Saturday, September 30, 2006

If we aren't going to call people "evil"

maybe we can just bring back the concept of "shame". Garrison Keillor (via Pastor Dan):

It's good that Barry Goldwater is dead because this would have killed him. Go back to the Senate of 1964 -- Goldwater, Dirksen, Russell, McCarthy, Javits, Morse, Fulbright -- and you won't find more than 10 votes for it.

None of the men and women who voted for this bill has any right to speak in public about the rule of law anymore, or to take a high moral view of the Third Reich, or to wax poetic about the American Idea. Mark their names. Any institution of higher learning that grants honorary degrees to these people forfeits its honor. Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Burr, Carper, Chambliss, Coburn, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeMint, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Frist, Graham, Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Isakson, Johnson, Kyl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Lott, Lugar, Martinez, McCain, McConnell, Menendez, Murkowski, Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Pryor, Roberts, Rockefeller, Salazar, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Specter, Stabenow, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Thune, Vitter, Voinovich, Warner.

To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott: Mark their names and mark them well. For them, no minstrel raptures swell. High though their titles, proud their name, boundless their wealth as wish can claim, these wretched figures shall go down to the vile dust from whence they sprung, unwept, unhonored and unsung.

Three Republican senators made a show of opposing the bill and after they'd collected all the praise they could get, they quickly folded. Why be a hero when you can be fairly sure that the Court will dispose of this piece of garbage.

If, however, the Court does not, then our country has taken a step toward totalitarianism. If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it's no longer the United States of America as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.
That last, of course, would be the worst part. But hardly the first time this country has fallen back on power as it's salvation, and certainly not the last. There's the rub, though: how can we not rely on power to save the institution? How can the community not turn back to power as its protection against destruction? Aye, there's the rub indeed.

I got some insight last week into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics. I was there on a book tour for "Homegrown Democrat," but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, "I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics -- I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service." And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours, and who cares?

The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched off the streets, flown to Guantanamo, stripped naked, forced to stand for 48 hours in a freezing room with deafening noise, so why should they worry? It's only the Jews who are in danger, and the homosexuals and gypsies. The Christians are doing just fine. If you can't trust a Methodist with absolute power to arrest people and not have to say why, then whom can you trust?
Maybe it isn't that our enemies have succeeded. Maybe making "us" like "them" wasn't that difficult after all. Maybe there wasn't even any change at all.

Terrorists aren't attacking us because they hate us for our freedom. We may believe we have been a benevolent force in the world until George W. Bush came along, but his aggression and blind arrogance and obvious stupidity are just more blatant than before. I didn't realize until today that Paul Bremer was a protege of Henry Kissinger, but suddenly the news that Kissinger has been a Bush advisor for some time, makes sense. When Jimmy Carter ran for President, reassurances were given that people like Zbigniew Brzyenski would not be in the Administration.

Most American administrations since WWII have largely been about rearranging the Titanic's deck chairs. And now we are for torture.

Color me bitter. Color me cynical. But don't color me surprised. Those people in Highland Park have done regular violence against the rest of the world, and profited from it, and benefited from it, and been entirely ignorant of it; and clearly, they like it that way. Highland Park, by the way, is a very wealthy city in Dallas. The two usually go together, don't they? I was just reading Mark, about the rich man and the camel, and the eye of the needle. Everytime I read that I remember how my Sunday School teachers tried to explain that the "eye of the needle" was a narrow gate into Jerusalem that a fully loaded camel couldn't pass through. It was a comforting middle-class lie, a complete fabrication because, 2000 years later, we are still shocked by that story. We still don't like what it means, even though Jesus rounds off the roughest edges with: "For God, nothing is impossible." Still, we want to be comfortable now, as well as receive the promised comforts of the after-life. And if that means torturing several hundred unknown "detainees" far, far away, don't want to see how sausage is made, either, but it sure is good for breakfast.

And since that absolute power will only be used to protect our way of life, to make us comfortable and happy and ensure the gas pumps are always full and always open, and that a shut-down like occurred in Houston last September, never happens again, well....that's probably fine with us.

Some of us, anyway. Some of us will continue to speak up for truth, for compassion, for justice. Just because we don't, doesn't mean it isn't there. Just because we do, doesn't mean we'll ever get it.

I started off talking about the concept of shame. I'm not sure we'd ever get there again. But it would be worth trying to. Because Mr. Keillor is right: at one time, at least, in my lifetime, we were better than this. We've been worse, too; it's all part of our culture. But we've been better. We can be better.

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