Monday, September 18, 2006

What Keith Olbermann Said

Well, here's where we are now, and it takes a former sportscaster to tell us the truth. Keith Olbermann on the President's press conference last Friday:

The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics.

The former Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger, that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but within it contained one particularly chilling phrase.

Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?

“If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic,” Bush said. “It's just -- I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

Of course it's acceptable to think that there's "any kind of comparison."

And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary.

Even if Mr. Powell never made the comparison in his letter.

Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or in Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists.

Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.

What all of us will agree on, is that we have the right -- we have the duty -- to think about the comparison.

And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think -- and say -- what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right.

All of us agree about that.

Except, it seems, this President.

With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right. That Colin Powell cannot be right.

And then there was that one, most awful phrase.

In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

“It's unacceptable to think," he said.

It is never unacceptable to think.
What is most disturbing is that it takes Keith Olbermann to point this out. Not David Broder, or Tim Russert, or any of the other self-appointed guardians of our national discourse. It is disturbing because Mr. Olbermann is stating the obvious. It is disturbing, because he has to; because no one else with such a platform, seems capable or willing to.

It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he alone has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights.

This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President.

If Mr. Powell's letter -- cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive -- can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague?

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.”

Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Bush.

They were the words of Thomas Jefferson.

He put them in the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Bush, what would you say to something that anti-thetical to the status quo just now?
What would any of us say? We have long forgotten how revolutionary words are. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?" What would the social order be if we followed that simple dictate? "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you are to love one another." Or if we treated that with the gravity with which we reverence the "Great Commissioning," and "one another" meant everybody, without let, without limit, just as we preach Jesus did, just as we proclaim God does.

Justice is the revolutionary kerygma of the basiliea tou theou. Blessed are the poor; blessed are the mourners; blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Justice is the plea and demand and requirement of the prophets. But justice is so revolutionary, justice makes us so vulnerable, that in order to save the Republic our President wants to destroy our justice system. But injustice is the base struggle of the world. What is the violence about in response to the Pope's speech? Is it inherent in Islam? Or is it a sense of injustice? Even World War II is understood as arising from the unjust armistice of World War I, which is why Germany was rebuilt after the second war, not punished again. Justice, justice, justice!, should be the cry. But justice may be just what this President fears:

On this newscast last Friday night, Constitiutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the "detainees" transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured.

Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions, is in fact not about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them.

That, certainly, could explain Mr. Bush's fury.
Perhaps. Despite my pessimism yesterday, and Olbermann's pessimism in his essay, John McCain is showing signs of being will to talk to the White House, but no signs that he is weakening in his position. Perhaps there is still reason to hope this country will not decide torture is preferable to justice. But in the name of justice, and as a demand for justice, this much, at least, must be insisted on:

Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.

Anything else, Mr. Bush, is truly unacceptable.
UPDATE: On the torture issue and who will blink first: apparently Bush did.However, the devil is in the details, and this law is about more than Article 3:

An administration official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the negotiations, said the new language only addresses a dispute over the nation's obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which set the standard for treatment of prisoners taken during hostilities.
So we shall see. Not even sure that's light in the tunnel, yet.

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