Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Greatest Danger to America

The greatest danger to America is not al Qaida or radical Islam or even terrorism. The greatest threat is an increasingly dysfunctional government. A dysfunctional government cannot deal effectively with terrorism or any of the other important issues facing our nation.

One of the Republican mythologies that has too often gone unchallenged in the last twenty years is the notion that Ronald Reagan 'defeated' the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a serious adversary at the height of its power but it was never the hysterical threat that fearful right wingers made it out to be. The hysteria of the right was even noted by President Eisenhower who observed the coincidence of the growing economic and political interests of America's defense industry which clearly benefited from that hysteria (there used to be jokes in Washington about how that hysteria was most obvious at budget time).

The CIA did several studies of the Soviet Union in the decades that followed World War Two. One of the things that became apparent were the many ethnic, political and economic contradictions of the Soviet Union. In the late 1970s, before Reagan in other words, the CIA predicted that the Soviet Union would eventually collapse because of its internal contradictions. Two of the things that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union were rampant corruption and incompetence. The incompetence was to some extent a direct result of the ideological rigidity of the leadership of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union had less to do with communism than the rigidity which made it nearly impossible to react to changing conditions. In contrast, look at China, which technically is still led by a communist party. After the disasters of the 1950s and 1960s, the pragmatists in China finally gained control and China has become an economic juggernaut, largely because it left its ideology behind in favor of far more realistic and workable policies. There is much that is wrong in China and it's possible that the contradictions that still exist in China, contradictions that the leadership continues to ignore, may eventually undo the gains of recent decades. For one thing, China is having its own problems with corruption. And that too is a lesson for the United States.

The media is still largely asleep about the real dangers that face the United States. In the case of Fox News, of course, we have a media outlet that directly contributes to our own internal contradictions. Fox News legitimizes neoconservative foreign policy fantasies about regime change, it legitimizes hate speech, and it legitimizes business interests who distort scientific research in areas such as global warming, pollution, health, tobacco and so on as a way of avoiding dealing with the changing conditions of the world. The Washington Post is a serious news outlet but it has been sluggish in recent years when it comes to holding President Bush and his advisers accountable despite their recklessness and incompetence and increasingly obvious corruption. Here's The Washington Post's editorial from Friday (via Truthout):
It doesn't much matter whether President Bush was the one who phoned Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's hospital room before the Wednesday Night Ambush in 2004. It matters enormously, however, whether the president was willing to have his White House aides try to strong-arm the gravely ill attorney general into overruling the Justice Department's legal views. It matters enormously whether the president, once that mission failed, was willing nonetheless to proceed with a program whose legality had been called into question by the Justice Department. That is why Mr. Bush's response to questions about the program yesterday was so inadequate.


These are important topics for public discussion, and if anyone doubts that they can safely be discussed in public, they need look no further than Mr. Comey's testimony. Instead of doing so, Mr. Bush wants to short-circuit that discussion by invoking the continuing danger of al-Qaeda.

"And so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people, and programs that we constantly brief to Congress," Mr. Bush assured the country yesterday, as he brushed off requests for a more detailed account. But this is exactly the point of contention. The administration, it appears from Mr. Comey's testimony, was willing to go forward, against legal advice, with a program that the Justice Department had concluded did not "honor the civil liberties of our people." Nor is it clear that Congress was adequately informed. The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Even by the standards of The Washington Post, the editorial is timid but it is at least a step in the right direction. The Washington Post editors have been sluggish about recognizing the scandals and corruption of the White House and Republican Congress. We have, in fact, reached a point where no charge made against the Bush Administration can automatically be dismissed as absurd. That is how bad things have gotten.

One of the most dangerous things Bush has done in the last six years is stuff his administration with people who are not merely loyal but all too often spectacularly incompetent. And too often corrupt. A nation that cannot adapt to the changes that are swiftly beginning to impact it is a nation that is heading for serious trouble.

It is still a fact that the United States is a great nation but there is a real danger of that greatness becoming Republican mythology if we do not protect our democratic institutions along with the pragmatism that came out of those institutions and thereby became an integral part of our economy, science and law. Al Qaida is a problem that must be dealt with—competently. But the reality is that the biggest threat to our country is a dysfunctional government that is crippled by ideological rigidity, fear-mongering, corruption and incompetence.

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