrist friends, as it has helped mine, consider the emergent problems of an out-of-control executive branch.
First, I picture President Sarah Palin, in all her indignant, self-righteous power-hungry glory. Then, I picture the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the DNI, the DEA and the vast security apparatus beyond them, all under Palin’s control.
All the little microphones that listen, all the big databases that store, all that authoritarian leeway granted through FISA bills and the FISA court. I picture Palin’s perfectly groomed finger on all the little buttons that kill. I hear her psychotic, supremacist voice making “that call” on Terror Tuesday. And I ask myself, “what if Palin was president–how comfortable would I be with the control, or lack thereof, we currently exercise on the state surveillance apparatus and the executive branch as a whole?”
What if President Palin’s NSA was the one that had “ a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant”? What if it was Palin’s NSA that had access to information on 75% of internet traffic? What if Palin’s NSA collected every single email and text message that entered or left the country? What if Palin’s Director of National Intelligence had lied to Congress about government surveillance?
What if it was Palin’s executive branch flexing XKeyscore (which collects “nearly everything a user does“) and PRISM to track, monitor and collect internet data from around the planet? What would be the comfort level of most Democrats?
What if President Palin was heading up the executive branch and it was her administration using the Insider Threat program to wage a war on whistleblowers? What if Palin’s executive apparatus was the one recommending and encouraging falsifying legal documentation to cover up the trail of surveillance used in domestic criminal cases? How would even centrist democrats react to Palin’s NSA getting busted for lying to the public about how many protections there really are for individual civil liberties? What would be the Democratic Establishment’s response to President Palin and the creeping, punishing surveillance complex?
Truth is, history tells us that centrist Republicans, Right-Wingers, the House Majority leadership and the Bush Legacy should also get much historic blame–but certainly some blame must be reserved for the centrist, sellout Democrats. To put the centrist collusion with the for-profit surveillance goons into proper Congressional context, let’s remember:
“It is the Intelligence Committees of both the House and Senate that exercise primary oversight over the NSA. But as I noted last week, both Committees are, with the exception of a handful of members, notoriously beholden to the NSA and the intelligence community generally.
Its members typically receive much larger contributions from the defense and surveillance industries than non-Committee members. And the two Committee Chairs – Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House – are two of the most steadfast NSA loyalists in Congress. The senior Democrat on the House Committee is ardent NSA defender Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district not only includes NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, but who is also himself the second-largest recipient of defense/intelligence industry cash.”
When we challenge our government, as well as the right-wing’s, slip towards authoritarianism, we should be keenly aware that too many politicos, who made their career off the hard work of grassroots Democratic voters (and organizers), are selling out grassroots values for their corporate sponsors and a slice of careerist pie.
With a growing group of progressives, left-of-liberals and even some conservatives keenly opposed to the sprawling power of our intelligence industrial complex, now is the time to build a historic coalition for responsible American government, targeting corruption in the surveillance apparatus and beyond.
Otherwise, all our pretty words about freedom, democracy and liberty are rendered a moral sham, historical marketing conjured for the 1%’s operational convenience. And if some Democrats still won’t believe the for-profit panopticon is a problem now, maybe they’ll believe it when the next right wing nut job becomes president.