The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Thirty-five years ago, Richard Milhous Nixon, who was crazy as a
bullbat, and J. Edgar Hoover, who wore women's underwear, decided some
Americans had unacceptable political opinions. So they set our government to
spying on its own citizens, basically those who were deemed
insufficiently like Crazy Richard Milhous.
For those of you who have forgotten just what a stonewall paranoid
Nixon was, the poor man used to stalk around the White House demanding
that his political enemies be killed. Many still believe there was a
certain Richard III grandeur to Nixon's collapse because he was also a man
of notable talents. There is neither grandeur nor tragedy in watching
this president, the Testy Kid, violate his oath to uphold the laws and
Constitution of our country.
The Testy Kid wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it
because he is the president, and he considers that sufficient
justification for whatever he wants. He even finds lawyers like John Yoo, who
tell him that whatever he wants to do is legal.
The creepy part is the overlap. Damned if they aren't still here,
after all these years, the old Nixon hands -- Dick Cheney and Donald
Rumsfeld, the whole gang whose yearning for authoritarian government rose
like a stink over the Nixon years. Imperial executive. Bring back those
special White House guard uniforms. Cheney, like some malignancy that
cannot be killed off, back at the same old stand, pushing the same old
Of course, they tell us we have to be spied on for our own safety, so
they can catch the terrorists who threaten us all. Thirty-five years
ago, they nabbed a film star named Jean Seberg and a bunch of people
running a free breakfast program for poor kids in Chicago. This time,
they're onto the Quakers. We are not safer.
We would be safer, as the 9-11 commission has so recently reminded us,
if some obvious and necessary precautions were taken at both nuclear
and chemical plants -- but that is not happening because those industries
contribute to Republican candidates. Republicans do not ask their
contributors to spend a lot of money on obvious and necessary steps to
protect public safety. They wiretap, instead.
You will be unsurprised to learn that, first, they lied. They didn't
do it. Well, OK, they did it, but not very much at all. Well, OK, more
than that. A lot more than that. OK, millions of private e-mail and
telephone calls every hour, and all medical and financial records.
You may recall in 2002 it was revealed that the Pentagon had started a
giant data-mining program called Total Information Awareness (TIA),
intended to search through vast databases "to increase information
coverage by an order of magnitude."
From credit cards to vet reports, Big Brother would be watching us.
This dandy program was under the control of Adm. John Poindexter,
convicted of five felonies during Iran-Contra, all overturned on a
technicality. This administration really knows where to go for good help -- it
ought to bring back Brownie.
Everybody decided that TIA was a terrible idea, and the program was
theoretically shut down. As often happens with this administration, it
turned out they just changed the name and made the program less visible.
Data-mining was a popular buzzword at the time, and the administration
was obviously hot to have it. Bush established a secret program under
which the National Security Agency could bypass the FISA (Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act) court and begin eavesdropping on Americans
As many have patiently pointed out, the entire program was
unnecessary, since the FISA court is both prompt and accommodating. There is
virtually no possible scenario that would make it difficult or impossible to
get a FISA warrant -- it has granted 19,000 warrants and rejected only
I don't like to play scary games where we all stay awake late at
night, telling each other scary stories -- but there's a reason we have
never given our government this kind of power. As the late Sen. Frank
Church said, "That capability could at any time be turned around on the
American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the
capacity to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it
doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide." And if a dictator took
over, the NSA "could enable it to impose total tyranny."
Then we always get that dreadful goody-two-shoes response, "Well, if
you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about,
Folks, we KNOW this program is being and will be misused. We know it
from the past record and current reporting. The program has already
targeted vegans and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- and,
boy, if those aren't outposts of al-Qaida, what is? Could this be more
This could scarcely be clearer. Either the president of the United
States is going to have to understand and admit he has done something very
wrong, or he will have to be impeached. The first time this happened,
the institutional response was magnificent. The courts, the press, the
Congress all functioned superbly. Anyone think we're up to that again?
Then whom do we blame when we lose the republic?
Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas Observer. She is the bestselling author of several books including Who Let the Dogs In?
Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate