Back in law school, I took a course in “Political Crime and Terrorism”. We examined anti-terrorism laws in other countries such as Israel and South Africa, and we looked at various uprisings and rebellions in American history. It was an enlightening course. I had not previously known, for example, that Rhode Island had undergone a Constitutional crisis with two governments acting under two distinct constitutions claiming legitimacy. Also, there were many more uprisings in colonial times than I had ever read about in my public school education.
We had to write a longish paper, and I chose to write about the suppression of rights during the War Between the States. I grew up in the South, and history classes all ended in 1865. It’s not that history ended in that year, but we spent so much time on the War that there was usually only a day or so left in the term to cover the robber barons, gilded age, world wars, etc. I never had much liking for Lincoln in view of his ruthless suppression of my ancestors’ freedoms, but my research for the paper was shocking to me. I had not known that Lincoln had so brazenly suspended habeas corpus, even in areas where there was no rebellion, that he had jailed dissidents without charges, that he had interfered militarily with elections in Maryland and Kentucky, that he had suppressed the press, that he had threatened judges, that he had, in effect, chosen to disregard the Constitution of the US. In sum, Lincoln had assumed the powers of a dictator.
Last year, I read Thomas DiLorenzo’s “The Real Lincoln” and was disabused of the last vestiges of regard that I might have had for Lincoln. (I gave the book to my father as a gift, as I knew that he would be interested in the crimes of Lincoln.) I had always figured that he had resorted to evil means in order to promote what he regarded as a worthy cause. The man was not at all well intentioned, I have come to realize, and his goal was nothing less than the creation of a centralized state with a cozy, synergistic relationship with the railroads and industry. He used abolitionist sentiments to further these ends, and the end of slavery helped to obscure other motives and consequences. He preserved the Union, it is said. What this really meant was that Lincoln preserved the domination of the industrial North over an unwilling South, and he strengthened the central state in the process.
Lincoln underwent apotheosis. There is a monstrous Temple of Lincoln on the Mall in Washington. His likeness is carved into Mount Rushmore, and he shares a feast day with Washington. This monstrous tyrant somehow became one of the greatest presidents ever in the judgment of court historians. He was the father of leviathan, and one cannot deny his significance. That his party dominated national politics for the next half century doubtless helped in forming this image of Lincoln the Good. I know now that he was Lincoln the Terrible.
There is precedent, therefore, for the Bush regime’s seemingly insane power grabs. The GOP controls the judiciary, and Bush knows that Alito and his ilk will approve of any accretion of power by a GOP president. The GOP controls the Congress, and Bush knows that he will never be impeached by his own party no matter what he does. As long as the GOP is in power, with no checks by the Democrats, the increase in executive power and abuses in its exercise will go unabated.
In the face of this, the Democrats are not nearly as forceful as they might be in opposition. I, for one, would like to see them stand up and go toe to toe with the GOP. They are not such a minority that they would be ineffective, but they render themselves so by their caution. This is perhaps understandable. All Bush needs to sway the public to his side is to have a massive security failure, a terrorist attack on US soil. Despite the fact that this would be his screw up and failure, it is the nature of the American electorate to reward government failure by giving the government more money and more power. And the GOP puppet media will broadcast the GOP talking points about how the Democrats had obstructed the President in his work and how he did not have enough resources and power thanks to the treasonous Democrats. This possibility makes the Democrats anxious about appearing to be too critical of the regime. They can almost taste the gains in the mid-term elections, and they don’t want to mess that up.
I think the Democrats should get ahead of this strategy by problematizng Bush and Company's corruption and incompetence in both Homeland Security and the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Be stronger on security than the GOP by emphasizing that “security theater” and window dressing are not helpful and that squandering security resources endangers us all. I would assume that a massive security failure will occur between now and the mid-terms and strategize around that contingency.