William Rivers Pitt: 'The stand'
Date: Friday, January 10 @ 09:52:01 EST
Topic: The Bush Administration
By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t
"Just as every conviction begins as a whim, so does every emancipator serve his apprenticeship as a crank. A fanatic is a great leader who is just entering the room." - Heywood Broun
I am from Boston, born and raised an Irish Catholic. I attended a Catholic middle school, moved on later to a Jesuit college, and have spent the last few years teaching English Literature at a Catholic high school. I am aware of all the evils the Church has perpetuated during its long years. I know it is a stagnant institution, premised upon hundreds of years of tradition that in many ways have little to do with the reality of the world I live in.
I believe most vehemently, for example, that women have the right to retain reproductive control over their bodies, and that contraceptive technology is both necessary and beneficial. Neither of these convictions are supported in any way by the Church, and yet I still name myself Catholic. I do so because the profound truths to be found at the base of the Church's teachings are larger than the institution itself. I am comforted in my faith by the presence within the Church of the Paulists, and the Jesuits, and the Order of the Sacred Heart.
The last year, as a Catholic, has been brutal and sickening. A pestilence of rape, abuse and lies within the Boston Archdiocese was revealed in the newspapers on a daily basis. Priests, entrusted with the spiritual life of innocents and guarded by a wall of secrecy, subjected their most vulnerable parishioners to serial abuse and degradation. Worse, the leaders of the Church were long aware of this despicable behavior and did nothing to stop it. In fact, a straightforward reading of the law suggests they aided and abetted these crimes for many, many years. For a time, it seemed as though the bedrock institution itself would simply cease to exist.
The last year has been a profound test. The Catholic Church as an institution was proven utterly indefensible and unworthy of defense. Legions of the faithful took to the streets outside the Cardinal's residence, and outside many churches, to protest those within the hierarchy who had aided and abetted this repugnant crime. At all times, however, these parishioners called themselves Catholic. My boss, a nun, pulled me aside one day and reminded me that the Church is not God, but an institution made up of flawed men.
I still call myself Catholic. I have learned, however, a valuable lesson about placing trust in institutions. In my faith, I stand on the precepts of the religion, and not upon any innate worthiness within the hierarchy. I do not do so because I am some sort of rebel. I do so because the truth that first breathed life into the Church is still worthy, even as the mortals who pretended to carry its banner are not. I did not leave the Church. It left me.
Mine is not the only faith betrayed by those who pretend to speak the word of God. Osama bin Laden and his followers have wounded, perhaps mortally, the institution of Islam. Millions and millions of decent human beings around the world live peacefully and morally by the word of Mohammed, and now must suffer around the world because a band of fanatics hijacked their religion when they hijacked airplanes filled with innocent men and women and turned them into bombs.
Christians in America were treated to a similar hijacking of their faith only a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Speaking on his television show, pretend Reverend Jerry Falwell pointed a bloody finger of blame at a number of his fellow citizens. "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, 'People for the American Way' - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point a finger in their face and say, you helped this happen. God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve," said Falwell. Talk about blame America first.
As a majority of Catholics shuddered when Cardinal Law and others tried to defend their lies, as a majority of Muslims were sickened at the sight of two buildings destroyed in the name of Allah, so were a vast majority of Christians horrified at the words of Jerry Falwell. All of those Catholics, and Muslims, and Christians, were forced in the face of such blasphemy to consult their inner compass and decide where they stood. Virtually all of them made the proper decisions, leaving the corrupt and the condemned to rot in the sink of their own moral depravity.
Thus it is with institutions in this brave new world.
The cancer has in no way been restricted to the realm of religion. The secular world of American government has likewise suffered a massive loss of confidence. Consider the words of Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, when asked on January 7th about the possibility of required conscription being reinstated as we march to war against much of the world:
"If you think back to when we had the draft, people were brought in; they were paid some fraction of what they could make in the civilian manpower market because they were without choices. Big categories were exempted - people that were in college, people that were teaching, people that were married. It varied from time to time, but there were all kinds of exemptions. And what was left was sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months, and then went out, adding no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time, because the churning that took place, it took enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone."
This is the man not only responsible for the care and well-being of our soldiers today, but of the reputation and honor of the soldiers who have come and gone. His was the generation that faced the challenge of Vietnam, a truth which applies to a great many within the administration that claims him. Analyze the words:
"If you think back to when we had the draft, people were brought in; they were paid some fraction of what they could make in the civilian manpower market because they were without choices."
People were brought in to the armed services during the Vietnam era because they were drafted, under penalty of prison or estrangement from their country, and were paid a fraction of the going rate in the civilian marketplace because of the basic nature of that forced conscription. As for being without choice, this is correct. If a 19 year-old in that time in American did not want to go to jail, or to Canada, or to Mexico, or if he did not have powerful family connections that guaranteed a safe posting somewhere away from the combat zone, then indeed they were without choices.
"Big categories were exempted - people that were in college, people that were teaching, people that were married. It varied from time to time, but there were all kinds of exemptions."
This is code. Rumsfeld at this point was sidestepping a bitter truth. There has been for some time now a word floating around the political lexicon: "Chickenhawk." The accepted definition of the word is, "One who tends to advocate, or are fervent supporters of those who advocate, military solutions to political problems, and who have personally declined to take advantage of a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime." Notable administration officials Dick Cheney, Andrew Card, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, and Karl Rove all came of age during the Vietnam war. Each and every single one of them found a way to avoid service. Each of these man has, in the last several months, gone out of their way to push hard for military solutions to political problems.
Foremost on this list is George W. Bush, leader of the free world, who was eased into a National Guard posting in Texas in 1972, and who by all accounts failed to show up for this duty for some 17 months. When Mr. Rumsfeld referred to "all kinds of exemptions," be safe in the knowledge that his understanding of that phrase is as broad as it is shallow.
"And what was left was sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months, and then went out, adding no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time, because the churning that took place, it took enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone."
There are 58,229 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Many of those names belong to men who were without the choices afforded to Bush, Cheney, Perle, Card, Wolfowitz, Abrams, Ashcroft and Rove. In all likelihood, there are names on that wall representing men who went, served and died in Vietnam in place of these administration officials. That the man immediately in charge of our armed services stated that these lost soldiers added "no value, no advantage" to the country they served is a profound insult not only to the honored dead, but to those who died so Bush and the members of his administration could hide from duty when it came calling. Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld, these men are gone, and never to return.
Callous, backhand comments from members of this administration are nothing new. After the passage of the PATRIOT Anti-Terror Act in the wake of September 11th, a great many Americans raised questions and concerns. On its face, the Act is contra-constitutional in the extreme. In its guts lies the upending of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and many patriots spoke out in a manner befitting any citizen of this country.
When Attorney General John Ashcroft, central author of the legislation, was called before Congress in December of 2001 to explain the Act, he spoke these words: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists - for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve."
Those phantoms have since become quite real. The PATRIOT Act, in conjunction with hastily added amendments to the legislation which created the Homeland Security Department, have stripped away many of the basic constitutional protections Americans have come to take for granted. We are no longer safe in thought, word and deed. Our homes are open to warrantless searches, our every move is to be stored in a Total Information Awareness database run out of the Department of Defense, and any citizen ability to call our government to account was cast aside with the annihilation of the Freedom of Information Act.
Yet in the eyes of Mr. Ashcroft, and those who believe as he does, any citizen who complains about this is aiding terrorism, or is a terrorist themselves. No greater charge can be leveled in a time when the ashes of those who were killed on 9/11 still hover in the atmosphere above New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Power never wishes to endure dissent, but in America dissent is a sacred birthright. Now, it is verging on being an illegal act.
Neither Rumsfeld or Ashcroft can be blamed for making such statements. They are merely following the lead of their Commander in Chief, George W. Bush. On at least a dozen occasions after September 11th, Mr. Bush has made a joke out of the fact that the attacks gave him permission to run a deficit, raid Social Security and Medicare, and loot the Treasury in general.
Each time, the joke was made before rapt crowds of political supporters who had paid top-dollar to rub elbows with the man. Each time, Bush wore what has become a signature smirk, indicating that he was fishing for laughs. Each time, he got them. "You know," said Bush last June, "When I was one time campaigning in Chicago, a reporter said, 'Would you ever have a deficit?' I said, 'I can't imagine it, but there would be one if we had a war, or a national emergency, or a recession.' Never did I dream we'd hit the trifecta."
A trifecta is a horseracing term, describing an instance where the bettor has picked three winners in the correct sequence. Hitting the trifecta at the track is considered miraculously lucky. Mitch Daniels, White House Budget Director, gave a speech on October 16, 2001, in which he recounted for the crowd the first iteration of the joke; in mid-September of that year, Bush said to him, "Lucky me, I hit the trifecta" in a discussion about looming budget deficits.
Never mind that the recession began well before the terrorist attacks, thanks to Bush's massive and ill-advised tax cut, and thanks to his friends at Enron, whose fraud helped kick the guts out of the stock market and thus the Clinton budget surplus. Never mind that the war and national emergency came despite repeated warnings received by his administration from a number of foreign intelligence services about impending attacks upon prominent American targets by way of hijacked airplanes, warnings that went completely and utterly unheeded. Focus on the measure of the man himself, who would turn such a horrid catastrophe into a punch line at political fundraisers.
It must be noted that the comments of Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and Bush describe only a minute fraction of what has passed during the two years we have endured this administration. It was said, not so very long ago, that the institution of the Presidency was tarnished by a man who accepted extramarital sex from a subordinate and then lied about that tryst under oath. In two short years we have learned what tarnish truly looks like. We can no longer see our faces reflected in the polished steel of the White House seal. It has been smeared with blood, hubris, ash, smoke and an unrelenting secrecy that betrays every ethic of honesty and integrity this nation was founded upon.
Bush and his companions are not alone in the sundering of our public institutions. The river of unrestricted campaign money flowing through Congress has made that place into a pestiferous clearinghouse for corrupted intentions and misplaced loyalties since time out of mind. Moreover, this race to the bottom has allowed for the cultivation of a political cowardice, mindful only of power and re-election, that has left the citizenry open to the worst abuses of both the White House and the corporate paymasters that essentially run the whole clockwork.
If you wonder why we storm to war in Iraq, why the seas are rising and the ice caps are falling, why environmentalism itself is a joke muttered into the sleeves of those who pretend to deliver the news on television, why asthma is becoming epidemic even as affordable health care becomes scarce, why war always seems to be the answer, look no further than the numbers above the pump at your local gas station, or to the company that owns the chemical plant by the river, or to the new Senate Majority Leader whose vast personal fortune was amassed in the HMO business, or to the defense contractors who have held sway since World War II. Look to all of them at once, for they are mere accents in the symphony, and then look to Congress. Do not, however, look there for a remedy.
When the Republicans took control of both Houses of Congress this past week, their first act was to tear through the ethical standards of those bodies. They did this in secret, attaching to a larger package of rule revisions new 'ethics' codes which allow them to accept free food and vacations, among other things, from lobbyists. These new rules were passed on a straight party-line vote, doing away with previous standards that, ironically enough, were enacted by Newt Gingrich's band of merry men when they took the House in 1995. This happened on the very first day of the new Congress, a dreary harbinger of what is to come.
And what of the opposition party? For a time, the Democrats were in control of the Senate after James Jeffords became an Independent. It seemed the Bush administration was going to struggle with its policy priorities, and in fact, a number of terrible pieces of legislation were scuttled. The Alaskan National Wildlife Preserve was protected, a number of far-right-wing judges were denied nominations to the bench, the faith-based plan to do away with the separation of church and state was shelved, and with the help of Republican John McCain, a sort of campaign finance reform was passed and signed into law. Taken by itself, this is an impressive list, and never mind the fact that Daschle and Leahy survived assassination by anthrax.
Unfortunately, the big ticket items on Bush's wish list sailed through practically unimpeded. The torpedo-amidships tax cut was passed with the help of the Democrats. The PATRIOT Act was written with the help of a number of Democrats who are now considering a run for the Presidency. Bush's plans for war on Iraq were given the green light, contingent upon the approval of a cowed and cowering United Nations Security Council. It is unnervingly clear that the Democrats' failure to play the part of the loyal opposition in these matters led directly to their losses in the 2002 midterms, and to the new Republican Congress. Now, ANWR will be drilled, those right-wing judges will be confirmed, the separation of church and state will be no more, and Bush will likely gain approval for whatever military adventures happen to strike his fancy.
We live today in a nation whose most essential public institutions have been turned inside out. The news media is no help in this matter, for this is an institution owned from top to bottom by the very corporations that are currently dictating policy. Consider the fact that NBC and MSNBC are owned by General Electric, one of the largest defense contractors on earth. Understand that war in Iraq and elsewhere will do very good things for GE's bottom line. Realize the definition of the phrase, "Conflict of Interest." NBC is not the only outlet with divided loyalties. All of the mainstays of what used to be called journalism are in the same boat, rowing frantically towards whatever shores the CEO's point them towards. Truth does not even enter into the equation.
Can we vote these people out? Not if the election becomes like the one we saw in Florida in 2000, when the sacred ballot and the implied promise that the Judiciary does not involve itself in politics both were tossed out with the bathwater.
When religious institutions fail to provide moral leadership, when governmental institutions become dangerous to the nation they are tasked to serve, when politicians do not work for the people, or when they tremble at the possibility that standing alone in righteousness might cost them votes, when journalism becomes one long commercial, when votes are brokered against the party affiliation of a majority of powerful judges, it becomes necessary for the singular multitude that is the American people to stand and be counted.
A powerful constitutional framer, James Madison, believed that the ruling minority needed to be protected from the majority. He envisioned a government of elites made up of "enlightened statesmen" and "benevolent philosophers" who would ensure that the principles that founded the nation would not be compromised. Not long after espousing such beliefs, Madison became filled with foreboding. His fears have become our reality, for there are no enlightened statesmen or benevolent philosophers guiding this ship of state. In their absence, we the people must rise to the challenge that has been put before us.
We are out of time.
(Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.)
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times bestselling author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in May 2003 from Pluto Press. He teaches high school in Boston, MA.