Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Whitman’s caution


Perhaps if members of Congress spent more time reading great American literature and less time reading sleazy proposals/mandates/drafts of proposed legislation/closed-door business offers/marching orders and campaign donation amounts from PACs and other corporate lobbyists, those representatives of the people might do a better job of representing, understanding and protecting the rights and needs of the American people.

No congressman or president who had read "Walt Whitman's Caution" could have possibly (one hopes) voted to approve the National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law on the last day of 2011 by President Obama. Signatories to the act are at best horribly irresponsible, at worst architects of, or perhaps day laborers constructing, the prison that will house the end of American democracy and freedom. Shame on all of them.


To The States, or any one of them, or any city of The States, Resist much, obey little;

Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;

Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty.

The first casualty of the National Defense Authorization Act is the Bill of Rights. It will not be the last. Only seven senators and 136 representatives voted against the bill (both Idaho senators voted for the bill and both Idaho representatives voted against it), and it is worth considering that the institution of Congress itself is a casualty. The act is a continuation of George W. Bush's suspension of habeas corpus in 2006. Habeas corpus, for those who have not thought about it, is the foundation of any civilization governed by law. Without it, there is no legal, reliable protection for social democracy or personal freedom. Habeas corpus in Latin means "you have the body." It is the basis of the principle that no person shall lose his or her freedom without due process of law, a principle first given expression in the Magna Carta in 1215: "No free man shall be seized, or imprisoned, or disseised, or exiled, or injured in any way, nor will we enter on him or send against him except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land."

The National Defense Authorization Act authorizes President Obama and all future presidents to defy the law of the land and order the military to arrest and indefinitely imprison anyone (including American citizens) anywhere in the world (including the United States) and far from any battlefield, without trial, without due process, without habeas corpus, without presumption of innocence, without protection, without rights, without freedom, without question, without answer, without legal or other recourse, without the lawful judgment of his peers. It allows the government to arrest and imprison (indefinitely, as in "forever") anyone considered, which is not the same thing as convicted, a threat to national security or even stability. Apologists for the act say that it is intended to thwart "terrorists," but in reality it can include protestors and demonstrators against, say, the National Defense Authorization Act, who are exercising their First Amendment rights, the sort of people in such short supply in the U.S. Congress, the sort of people who have taken Whitman's caution to heart (and mind) to resist much, obey little, the sort of people who are free in the sense of the Magna Carta free man.

One disturbing aspect of the passing of the act is how little discussion, protest or resistance it inspired among an obedient American citizenry. Naomi Wolf commented on this point: "We didn't care, or we didn't care enough—and here we are. We acclimated, we got distracted."

As a country, we have turned "Walt Whitman's Caution" on its head by obeying too much and resisting too little.

The National Defense Authorization Act changes the reality of America from that of a country governed by law to a country ruled by authority, which demands obedience, and, if history is any indication, can and will deal harshly with those deemed "terrorists." I am reminded of the "Dirty War" of the Argentine military junta in the 1970s and '80s that "disappeared" more than 30,000 people, most of them young and educated and who tended to resist much and obey little and were labeled "subversive terrorists." Gen. Jorge Videla, the first leader of that bloodstained junta, said that a terrorist was "not only someone who plants bombs but a person whose ideas are contrary to Western, Christian civilization."

Can you imagine giving anyone, for instance any of the men in the current mud/quicksand wrestling contest for the Republican presidential nomination, the authority to disappear someone because of their ideas? It has happened before in many countries, but the Bill of Rights used to protect Americans from authority not bound by law. The National Defense Authorization Act has changed that with barely a whimper from the American citizenry.

Can you imagine giving, say, a Rick Santorum the authority to disappear someone because their ideas—their ideas, not their actions—are contrary to Santorum's idea of Western, Christian civilization?

Just the idea of it is enough to make one ... resist.

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