Monday, February 20, 2006

"He wants to blow off everything."

In the continuing saga of "The Vice-President's Got a Gun (Everybody run!)," Maureen Dowd on "Meet the Press" yesterday explained the issue clearly enough that even Tim Russert should now understand it:

The reason this story has evoked such fascination is because the vice president is like the phantom. You know, we hear the creak of the door as he passes, but we don't really know what he's up to. We don't know his schedule. We don't always know where he is. We don't know what democratic institution he's blowing off at any given minute, and so this allowed us to see how his behavior and judgment operated pretty much in real time -- with the delay, but pretty much in real time. ... And it covered all the problems of the Bush/Cheney administration: secrecy and stonewalling, then blowing off the rules that are at the heart of our democracy, then using a filter to try and put the truth out in a way that would most suit their political needs, and then bad political judgment in bungling a crisis. I mean, if there's one thing the Republicans are great at since Reagan, it's damage control. But he is such a control freak, you know, he doesn't even care about the damage. ... Mary, it isn't only the press. He blows off the FISA courts, he blows off the Geneva Conventions, he blows off the U.N. to go to Iraq. He wants to blow off everything. He's got a fever about presidential erosion just the way he had a fever about going into Iraq.
Interesting how this seemingly passionless man is so passionate about: privacy. For him, of course, not for the rest of us. Spying on American citizens conducting business overseas (with foreigners!) is okay. Knowing what the man a heartbeat away from the Most Powerful Man In The World is up to on any given day, or even after he shoots a man in the face, is out of bounds and beyond the limits.

And by the way, the next time someone says "hunting accidents happen," here are the statistics (via Arianna, who links back to DailyKos):

In Texas, over the last decade, only one hunter in 26,000 has been involved in a hunting accident.

In 2005, only one in 36,000 was involved in a hunting accident.

In fact, there were 1.1 million hunting licenses issued in Texas last year but only 30 reported accidents.
Just a rough guess, but I think there are more traffic accidents in Houston on a daily basis than that. So much for "this happens all the time, it's no big deal."

But the issue here is not even the press, even though they are feeling slighted by an increasingly uncooperative and mealy-mouthed Press Secretary. The issue, as Ms. Dowd says, is: "He blows off the FISA courts, he blows off the Geneva Conventions, he blows off the U.N. to go to Iraq. He wants to blow off everything."

And it is precisely here that we re-engage Derrida's analysis of the "rogue state." Derrida points out something useful, something that might almost have come from William Blake: democracy carries the seeds of its own destruction. In fact, it necessarily does so. Democracy is always opening itself to the dissolution sought by the "other." Not the "other" which is the opposition party to the party in power, but rather the party which is in opposition to democracy; and in opposition precisely to save democracy.

It works something like this:

Perhaps this is the moment to recall an example that would appear particularly symptomatic of the current situation we have been discussing regarding Islam and democracy, namely, what happened in postcololnial Algeria in 1992 when the state and the leading party interrupted a democratic electoral process. Try to imagine what the interruption of an election between the so-called rounds of balloting might mean for a democracy. Imagine that, in France, with the National Front threatening to pull off an electoral victory, the election was suspended after the first round, that is, between the two rounds. A question always of the turn or the round, of the two turns or two rounds, of the by turns, democracy hesitates always in the alternative between two sorts of alernation: the so-called normal and democratic alternation (where of one party, said to be republican, replaces that of another be equally republican) and the alternation that risks giving power, modo democratico, to the force of a party elected by the people (and so is democratic) and yet is assumed to be nondemocratic.... The great question of modern parliamentary and representative democracy, perhaps of all democracy, in this logic of the turn or round, of the other turn or round, of the other time and thus of the other, of the alter in general, is that the alternative to democracy can always be represented as a democratic alternation. The electoral process under way in Algeria in effect risked giving power, in accordance with perfectly legal means, to a likely majority that presented itself as essentially Islamic and Islamist and to which one attributed the intention, doubt with good reason, of wanting to change the constitution and abolish the normal functioning of democracy or the very democratization assumed to be in progress.
Translate the particulars of the Algerian election in 1992 to the election of Hamas in 2006, and the point still holds. Derrida goes on to note that:

The Algerian government and a large part, though not a majority, of the Algerian people (as well as people outside Algeria) thought that the electoral process under way would lead democratically to the end of democracy. Thus they preferred to put an end to it themselves. They decided in a sovereign fashion to suspend, at least provisionally, democracy for its own good, so as to take care of it, so as to immunize it against a much worse and very likely assault....[T]he hypothesis here is that of a taking of power or, rather, a transferring of power to a people who, in its electoral majority and following democratic procedures, could not have been able to avoid the destruction of democracy itself."
This "sending off" Derrida labels the "renvoi," the "sending as emission, as a mission that puts one on the path, the sending as legacy....Renvoi as repreive or deferral as well as exclusion, at the same time murder and suicide....To immunize itself, to protect itself against the aggressor (whether from within or without), democracy thus secretes its enemies on both sides of the front so that it's only apparent options remained murder and suicide; but the murder was already turning into suicide, and the suicide, as always, let itself be translated into murder."

This is today's headlines. Israel and the US want to cut off funding for the elected government of Hamas. Condoleeza Rice declares the elected president of Venezuela a "threat to democracy." In order to preserve democracy, we must send it away. And so Dick Cheney, in order to preserve the power of the government, power derived from the consent of the governed, must cut off the power of the governed to consent. Consetn requires knowledge of actions, and Cheney insists his actions be as concealed as possible. For our own good, we must be kept in the dark about what government is doing to us, in our name, with the sovereignty we establish. So further revelations about the NSA domestic spying program should not be pursued.

Democracy, Derrida points out, is all about "voice," about "votes," which itself is not a simple issue: will never actually be able to "prove" that there is more democracy in granting or in refusing the right to vote to immigrants, notably those who live and work in the national territory, nor that there is more or less democracy in a straight majority vote as opposed to proportional voting; both forms of voting are democratic, and yet both also protect their democratic character through exclusion, through some renvoi; for the force of the demos, the force of
democrary, commits it, in the name of universal equality, to representing not only the greatest force of the greatest number, the majority of citizens considered of age, but also the weakness of the weak, minors, minorities, the poor, and all those throughout the world who callout in suffering for a legitimately infinite extension of what are called human rights. One electoral law is thus always at the same time more and less democratic than another; it is the force of force, a weakness of force and the force of a weakness; which means that democracy protects itself and maintains itself precisely by limiting and threatening itself.
It is not too much to say that, by his actions, Dick Cheney understands that point precisely. Democracy maintains itself precisly by limiting and threatening itself; and democracy is all about numbers. Fearful of the threat those numbers represent, including the threat that democracy might send itself away, for its own good Cheney would send democracy away, and replace the many with the one, and replace the threat with authority, an authority that does not threaten, and so does not limit, itself.

Which is precisely what our system of government is supposed to prevent. But the autoimmunity of the system may, instead, be bringing that precisely about.

[-Quotes from Jacques Derrida, Rogues, tr. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2005), pp. 30-36]

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