"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier,
just so long as I'm the dictator."
-- George W. Bush, December 18, 2000
As alarmist as conservatives were during eight years of Bill Clinton’s
presidency, when nothing more
dangerous than oral sex in the Oval Office posed a threat to American democracy, it puzzles me that
they are so silent now that our civil liberties are actually being stripped away daily by the Bush administration.
With the exception of a few conservatives like Alan Keyes, few on the
right today seem as hot and bothered
by the apparent dictatorial nature of their unelected president as they were by those paranoid fantasies they
had about Clinton throughout the 1990s.
I know it’s like trying to recall a psychotic episode, but I’m sure
you can recall the delusional conspiracy
theories that fueled the vast rightwing propaganda machine during the last decade. Remember when Clinton
was about to declare martial law in America after instigating a false national emergency? Remember when
his legions of blue-helmeted minions from the UN were flying the skies in their sinister black helicopters?
Sure you do. It was right after Clinton established his secret
Marxist government. You know, the one funded
by all that money he made as governor of Arkansas when he smuggled tons of cocaine into the United States
and murdered all those people “who knew too much.”
Unfortunately, I’m familiar with many of these far-right conspiracy
theories because I used to live in western
Maryland during the Clinton years. That part of the state is rather conservative and some people there still
wax nostalgic for the time when Confederate troops briefly occupied the region. Every Saturday night the
local TV station in Hagerstown aired two hours of ultra-conservative politics, old-time religion, and right-wing
conspiracy theories that was truly hysterical, in both senses of the word.
The fun began with televangelist Jack van Impe, who, along with his
wife Rexella, have been warning us for
over twenty years that the end is indeed at hand. They were followed by a live talk show that just loved to
scare the bejeezus out of viewers about the impending worldwide Y2K disaster. Then the evening’s
entertainment culminated with a burly minister from Texas who was certain that UN troops were right
outside the studio waiting for Clinton’s command to burst through the door and drag him off to a gulag
somewhere in Idaho.
I imagine a lot of viewers were pretty tired the next morning in church
after sitting up all night with
ol’ Bessie in hand, just a-waitin’ fer them dang liberals to start settin’ up their one-world gov’ment.
Aside from their paranoid worldview, the one thing these shows had in
common was good old American
capitalism. Jack Van Impe sold videos about the coming one-world dictatorship or how UFOs flown by
demons (seriously). The talk show sold freeze-dried food supplies so viewers would have something nutritious
and delicious to eat when Y2K ushered in the End Times. And the guy from Texas sold videos with footage
of black helicopters and UN military equipment that somehow proved an invasion of the US was imminent.
They were all cashing in on the lucrative cottage industry that developed
among the far-right wing after
Clinton’s election in 1992. You may remember Jerry Falwell’s paranoid classic, “The Clinton Chronicles,”
the magnum opus of that genre in which the dastardly man from Hope was exposed as a murderous,
sex-crazed drug smuggler.
Plenty of other bizarre propaganda was produced as well. One video,
“Global Governance: The Quiet War
Against American Independence,” featured none other than John Ashcroft (before he lost his Senate seat to
a dead man) and a host of other conservative luminaries (or should that be “lunatics”?) who thought America
was in danger from the New World Order Clinton was allegedly establishing.
According to the program, produced by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum,
feminism, gay rights, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and a host of
other liberal bogeymen were all apparently part of a secret plot to weaken
American sovereignty and create a socialist One World Government.
Of course, what all of these shows lacked in evidence they more than
made up for in half-truths, innuendo,
speculation, hearsay, and outright falsehoods. Despite years of unrelenting investigations, both congressional
and independent, and millions and millions of taxpayer money squandered, not one of the allegations by these
right-wing cranks panned out.
It was all fantasy. But that didn’t seem to bother the large audience
of conservatives who watched the programs
every week and bought the videos and read the books. It also didn’t seem to factor into the battle plans drawn
up by all those militias that sprang up in reaction to the notion that Clinton was scheming to implement a
dictatorship in America.
With the Bush administration coming very close to accomplishing exactly
what these conservatives feared
Clinton was doing, I have to wonder where are they all now? In less than two years, Bush has done more
to imperil civil rights and basic democratic principles in this country than Clinton could even do in the fevered
imaginations of rightwing conspiracists. And yet, the silence on the right, as they say, is deafening.
Here’s a brief compilation of the all-too-real ways (all reported in
the mainstream media) that the
Bush regime is creating what increasingly resembles a police state in the United States.
· After 9/11, Bush created a “shadow government” consisting
entirely of executive branch officials,
violating the separation of powers inherent to our constitutional system.
· With his proposed Department of Homeland Security, Bush
is attempting to concentrate police powers
on a federal level that would have sweeping powers to monitor Americans and even repress “suspicious” activities.
· As the detention of Jose Padillo shows, American citizens,
along with non-citizens, can now be arrested
and held indefinitely without due process.
· The government can use military tribunals to try and sentence suspects without a jury or public access to the process.
· The government’s ability to conduct secret searches has been expanded.
· Attorney General Ashcroft has the power to designate
domestic groups as terrorist organizations
and can deport any non-citizen member of those groups.
These are genuine examples from here and now. Not ludicrous speculations
about black helicopters or
socialist plots, but hard facts about the ongoing erosion of our Bill of Rights under the Bush administration.
I know there are actual external threats to our country that warrant
cautious exercise of our freedoms and rights.
But, as Bill Moyers pointed out during the Iran/contra scandals, the Framers of our Constitution were all too
aware of the dangerous world byond American borders. Yet, they put their faith in the principles of democracy
rather than the rule of despotism.
They also put their faith in our ability as a nation to remain rooted
in the real world as we actively fought to maintain
and nurture America’s idealistic assumptions about personal liberty amid the threats and messy complexities of reality.
Perhaps that explains the silence coming from most conservatives today.
While those of us fighting to resist the
very real threat posed by the Bush administration to our liberties are desperately trying to live up to our Founders’
faith, right-wingers are popping the “Clinton Chronicles” one more time into the VCR and quietly reliving the
good ol’ days when the only threat to our democracy was all safely in their head.