By David Swanson
Remarks via skype to Dallas, November 15, 2010.
Thanks to Leslie and everyone else for letting me help with the http://thepeoplesresponse.org website and for letting me speak by Skype. Not that I don’t enjoy being strip-searched and treated as a terrorist for the good of my crumbling empire as much as the next guy, but it’s much more efficient to stay home and use the tool through which I’ve had the privilege of meeting most of you during these past 10 years of horror.
On the other hand, I wish I were there and know I would feel more encouraged just by being with you. I congratulate you on what you are doing. When it comes to Bush’s lies and Bush’s crimes, you know, we have been winning in the arena of public opinion. At the same time, of course, public opinion has come to have less and less influence on what our government does. We’ve been losing in terms of congressional oversight and checking of presidential power. In fact, we’ve largely lost to history congressional oversight itself. We’ve been losing in terms of law enforcement. In fact we’ve largely lost the idea that those in power are subject to the rule of law at all. But we have had good success in persuading people that many of Bush’s crimes and abuses were bad news.
A majority of Americans now says the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq never should have been started. Better late than never. Americans support habeas corpus, due process, bans on warrantless spying, transparency and accountability in government, and by some measures even enforcement of our laws against torture. But this is not a campaign that ever ends, it requires eternal vigilance. When a criminal is granted immunity and praised and allowed to publicly brag about his crimes, public opinion is likely to shift in his favor. It’s hard for people to believe their leaders would openly brag about crimes, so the only mental defense is to pretend that what they are bragging about is legal. That’s also Bush’s only defense: “the lawyers told me I could do it.” But what defense lawyer would ever not claim their client’s actions were acceptable? Hitler and Stalin and many other criminals have operated within the law, but an illegitimate law twisted against the principles of universality and human rights.
And public opposition to Bushian policies does us little good when the same forces that created them still hold sway and Bush is free to bumble around the only country he has any interest in visiting. The Project for the New American Century returned to the internet last year after going into hiding. Rove and Yoo and Bolton, Gingrich and Morris and Krauthammer and Judith Miller are employed by our news media. And the top source of news for young people, Jon Stewart, is busy convincing people that the worst offense is to utter the phrase “war criminal.” Or maybe the offense is to shout it. But no television network will permit a calm discussion of it, which may be why people shout it. When Bush’s poodle was on Stewart’s show he claimed the UN authorized the attack on Iraq, and Stewart just sat and smiled. Civilized discourse was on vacation that day. Stewart says that Bush may “technically” be a war criminal, but that just doesn’t justify uttering the phrase, a point I could agree with if I could bring myself to dismiss over a million corpses as a technicality. I have to assume that Stewart, like Bush, would be miserable in any country other than this one, because I can’t think of any other country where people obligingly shut up and obey as much as Americans. The problem, I think, is that Stewart wants to criticize the rightwing media without admitting that there is no leftwing media, and so he has to drag activists into his critique.
Part of shutting up and obeying is what President Obama calls “looking forward.” We don’t look forward when we execute innocent people for a single murder. I applaud you for not looking forward (in the Obama sense of granting immunity) when it comes to murder on the largest scale. But the point is, in a wiser sense, precisely to look forward. Bush needs to be held accountable and his crimes exposed right this minute, and that will remain true until it is accomplished, even if Bush is dead and gone. The point is not to punish him for the sake of personal animosity. The point is to deter the continuation and escalation of his crime spree.
I used to talk this way at impeach Bush rallies, and I know a lot of people there despised Bush right down to their toes, but they still cheered for what I said. I said that the worst damage Bush was doing as president was indirect. I said that he was establishing precedents that would be abused by his successors. I said that if he was not punished and instead praised for his crimes, then the next president would continue those crimes and add a bit more to them, as would the president after that, and the one after that. They would seize more power with which to commit graver offenses and wars through which to seize more power, and so forth in a downward spiral until we broke the cycle. “That’s right!” people said. “You tell it, brother!”
And then it stopped being hypothetical and started being about a particular new president who came from the side of the angels rather than the devils. And now what I have to say is not always as welcome. How dare I mar the fun of a good old anti-Bush extravaganza by criticizing our first African-American president! But how can we not object to the person illegally instructing our Justice Department to work night and day to protect Bush and his henchmen from criminal or civil prosecution or public exposure of their crimes? Obama need only cease illegally and unconstitutionally and indecently placing Bush beyond the law for Bush to go straight to prison for the rest of his days just for the crimes he openly admits to on television.
And I’m not criticizing a president. We don’t have presidents anymore. Thanks in large part to Bush we have something else. We have an office that can operate in secrecy, launch military actions in secret, and create new laws by announcing that such hideous crimes as assassination will henceforth be legal, or by issuing executive orders, or by instructing those trusty lawyers to draft secret memos. Rather than a reversal of Bush’s policies, we have an even larger military and an expanding war effort now, with the economy suffering accordingly, Bush’s greatest regret of not having destroyed our Social Security is item number one on Washington’s agenda, and the only solution to debt that is less touchable than military cuts is allowing Bush’s tax cuts for gazillionaires to expire. This is not what the world would look like if Bush were behind bars.
We think too much in terms of good and bad teams, just as we do when we’re fed war propaganda and the bad team is another nation. But the teams are not one president against another. The most useful teams to conceive of are the people on whose side resides the rule of law, and on the other side the plutocracy and its servants who have now established the law of rulers. We don’t need to move on to the new president as a focus of our political obsessions, leaving Bush to his sad retirement. We need to pressure the guy who is letting Bush walk to enforce the law or find a different line of work.
Some who are fed up with the current trends have proposed primarying Obama. Another possibility is the fate of three other war presidents: Polk, Truman, and LBJ, who decided to stop at one term. In any event, Congress is where governmental power should be placed, and the same argument that Bush’s greatest damage was in the setting of precedents is true now of Obama. One possible course toward restoration of the republic could involve making these wars and all their accompanying abuses the possessions of the Republicans and Obama. The Democratic caucus in the House could be made truly anti-war, together with some libertarians. I mean this is a proposal for a tremendous feat of public influence, not as a prediction for what will happen if we sit around. I don’t mean feinting and teasing as in 2005, but hardcore committed to ending the madness of militarism. That could be the sort of new person we elect in 2012, which would be different from just wishing for it as in 2006 or 2008 or in our lousy choice of primary candidates in 2010.
But far more important than how it comes about, is the understanding that peace and justice will require a massive movement achieving successes at the state and local levels, communicating, and educating, and mobilizing independent of political parties and corporate funders.
For my bit, next Monday I’m publishing a new book called “War Is a Lie.” I hope you’ll support local independent bookstores, but I also want to mention Amazon.com where George W. Bush’s book is now #1. When my last book came out, I asked all of you to buy it on the same day on Amazon, and it became number one in nonfiction. Of course Bush’s book doesn’t count as nonfiction, so this time my book has to move to the top of all books to knock him off the charts. If you can help me do that by buying “War Is A Lie” next Monday, November 22nd, I’d be very grateful. See http://warisalie.org