The Gadfly Bytes -- June 9, 2003
Illustration Courtesy of Democratic Underground
By Ernest Partridge
"The main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence. And this, after all, is an optimistic conclusion, because intelligence is a thing that can be fostered by known methods of education."
I am proud to be an American, and you should be too.
In the final three decades of the eighteenth century, political thought and practice in the civilized world was suddenly advanced as never before in human history. And it happened on our soil and resulted in the birth of our republic.
Since then, the words of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and its Bill of Rights have been echoed throughout the world. These words have catalyzed revolutions and liberations, and have served as models for constitutions of numerous emerging democracies. The giants of our founding, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, Franklin, and others, belong, not only to our history, but also to the common heritage of free men everywhere.
Until very recently, our free and diverse press has been the envy and the exemplar of journalists around the world. Our “fourth estate” has been the effective extra-governmental “check and balance” against government abuse and corruption – as, for example, when Edward R. Morrow mobilized public opinion and hastened the downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy, when Walter Cronkite declared the Viet Nam war “unwinnable,” and when the once-admirable Bob Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein, exposed the felonies of “all the President’s men.”
The Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon exemplified yet another widely admired foundation of our Republic: The Rule of Law, to which even the Chief Executive must submit. That rule of law recognizes the dignity and steadfastly protects the rights of each citizen, even against the whims of the majority.
The United States has, throughout its history, been known as “the land of opportunity” where, through a system of public education, open competition, and authentically “free enterprise,” the talented and industrious might achieve personal wealth, prestige and power.
Our vaunted liberties, for which we have been justly renowned and envied, has drawn millions of immigrants to our shores, where they have enriched our culture and enhanced our prosperity.
And finally, our accomplishments in science and scholarship are second to none. American scientists (many of them immigrants) have won a disproportional share of Nobel Prizes. The academic freedom and scholarly discipline of our graduate schools continue to draw the very best students from around the world.
Two years of unparalleled corruption of the Congress and the Executive, and the political capitulation of the Supreme Court, does not undo all of that. But if present trends continue through another Presidential term and beyond, all bets are off.
For all the justice and liberty that we cherish in our political tradition, all that we share with our prosperity, and our well-deserved international esteem, is about to be swept away, as the United States of America may be facing its greatest political and economic crisis in its history. For the United States of America has, through electoral fraud and judicial malfeasance, been taken over by a gang of radical anarchist oligarchs (who falsely label themselves “conservatives”), who are guided by dogma and “instinct,” rather than practical experience, expertise and science. This regime is undeterred by law, treaties, or world opinion. They have effective control of the media, while the “opposition” political party has proven itself incompetent and impotent.
The ruinous program of this regime is no secret. Quite the contrary, it is as clear and explicit as the political program set forth in Mein Kampf. The Bill of Rights? Read the USA PATRIOT Act, and “Patriot II” waiting in the wings. The Geneva Accords? Consider the stockades of Guantanamo. The United Nations, NATO and the international treaties? Read the “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC). The social contract and a century of progressive social programs? Consider the Bush budget and tax legislation, and contemplate a projected future of ever-increasing national debt and eventual federal bankruptcy, as the oligarch-anarchists endeavor to “shrink the government until they can drown it in a bathtub.”
In the words of the normally restrained Financial Times of London, “the inmates have taken control of the asylum.”
Yet the talent, initiative, intellect, political sophistication, and the moral insight and dedication which brought the United States to its pinnacle of prosperity, vitality and international esteem just two years ago, still resides within our borders.
But where? The voices of protest and dissent are muted, and the opposition is disorganized and demoralized.
Where are the grownups – now that we all so desperately need them?
If these “grownups” – the scientists, legal scholars, journalists, economists, educators, union and civic leaders, government workers – were to rise up with one voice, the malignant folly that is the Bush Administration would be halted in its tracks, immobilized for the moment, and decisively thrown out in November, 2004.
So why the inaction? Let’s examine these elites in turn.
The Journalists: Listen-up, Rather, Jennings, Brokaw, Koppel. It’s payback time! You’ve all grown fabulously wealthy through your use of the public airwaves. If the gushers of corporate cash flowing into your respective portfolios were to shut down tomorrow, your acquired wealth would be secure and ample for several lifetimes. And none of you are young anymore.
Now it is past time to speak truth to power – even if that includes the power of your bosses. No need to wallow in the false concoctions and vituperation of the Limbaughs, O’Reilly’s and Hannitys. Just tell the truth – the certifiable facts clearly reported in the foreign and independent press, and conspicuously absent from the corporate media. Include among those facts the disgraceful delinquency of the American mainstream media.
In Russia, soon after the fall of Communism, several journalists did as much and paid for their integrity with their lives. But your lives are not on the line – not yet. Just your jobs.
And just imagine the uproar if the network anchors were all fired on the grounds of excess candor and integrity! Then they might establish a progressive network, and give it a huge sendoff by bringing along audiences in the millions.
And you folks in the print media, it’s past time for some spinal transplants. The next time the Shrub sets up a scripted (so-called) “news conference,” throw away the script and ask an honest and penetrating question. If that’s too much to ask, follow Tim Robbins’ suggestion and hand off Ari's recognition to the likes of Helen Thomas. If this costs you access to the White House press room, then so be it. Maybe you can arrange a boycott. How delicious it would be for Ari Fleisher to walk into an empty room!
Finally, Bob Woodward: Now that you are a hotshot Washington Post Exec, be the new Ben Bradlee. Recruit “WoodStein Redux”: find a couple of energetic young reporters, put them on the White House beat, and see what they can come up with. You too may lose your job over this. All the better. You can then retreat to your home office and write an honest book, after a two decades of hagiography. Now you can open up the worm-can that is the contemporary "journalism," and expose it for the sellout and the fraud that it is. Who knows, maybe then a grateful public and history will forgive your post-Watergate lapse of integrity.
Scientists and Scholars have a long-standing reluctance about getting involved in politics. That reluctance is ordinarily well-advised, for political activism can compromise the detachment and objectivity that is the hallmark of scholarship. But these are not ordinary times. For now the very sustenance of science and scholarship are under direct threat. Theological and political dogmas now guide and constrain the funding of biomedical and environmental research. Scientists such as Theodore Postal of MIT, who dare to disagree with the Administration over Missile Defense, face, along with their institutions, the loss of federal research funding. And the long arm of the Bush “science-police” reaches into the governance of international research institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the former IPCC Director, Robert Watson, was to discover.
Groups such as Campus Watch, the Heritage Foundation, and Lynn Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), are vehemently displeased at how frequently independent scholarship at our universities seems to come up with unacceptably “left-liberal” conclusions. So they are demanding the imposition of “balance” (i.e., “conservative” viewpoints) in higher education.
These are ominous trends, which must be steadfastly resisted if the reputation and integrity of higher education in the United States is to be protected and maintained. It is one thing to remain aloof from politics when political activity is “out there,” away from the academy. It is quite another matter when a band of well-funded political activists and dogmatists attack the very foundations of free and independent (dare we say “liberal”?) science and scholarship.
Lawyers and Historians, by the hundreds, signed petitions protesting the Supreme Court’s “appointment” of George Bush, in Bush v. Gore. And in February, ten Nobel Laureate economists, along with several hundred professors of economics, signed a statement warning of dire consequences of the Bush tax policies. Terrific! But after petitions, what? Is that to be the end of their protests, or will they persist? Where are the public lectures, and the appearances on public TV and radio? Where are the “teach-ins?” Must Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and a very few others, carry the entire burden?
Educators have a crucial stake in the ongoing political struggles. It is no secret that the public schools, indeed even the concept of public education, are under attack by the Right Wing. Yet public education – the “common schools” – have served our country well as “the great assimilators,” leading immigrant children into the mainstream of American culture and society, and putting children of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds into direct, face-to-face contact. Public support of higher-education provides the “ladder” of advancement for young people without financial means but with talent, energy and determination. But for these opportunities, millions of writers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, professors and other professionals would have been condemned to menial labor, and our society would have been much the poorer for this. The social value of subsidized higher education was most dramatically exemplified by the post World War II GI Bill, which moved millions of returning veterans into the middle class.
But the Far Right, understandably, has no stake in a public that is informed and which has acquired critical intelligence through a liberal education. Such individuals make very poor serfs. Neither is the Far Right much interested in an integrated public. "Divide and conquer!" So instead of continuing our traditional support of public education, they offer us privatization (“vouchers”) and home schooling, which can only lead to social disintegration and blind obedience to authority.
Educators throughout the realm are quite aware of these ominous trends. So why are they not speaking out, loudly, eloquently, and persistently?
Government workers and elected officials – municipal, state and federal: you have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. Not the President, not your party, but the Constitution of the United States. So where are you now, when that Constitution is under severe attack? You have sworn to obey the laws. So why are you silent, as the Bush Administration violates, at whim, such laws and the Presidential Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and international treaties too numerous to mention? Presidents and their administrations come and go, but the Constitution and the rule of law persist – but only so long as we cherish and defend them. It is our founding political and moral principles that deserve our loyalty, not mere mortals who happen to occupy political offices – ill-gotten offices, as it happens. So stand firm on principle, and never forget that you work for us. Refuse illegal orders, blow your whistles. Follow the example of Daniel Ellsberg, John Dean, Colleen Rowley, and that courageous but still anonymous Justice Department employee who leaked “Patriot Act II.”
Persons of wealth and privilege: Do you really want to follow where George Bush and the right wing ideologues are leading you, along with the rest of us? Yes, it is true that a robust economy requires the initiative and the investments of the wealthy. Wealth does in fact “trickle down,” and “the rising tide lifts all boats.” But these are partial truths. It is equally true that your wealth and privilege have “percolated up” from an educated work force, from a foundation of social harmony, economic justice, and a shared allegiance to our founding political principles of fair play, equal opportunity, personal liberty and autonomy, all secured by the rule of law.
The Bush gang and their supporters do not see things this way. They embrace the attitude that Lincoln so despised: “you bake the bread, and I’ll eat it.” They fail to appreciate that the falling tide grounds all boats. They freely pick the fruit of the tree, while they poison and hack at the roots.
The American public, lulled today by the soothing blather of the captive media, will soon awake to find their public services gone, their economy in ruins, their civil liberties violated, and their country isolated from a community of nations that will, at last, unite to resist our imperial ambitions.
Not all privileged individuals see themselves as somehow “entitled” to their advantages. Many fully appreciated their debt to those multitudes that produce the wealth, and their dependence upon a well-ordered and just society. Such enlightened individuals as George Soros, Ted Turner, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., and, let us hope, an ever-growing number of the enlightened wealthy, may at last lend their support to the counter-revolution which must throw the usurpers out of their ill-gotten offices, and restore our republic to the people.
We eagerly await their enlistment into our common cause.
In two short years, the social contract enunciated in the Preamble of our Constitution has been violated, much of our Bill of Rights rescinded, and our economy looted. Only we the people can undo this damage. In addition, America’s honor has been besmirched before the world and before history. Only Americans can restore it.
The journalists know this. The scientists and scholars know this. The lawyers know this. So too the educators, government workers, civic and religious leaders, and even some politicians. And given access to the compelling facts, free of spin and propaganda, the American people can know this too.
When will the voices of reason and experience, schooled in the lessons of history and loyal to the founding principles of our republic speak up and be heard? What are they waiting for?
Where are the grownups?
Copyright 2003, by Ernest Partridge
Conscience of a Progressive: A book in progress.
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".