I updated this piece due, in part, to the tragic mass murder in Arizona. Many of the same issues and arguments I waged years ago when I first wrote this piece are still alive and altogether too well today, much to my dismay and disappointment. Although I have given Obama (and all politicians, for that matter) much grief in the past, I must commend our President for his remarks at the memorial service at the University of Arizona this week. His suggestion that we best honor the memory of Christina Green and all America’s children by making our country live up to their expectations is a challenge that all Americans should be willing to accept without question. I wholeheartedly believe that his speech speaks to many of the concerns I raised in this piece years ago….
There must be a sense of urgency if we are to avoid the excesses of the GWB administration in the Obama administration or in administrations yet to come. Once an office-holder gets power, it is very difficult to reclaim the power and give it back to its rightful owners (“We, the People”). And the GWB administration expanded executive powers well beyond that of any previous administration — even the Nixon administration — by exploiting our fear over 9/11.
It is also clear that Obama will abandon his “core” principles in the name of “getting something done.” This has held true for every controversial issue that has come before us in the last couple of years (and before that when he voted “present” in the IL State Senate). Since the original publication of this piece, he has gotten very little done in the way of rolling back the excesses of the GWB administration. GITMO is still up and running because all Congress hears from their constituents is “not in our backyard;” we still haven’t gotten FISA right; and it has recently been reported that he is considering the use of executive signing statements (a particular pet peeve of mine). Further, the “Tea Party” and its “we’re-mad-as-hell” reactionary (rather than visionary) movement has proven to be too off-the-wall in the selection of their candidates (“I am not a witch.”) and far too extreme in their view of the role of government (besides war, there isn’t one in their view).
The only way we can get our rights re-established within the current governmental structure is to enact campaign finance reform in order to shift the power back to the people and seize it from fat-cat Big Business and their special interest groups and lobbyists. Until we do this, Congress and the Executive Branch will allow them to “pay to play” and will not make decisions that benefit the people.
Campaign Finance Reform is the first and most critical step.
Once that is in place, a healthcare bill can be passed that benefits the people and not the insurance companies, healthcare providers and Big Pharma.
Decisions about how to solve the economy will move back from “welfare for Big Businesses” and the proper restraints and regulations that were eroded since the Reagan years (and even before that) will be re-established.
And, of course, if we re-establish the natural balance between the three branches that the authors of the Constitution intended (and which have worked reasonably well in the past), it stands to reason that our rights and protections will be re-established as well. All the executive abuses of the past, from torture, rendition and abolishment of the writ of habeas corpus to Executive Orders and Presidential Signing Statements (where GWB made clear he thought he was above the law) all the provisions in the last few FISA amendments and the Patriot Act will cease to exist in their present form.
We must acknowledge that “We, the People” do not have to relinquish our constitutional rights and protections in order to be safer.
Fear causes us to make bad decisions out of desperation and despair in order to achieve superficial rather than substantial solutions. Draconian safety measures may make us “feel better” or create the delusion that we can be less fearful of our enemies and the potential threats they present to our country and its citizens, but the trade-off of losing our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms is too high a price.
Fear-mongering and the strident and violent words we use in our public discourse, particularly in the “chattering (actually screaming) class,” especially to describe those with whom we disagree (I’m right; you’re evil!), may score political points in the media circus, but it also creates a toxic political environment where it is almost impossible for politicians to really work together and make the compromises necessary to effect positive change. Creating straw men and false arguments and phony issues tends to distract and divide us, often over manufactured, imaginary crises, rather than focus and unite us in meaningful and effective ways to address concerns that are real.
We cannot, out of fear or frustration, choose to become reactionary rather than visionary.
We must be careful to make changes that balance our need for safety with our right to enjoy constitutionally protected freedoms, else we may change who we are as a people. And what all this fear-mongering and strident political discourse really accomplishes is to change what is good about our society and form of government, all because of our fear and desire for safety — without, I must stress, actually making us safer. We only have to look in our past to see how we slaughtered Indians by the millions and imprisoned Japanese American citizens in our own concentration camps because we didn’t trust people who didn’t look or live like us.
And we must pass a rule that amendments that are not germane to a bill cannot be included in any bill.
We also must demand the SCOTUS rule on whether or not an Executive Order is constitutional and binding, particularly if it includes provisions that are unconstitutional (abolishing the writ of habeas corpus, etc.).
And we must clearly establish the Right to Privacy, which will resolve such issues as abortion and homosexual marriage (and, for all practical purposes, many of the wedge issues that have plagued us since the mid-20th century). I believe the Right to Privacy does exist. If you look at the Bill of Rights, it is quite apparent that our Constitutional framers believed in the “man’s castle” theory which clearly establishes our inherent Right of Privacy.
Anyway, I think we must approach this issue in two ways:
First, get back control over our elected officials, who have reason to fear Big Business and Special Interests because of the enormous cost of running a successful re-election campaign, through passing campaign finance reform.
Second, we must try to educate “We, the People” and make them realize how dangerous it is to set such precedents that shift too much power to either of the three branches and shift power from the People to the government. We must re-establish the inherent controls and balance between the three branches of government and the unconstitutional shift of far too much government power to the Executive Branch. Even if we like and trust (or think we do), the guy in office now, we must remember that these precedents, once set, will empower any candidate that occupies these governmental position in the future.
Unchecked power and unaccountable authority just don’t work, whether we are speaking of individuals or a political party. We have seen (throughout the ages, and especially since 1980) that when the political parties and special interests influenced the general public in becoming more and more polarized, government powers or excesses tend to expand in ways that do not benefit the people. And that is the real danger.
A democracy must be “people-oriented” and “people controlled,” but without resorting to mob rule and hysteria.
Any act or action that contributes to American society by solving societal problems or preventing abuse by a government branch that refuses to acknowledge their accountability to the law of the land and to We, the People, must be effective and results-oriented in order to succeed and achieve the true goals of a democracy. Loopholes and ambiguity lead to overburdened courts and no real enforcement. Every time we allow wedge issues to consume public discourse and further polarize Americans or sit back and watch our inherent constitutional rights and protections “flushed down the toilet” — regardless of any fear that permeates political discourse or public discourse — we move further and further way from the true freedoms that only a democracy can provide.
Abandoning our democratic values in exchange for the delusion that we are safer is the greatest “win” the terrorists could have hoped for…. and (especially after 9/11) we gave this to them out of fear.
The GWB administration was masterful when it came to fear-mongering. They proved how instilling fear in the general population for the purposes of exploitation of the masses could successfully empower an unhealthy, unchecked Executive Branch who believed themselves to be above the law. And we also see how the country was bankrupted by the GWB administration and its systematic destruction of the oversight and regulations that protect our industries (banking, etc.) to the point where the People are now financing with their own tax dollars poorly run companies with incompetent or criminal executive management; who deserve to be punished, not rewarded with multimillion-dollar executive bonuses BEFORE they have paid the American taxpayers back for their bailout money. These are the same executives that routinely and for a significant period of time made bad management decisions and were even criminally negligent to the point that their actions consist of a criminal breach of their fiduciary responsibilities. And then we allow them their million-dollar bonuses while we struggle financially and are punished for their crime by having to carry the load of an out-of-control national debt.
Campaign Finance Reform is the first step
Without it, the Constitution will not be restored to its original intent; real healthcare that first protects the best interests of the People and not Big Business, Big Pharma and other Special Interest will never pass; and Big Business, the NRA and Special Interests will continue to have improper, excessive access to our elected officials, which results in the power to secretly write bills that benefit them or their industry.