Joseph W.H. Lough
I have to confess that upon learning of the IRS targeting of treason-mongering “non-profits” and Verizon’s judicially approved trawling for information, or of the FBI’s seizure of AP phone records, my emotions were not unmixed. What? It was OK for the Bush administration to target mainstream synagogues and churches whose members opposed the administration’s military adventurism and hate-mongering, but its not OK for the Obama administration to use these same instruments – crafted by and forced upon the American people by Bush’s lap-dog Congress – in the pursuit of arguably more noble ends?
C’mon, as though the Tea Party and its Koch’ed up allies did not deserve a little more scrutiny. They are, after all, outspoken anti-Federalists, which, in itself, puts them on the record as opposed to the US Constitution. And, who knows what the FBI wants with Verizon’s business phone records. Might there not be a terrorist on the loose and is not the deprivation of liberty in the pursuit of security a price all of us twelve years ago said we would be willing, even glad, to pay? Ditto AP reporters’ phone and email logs.
So, why the outrage? For Murdock and his media empire, the answer to this question is clear enough. So long as these extra- and anti-Constitutional tools are wielded by one of their own, all is well. But in the hands of someone who might actually use them to promote the public interest, that is entirely another matter.
But what about the outrage of progressives? Well, I suspect our outrage is the same today as it was in 2001. To defend the use of anti- or extra-Constitutional means by arguing that they promote (reputed) Constitutional ends is incoherent. And, so, we continue to return to our defense of the Constitution. But, what if no one cares about the Constitution?
Surely the US Supreme Court cares not one wit about the US Constitution. Didn’t they just rule that, even without probably cause, its OK for a police officer to pry open a suspect’s mouth to take a DNA sample? Why? Well, said the author of the majority opinion, because it helps to solve crimes more efficiently. Like the crime of unreasonable search and seizure? But, hey, what could possibly be unreasonable about solving crimes more efficiently? Yea, that’s what the framers must have meant by “reasonable.” OMG.
No. The US Supreme Court cares not one wit about the Constitution. Congress? Are you joking? All that Congress can afford to care about is how it can afford to win the next election. And the only way that it can afford to win the next election is by starting to raise campaign donations from the deepest pockets the day before it wins this election. Constitutional protections? What are those?
But surely the people care about the Constitution. Really? These are the same people who elected the last slate of clowns – Republicans and Democrats – and who overwhelmingly supported both the first and the second versions of the Patriot Act, the very act that makes it OK to troll for information in your and my phone records and email. It will take no less than twenty years of independently financed elections and sufficiently financed and independent public schools for a new generation of voters to even begin to appreciate why they should care about a free press or freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
Until then, the public discussion will not advance an inch past whether or not I trust the man or woman in the Oval Office – which is so trivial and shows such poor grasp of republican institutions and values as to lead to decades of psychiatric treatment for depression. No, the people have zero interest in the US Constitution.
So, where does that leave us? It leaves us, I think, with the National Security State that everyone claims to have wanted: Republicans and Democrats wanted it following 9-11 because it made us all think that they were doing something (like relieving us of our civil rights and liberties); the Bush Administration wanted it because they and their supporters have never been all that fond of the 1783 radically federalist and republican version of the Constitution; and the public wanted it because in a plutocracy where public institutions are underfunded to the point of drowning them in a bathtub (thanks Grover Norquist), students and citizens have not the slightest clue what all the hubbub is about anyhow.
So, Welcome to Your National Security State. Now, obviously, if you happen to be among that minority of educated progressives who still believe in the radical federalist and republican vision advanced by the framers, then the National Security State is about as bad as it gets. Clearly we need to sever the relationship between private wealth and our political institutions and replace it with res public, the Wealth we hold in Common or Commonwealth. That is the radical republican vision. But we also need to redouble our efforts to save our public schools (shame on you Rom Emanuel!), where alone there might be hope to reintroduce students to this radical republican vision. Finally, however, we need to make it transparently clear why defending the Constitution at all is still worth our while.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is not. Remember the 1960s? I do. Remember how we laid into the Constitution because it was written by wealthy white guys with a vested interest? Were we wrong? No, not entirely. But, while we were taking a scalpel to the US Constitution, the anti-federalists and anti-republicans were taking a sludge-hammer approach. They never did like the whole idea of federal courts, federal taxes, federal laws, and federal institutions. Nor did they like the whole idea of republican institutions and values, institutions and values framed in light of the wealth we hold in common. Rather did they prefer values and institutions shaped by private wealth, oikonomia. So, while we were setting out to frame an even more perfect constitution, they were setting out to destroy its very foundations.
Guess who won. Today there is no one who much cares for this document or the rights and liberties embodied in it. Which means that before we attempt to defend this document, we better be damn certain about why we are doing so. Because we are losing the battle against the National Security State. And we are losing this battle because it is the National Security State we all wanted. Now we have to show why we may not want it any more.