Patriotic Stupor: White House Junta is Undermining Democracy
Published on Saturday, March 2, 2002 in the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Patriotic Stupor:
White House Junta is Undermining Democracy
In the months following Sept. 11 the debate about waging war on terrorism has been understandably mute. With rare exceptions, the question boiling out of the nation's anger hasn't been whether to fight a war or where to fight it, but how quickly. Once it began, President Bush's strangely paradoxical promise that the war would certainly be won but that its duration would be open-ended should have been the first warning that such a colossal national commitment deserves less vagueness and clearer strategy, if not accountability. Nothing of the sort has happened.

The president has instead redefined success to mean whatever his administration says it means. Victory was attained in Afghanistan, even though Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader are still at large and anarchy promises to be the Afghan spring's bitterest crop. The war on terrorism is being won even though probable terrorists in custody can be counted on one hand. Meanwhile the Pentagon keeps announcing troop deployments Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Pakistan, the Philippines as if Asian geography were a game of Risk. The rubble remains of Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen are being cobbled into a minor league axis of evil. And the president has all but set a television schedule for the war against Iraq. (The May sweeps, perhaps.)

For all this, the Bush administration is demanding a free hand on the world stage, wartime allegiance at home, and a blank check on military spending, even if most of the coming billions are to be spent on weaponry useless in the war on terrorism or any foreseeable war. So the response to a few powerful Democrats on Thursday who questioned the direction of the war and the president's imperial wish list should not be "How dare you," as Trent Lott, the Senate minority leader put it, but "What took you so long?" And "Why so few questions?"

It's an election year. Congress is naturally timid to seem critical of a president whose approval ratings are still flirting with stardust. But the nation's loyalty is turning into groupthink. How else explain a president who, playing on the war's most visceral slogan, gets away with justifying an obscene corporate tax cut as "economic security," a build-up of defense industry stock as "homeland security," and an exploitative assault on the nation's most pristine lands as "energy security"? How else explain his contempt for Congress, his Nixonian fixation on secrecy, his administration's junta-like demeanor in Washington since September?

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle merely asked for "a clearer understanding of what the direction" of the war will be hardly a criticism, hardly a request for an accounting, hardly the reality check so needed at this point. That he was summarily vilified by the junta's Lott-like henchmen points to the real front in this alleged war on terrorism.

The danger right now is not terrorism. It isn't even to those "troops in the field" Lott is so worried about (not when a minimalist army can invade a whole nation and lose only one man in the bargain). The danger is here at home, where zealotry is substituting for policy-making, where the flag is turning into the administration's fig leaf, and where slander is any opposition's reward.

Without robust dissent democracy might as well pack up and head for the hills. So far, Daschle's grumbles included, dissent has been non-existent. This is not unity. It's not patriotism. It's stupor.

© 2002 News-Journal Corporation