Monday, November 15, 2004

Forewarned is Forearmed

UPDATE 11/17/2004: Added Porter Goss CIA Shakeup Memo quote to the end of the post.

This country has had many exceptional leaders. Among my favorites are Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Washington. These four, among others, had a common guiding principle that was obvious in their execution of their duties as President.
"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

-Teddy Roosevelt, May 17, 1918 in Kansas City Star

The common thread is that all believed that despotism is too easy to come by, and that Americans need to watch out for those who would try to lead the country down that ruinous path. They all believed that too much power, and too few checks on that power by the citizens, and by the various branches of government, would destroy our great nation.

They all stand in stark contrast to the current administration, and its unparalleled determination to quash dissent wherever it may arise, often under the pretext of "national security":

"The danger I see here is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war," Ashcroft said in his first speech since his resignation became public Tuesday.

- John Ashcroft, November 12, 2004

The great minds of the great leaders of our history knew that people expressing their differences, congress standing up for the people, and judges expressing their legal opinions, were the foundations of the true strength of our democracy. They knew that unquestioning obedience to the President, especially a President whose personal ambition was very strong, could lead to one of the greatest dangers any country may ever face:
I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts... Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? ... Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

- Abraham Lincoln January 27, 1838

Meanwhile, the current administration tries to convince us, time and again, that dissent is somehow unpatriotic:
"Every nation and every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

- George W. Bush, September, 2001

Unlike President Bush, President Eisenhower understood that Americans must even question the military, because the potential for abuse of power was tremendous.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.
Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

- President (and General) Dwight D. Eisenhower

George Washington knew that, once one party came to dominate the others, the country would be on its way to despotism:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

- Geroge Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1795

Our forefathers knew first-hand the ways in which despots worked, dividing people, pitting them against each other, distracting them so they would be too busy to notice the loss of their freedoms.
Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].

- Abraham Lincoln Letter to Joshua speed Aug. 24, 1855

In the above quote, substitute "French" or "Old Europe" for "foreigners," and "gays" for "Catholics," and you've pretty much captured the essence of the Bush administration.

All these great leaders came to their beliefs through experience. They watched other countries fail through attempted imperialism. They watched dictators triumph, however briefly, leading to the destruction of once-great nations. They learned the "quaint" lessons of history, and used that knowledge to create a new brighter future for us on the North American continent.

They tried to warn future generations of the types of men to watch out for. I'm afraid that too many may not have heard.

They could see the importance of dissent to the survival of our democracy. Why can't Bush and his minions? Perhaps they are blinded by their ambition for power.

My grandfather proudly fought for this country in WWI. My uncle, my father, grand-uncles, and even a cousin or two all served this country at different times in our history. Great and great-great grand-relatives fought in the Civil War. What a shame it will be if all their efforts come to an naught due to the hubris of George W. Bush and his megalomaniacal wish to be emperor of the world. What a shame indeed.

UPDATE 11/17/04: As if he could read my mind, the new director of the CIA has sent out a memo with some interesting phrasing. From the New York Times article about it:
Porter J. Goss, the new intelligence chief, has told Central Intelligence Agency employees that their job is to "support the administration and its policies in our work,'' a copy of an internal memorandum shows.

"As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies," Mr. Goss said in the memorandum, which was circulated late on Monday. He said in the document that he was seeking "to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am now convinced that you suffer from some sort of mental illness. In no way can you get into the mind of this president and know how he feels .To call him a maniac and claim he seeks to be all powerful is just plain crazy.This would be like someone saying that you hate your country and wish to see it destroyed.Try to argue your case in a logical manner instead of resorting to claims that you can read peoples minds and know their secret desires.
What does it matter that members of your family served this country? Karl Marx had family members who served , Hitler served himself.I did notice too that you mentioned your grandfather served in ww1 as did mine.Most of us can claim the same. I did find it interesting that you mention other family menbers served yet you do not say exactly how.Even still, that matters little.The shameful activities of socialist and communists can in no way be excused becouse they may have had some true americans in your family.For those who love this country and who love democracy , the checks and balances will be more than enough to assure the futue of this nation.
You sound bitter, angry, and weak.Are you sure you believe in what this country stands for?Are you afraid of abuse or are you really frightned by the USE of democracy?You seem to have a lot of sentiment for european nations which espouse socialism .Perhaps that is where your heart realy lies and not in the values and traditions of this country.

10:38 AM  
Blogger rhetoretician said...

Thanks for the free psychiatric advice.

For the record, megalomaniac means pathologial egotist (aka: extreme sense of self-importance), not maniac.

The point of this post is that our forefathers warned Americans not to accept (a) that a president is a special type of person who can do no wrong, and thus should not be questioned; (b) a one-party system; and (c) politics of division, both from the world at large and from subsets of our own citizens; because those all tend to lead toward despotism.

In contrast, this administration, including President Bush himself, has spent a great deal of effort on implementing all three of the very things we were warned against.

Ashcroft's speech the other day was aimed specifically at trying to discourage the court system from acting as a check on the executive branch. The way congress members and senators are being strong-armed when they attempt to speak out is a similar form of suppression (the conservative Arlen Specter being the most recent example).

With the executive branch attempting to suppress dissent from those branches of government that are supposed to check executive power, it's reasonable to be concerned that they may be attempting to subvert the foundations of our democracy.

You clearly have a different opinion of this President's likely motives. I truly hope you're right. I would like nothing more than to be proved wrong by the events to come.

I will reserve judgement, however until that day in the future when George W. Bush is safely back on his ranch, clearing brush with his favorite dog at his side. When that day comes, if my political opinions have not been used as an excuse to add me to the orange jumpsuit crowd in some detention camp, feel free to post a reminder to eat a big hunk of humble pie. I will do so glady.

If however, the government does slide into totalitarianism, please promise you will fight for the democracy you so obviously care about.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suppressing decent ? Read the major newspapers . Todays NewYork Times is FILLED WITH IT !Nothing new for them nor libral press nation wide. You cant shut these people up.They blather on and on with these insane rants.There will always be people who exist only to complain.It is a mind set.The contry will be fine and the constitution will survive .Still there will be those who live for a protest , to get a group together and march.For many of them, it would not matter what kind of political climate existed.They would simply take the opposite side .I feel certain that you will be eating your humble pie along with a little WHINE to go with just cant halp it.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should calm down. None of what you fear is even close to taking place. This President is not even close to being seen as all powerful or all knowing. Nor is this a one party country. We democrats are still alive and well. It seems that many who share my distaste for this administration have become unglued. There is no suppression of dissent in Ashcrof'ts speech. It is Ashcroft and this administration voicing their political desires. We cannot call speech we don't like suppression nor does it amount to such. The foundations of our democracy are much stronger than that. Don't fear speech you don't like from the opposition. Fear only actions which are illegal and outside the parameters of our political process

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

meg·a·lo·ma·ni·a ( P ) Pronunciation Key (mg-l-mn-, -mny)
A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence

: meg·a·lo·ma·ni·ac
Pronunciation: -'mA-nE-"ak
Function: noun
: one affected with or exhibiting megalomania

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im wondering somthing . i noticed just as anonymous one had that you made a point that your grandfather faught in world war one .you then went on to say that your uncle ,father and other members of your family "served this country " you seem always to be concerned with the way others phrase things. i suspect that you artfuly frase things yourself to either make a point or to avoid one.i also found it interesting that you would note your uncle before your father.may i ask how these family members served?

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my parents came to this country as immigrants.they fought wars in their birth country. life was war for many a generation. America is great because it does not have to be that way here.
should my opinion on these matters count less because my parents did not fight for this country but instead fought to get here? does the heroism your family displayed give your comments more legitimacy think not. i find invoking your relatives in this discussion to make a point deplorable.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father refused to fight in WW2 becouse he was against killing .I would refuse to go if i were a male. Refusing to kill for your country does not mean you are unpatriotic.
Bush is a hater and a divider and this blog simply proves that truth .

3:50 PM  
Blogger rhetoretician said...


n : a pathological egotist

WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University


To the most recent poster. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I appreciate your calm tone. I also appreciate consciencious objection, and understand and respect that patriotism has many faces. Participation in the armed forces is only of the many. Thank you for bringing that point of view to the discussion.

To those angry that I brought up my family's participation in defending this country, I'd like to know more about why you're angry. If you are concerned that I dare to speak for others whose opinions I cannot know, I'll accept that point regarding those who died before I knew them, but the ones still living share my concern.

8:23 PM  
Blogger rhetoretician said...

To anonymous number -n- regarding phrasing: That's a very astute observation, I hadn't even noticed. My uncle is older than my father and shipped out earlier. I was thinking chronologically.

My father did ballistics R&D; my uncle saw combat, as did my grandfather and cousin; my great-uncle was an army chaplain and his sister was an army nurse; rumor has it that a great-great uncle was a flag-bearer for General Sherman. There's no proof, so it remains in the rumor category. In the "great-great" category, there were several who immigrated to the US specifically to fight in the civil war.

This blog has been a very interesting experience. The things people latch onto are frequently tangential to the point of the post, and not what I'd expect. However, it's nice that people are interested enough to post comments. Even if you disagree with my post, at least you feel it's worth responding to, which means I've acheived my goal.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could be wrong but I thought the point the person was trying to make regarding your family was that how they participated or did not participate does not give your words or opinion more meaning. It matters what you do with your own life. I thank those members of your family who served their country with valor and honor on the field. Although I cannot speak for them, it strikes me that they may have felt hurt and shame as a result of the values you post on your blog.
I applaud anyone who served their country with distinction in the time of war. The price of living in a free country like ours is accepting the fact that many will shirk their responsibility and allow others to do the fighting. There is a book in the making about world war 2 and those who chose not to fight. There were thousands who avoided combat by claiming they were opposed to the war or that they were unfit to serve. Fascinating records exist which chronicle the many ways people avoided being drafted or how they were able to opt for less dangerous forms of service. If you think George Bush was unique in being able to avoid the Vietnam war because he was rich you may be surprised to find out the hundreds of thousands of common Americans were able to avoid service in world war 2 . Rather than fight a war here at home the government chose to allow people to serve in a variety of ways rather even though they knew people were faking a variety of different maladies to get out of combat service. In time the records will be opened which detail the names and addresses of objectors and 4fs , how they were processed and information by doctors and witnesses .A grading system existed along with very personal notes as to how valid each persons claim was.I hope that these records will not be released untill the last of the world war 2 era vets have passed.But think how interesting it will be to see how many average people were allowed to avoid service or to serve in a less dangerous capacity and to wonder how many of these judged this President and what he did durring a far less popular war .

retired and rested in Scottsdale

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what you are referring to is not a book but a web site .Records will include not only the information you described but also records dating back to the civil war and before.Also , it is my understanding that information about veterans and the public at large will not be added untill the death of the peron listed.Either way i find this a bad idea and would prefer that this information remain private

3:29 PM  
Blogger Raised By Republicans said...

Gee Rhetoretician,

This seems to have touched a nerve. A lot of anonymous posters really got upset about it.

I'm not sure that military service should be neccessary condition for legitimate patriotism or the Presidency. I my self have no problem with someone who fought in a war they strongly advocated. And I have no problem with anyone who avoided service by any legal means in a war they strongly opposed. What I do have a problem with is people who go out of their way to avoid service in a war they strongly support.

You say your ancestors came to the US to fight in the Civil War...I'm guessing but are your ancestors Irish? I've heard that a lot of Irish men came over to get military experience they hoped to take back to use against the English.

My own great-great grandfather (not an immigrant) was 1st sergeant in Company E, 36th Ohio Volunteer Inf. in the Civil War. He and his brother dropped out of college to join up after Fort Sumpter was fired upon and fought constantly for the duration of the war. His memoirs tell an interesting story of how his regiment was split between committed abolitionists from Central and Eastern Ohio (he was an abolitionist) and anti-succession but pro-slavery "war Democrats" from the Kentucky and Virginia borders (West Virginia didn't exist at the time). Since most ranks above that of private were elected in his unit, this caused all maner of political friction within the regiment.

RE: WWI, My grandfather was too young to go but two of his older brothers were killed in France. They were the sons of Danish immigrants in Minnesota.

9:52 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Progressive Women's Blog Ring

Join | List | Prev | Next | Random | Prev 5 | Next 5 | Skip Prev | Skip Next

Powered by RingSurf