Friday, November 17, 2006


Hobson, the old innkeeper, had a rule. Take any horse you want, but only take the one closest the stable door. As kingmakers have framed all but a few controversial issues in the post-9/11 regime the average citizen has not possessed a meaningful choice in matters of grave public concern. The ideological left-right divide has been reduced to a simple yes or no proposition appearing in the form of Hobson’s Choice, which with respect, is none at all: Fear (nay) --- Security (aye). HEE HAW!

The oh-so-deceptive corollary has become this easy; “Are you for us or against us?” Things just could not be more clear. But wait. Who is the “us” in this formula? Must “we” to a man toe the line to be included? To get out of jail free? To receive basic health care? To keep a job; put food on the table? What happens if one fails to join? The fear of terrorism is fully capable of being used against the People by a few in “leadership” to suit their own personal agendas.

The most esteemed of Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, once warned that “safety from external danger, is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent laws of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates.” Federalist No. 8, p.33. That old devil, the demagogue Hitler, it has been noted, “preached fear in order to exploit it.”

An occasion for considering such woes in the United States Supreme Court arose recently in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004). Quoting Hamilton, Justices Scalia and Stevens objected to the indefinite imprisonment without charge of treason as warranted of citizen Hamdi who was under suspicion for sedition. Following cases which documented the intrinsic error in singing a tune of blind adherence to military authority, the High Court was unwilling to endorse the reflexive obeisance to an incident of war, in this particular, the so-called war on terrorism. The Court hastened to reassure that a familiar Due Process balancing sufficed to resolve certain tensions between the individual and his government concerning fundamental human rights.

What to do then, when incumbents of the military-industrial and security and police offices grow in zeal, waxing greedy, ambitious and corrupt? Or, in the words of John Quincy Adams’ Independence Day Speech of 1821, succumb to “wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assumes the colors and usurp the standards of freedom.” If officers of the United States cannot be trusted to carry out justice uninfected by racial bias, prejudice or politics can judicial safeguards be trusted to keep Americans safe and free?

The conventional political wisdom in wartime dictated that America in 2004 could not switch presidential horses in mid-stream. The architect inheriting those conditions, and in a more sinister vision creating them, could not have been more brilliant if the aim was only to secure the reelection in utter disregard for substantive elements of the National interest. Political strategists coolly anticipated that the public appetite for war and fear could by no means be unlimited. This suggested that additional masquerades would be in need of invention, or recollection, in order to capture the People’s attention and prevail upon our emotions for votes in further rounds of elections. Perhaps a rising China, India, or Africa will suit these transparently political purposes; or it could be something else. Iran, Korea? Or the lowering of gasoline prices at the pumps?

Perhaps presidential politics truly is so uncomplicated as this: “Americans were terrified after 9/11 and a small majority of voters concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the incumbent was clear in his thinking on this matter—and that John Kerry, at best, hadn’t anything much different to offer [in 2004].” Are there any lingering doubts that President George W. Bush was reelected simply because he dethroned Saddam; or that the tripling price of oil after the former oil man and Texas Governor took office is merely an embarrassing coincidence?

Or perhaps the 2004 election simply confirmed that many Americans in both Red and Blue states preferred the clarity of a strict daddy routine even if Daddy was wrong. So strict trumped being right. Perhaps, judging from the composition of the past Congress, national politics followed suit. Perhaps differences between right and left were “fundamental.”

So what happened in 2006? It was about Iraq and the People spoke, and it was about Washington, and it was about the People caught in the middle and not wanting to be there. And the voices that were heard included a longer and more multilateral fuse, a preference for surgical and more limited use of force, great difficulty condoning callous, excessive, and morally indifferent unilateral applications of force and the military and police powers so amply demonstrated under Bush 43.

Most people vote based upon instinct and on what they see, hear or are told, alternatively perhaps some also on broader ideological grounds, and not necessarily upon a personal or independent analysis after gleaning and sifting through ALL the facts. And, those basic political differences between left and right have very important consequences for ordinary life both pro and con beyond elections. This time, the People have spoken. Congress had better be listening.

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