The American Conservative placed my piece on ‘Conservatives’ Treason on Free Speech’ online today.
Here’s the lead and the close –
July 31, 2006
Our Dangerous Times
Today’s conservatives are eager to trade freedom for security.
by James Bovard
On June 23, the New York Times and other papers revealed that the Bush administration has been vacuuming up records passing through a Belgian hub for international banking. According to Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, the United States government may have conducted “hundreds of thousands” of warrantless searches of personal financial data.
Some government lawyers doubt the legality of the program, and administration officials told the Los Angeles Times that it had only been “marginally successful” at going after al-Qaeda.
No matter. The exposé set off perhaps the biggest boom in conservative press-bashing since Watergate.
The White House quickly re-labeled the surveillance program the “Terrorist Finance Tracking Program” and with near unanimity, the Right fell into line.
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The vast majority of conservative commentators have never shown the slightest interest in the efficacy of the administration’s antiterrorism policies and share the Bush-Cheney attitude that a federal program is legal if the president says so. It seems to be widely assumed that what is good for Bush is good for America, so cheering on the war will make us safe.
Survival of the Republican congressional majority may hinge on suppressing criticism of administration policies, and this storm of media-bashing may be crafted to keep the lid on news about other government surveillance systems. Over a period of barely six months, leaks resulted in Americans learning that the feds were conducting thousands of warrantless phone taps in the U.S., that they had arm-twisted telephone companies to turn over the calling records of tens of millions of Americans, and that our government has been sifting through international banking records to its heart’s content. National Journal recently revealed that the Bush administration is continuing to pursue Total Information Awareness, even though Congress compelled the formal abandonment of that program in 2003. The endless threats of treason prosecutions against whistleblowers, reporters, and editors may be a last ditch attempt to prevent Americans from learning about secret presidential orders that would make the NSA wiretapping look like kids’ stuff.
Just because much of the media is biased does not mean that the Bush administration is trustworthy. Perhaps it is naïve to expect commentators to be more honest than politicians. But the “treason” stampede among right-wing talking heads indicates just how much conservatism has changed. And the Right’s knee-jerk defense of every Bush power grab has so decimated their credibility that prominent conservatives will have as much standing to gripe about Leviathan during a reign of someone like Hillary Clinton as her husband has to complain that American culture no longer respects chastity.