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Sunday, March 14, 2010
Keep America Paranoid
Posted by Austin Cline
Liz Cheney is such a mixed blessing. On the one hand, she says and does things which reveal the truth of what so many Republicans really believe; on the other hand, her tactics are effective, which means she causes real damage to American politics and culture. It's like she's revealing a cancerous tumor, then before it can be cut out, she feeds it so that it metastasizes and infects the rest of the body politic.
What Liz Cheney does best is inspire fear. She doesn't inspire anyone to reach higher, to be better, or to improve the world around them. All Liz Cheney preaches to the public is that they need to be afraid of anything and everything around them. Her latest efforts, the "Keep America Safe" ads, are designed to specifically inspire fear that the Justice Department employs lawyers who represented the legal interests of human beings held by the government in Guantanamo Bay.
How insecure does a conservative have to be in order to genuinely fear the possibility that people at the Justice Department strive to serve the impartial interests of the law, the Constitution, and Justice for All?
Even Some Conservatives...
Although the conservative movement and Republicans have an impressive degree of "message discipline," there are still a few issues which reveal some of the fault lines between conservative factions or interest groups. Liz Cheney's "Keep America Safe" ads have become one such issue: some conservatives are striving mightily to justify what she's doing while others — mostly lawyers — are objecting strongly on principled grounds.
I don't think it's a coincidence that it's lawyers — and specifically lawyers who have been active in the courts trying cases — who have been at the forefront of conservative criticism of Liz Cheney. These conservatives understand what Liz Cheney and her supporters either don't get or just don't care about: America's justice system depends upon an adversarial relationship where lawyers zealously defend clients' interests against the government, even when their clients are guilty.
This system forces the government to meet high standards of proof in front of impartial judges and juries. Justice is not guaranteed in this system, but it's more likely than in a system where the government has unchallengeable, unreviewable power to decide a person's fate without anyone to represent the rights of the accused. Anyone who favors the latter sort of system over the former can only be afraid that the government doesn't have a strong case and thus wants the game to be rigged against the accused.
This is exactly how conservatives — and not a few liberals — have tried to structure the system surrounding Guantanamo Detainees. They are accused of being "enemy combatants" and "dangerous terrorists," and thus undeserving of formal charges, legal representation, and a hearing in front of an impartial judge. Unfortunately, denying them all this means that the government never has to prove that these people really are so terrible that they need to be denied any basic legal rights. It's a rigged system which benefits the interests of the powerful.
Will It Work?
We shouldn't even have to ask the question — of course Liz Cheney's efforts here will work. No, they won't "work" in the sense of single-handedly forcing a major change of direction in government policies, but they will "work" in the sense of raising suspicions, raising fears, and raising distrust — all of which can, over time, force changes in government policies. Isn't that part of why Obama is reversing course on so many campaign promises regarding Guantanamo and the detainees?
Liz Cheney's ad certainly has a lot of fertile ground to work with. Americans already distrust defense lawyers who get clients off on technicalities. Americans already distrust Muslims and brown foreigners. Americans distrust the government generally on a lot of levels.
I suppose that having this stuff done out in the open is better than having it done more subtlely because when fear mongering is as blatant as Liz Cheney's, it's hard for the media to entirely ignore what she's doing. Despite that, so many "journalists" are treating her fear-mongering as if it were a legitimate argument and deserves to be taken seriously. Imagine how bad things would be if Liz Cheney knew how to use a scalpel instead of a hammer.
Liz Cheney & Joe McCarthy
I almost hesitate to bring up the obvious parallels to the tactics of McCarthy, but it's precisely the fact that the parallels are so obvious that is important: why don't more journalists point this out? Why don't more journalists explain the specific parallels and what the consequences were for people during the McCarthy era, thus helping and informing those who have a vague sense that there is something "McCarthy-like" about the Cheney ads but who are unsure of the details?
The parallels with McCarthy are way too obvious to be genuinely ignorant of or to justifiably ignore, but few have tried to cover that angle in any depth. This is thus more than just a simple error of omission and suggests deliberate malice. What I mean is that to ignore those parallels requires effort rather than understandable ignorance and that effort must stem from some goal or agenda that the "journalists" are acting on behalf of. It's obviously not in the interests of the public to not be informed of such an obvious resurgence of McCarthyite tactics, so whose interests are the media promoting?
at 7:30 AM