A debating society
Back here I noted the difference in the definition of fascism between the 1975 and 1993.
I asked why the concept of fascism would shed the "dictatorship of the extreme right" and "the merging of state and business leadership" over those years. Identifying the "extreme right" and "business" are gone and replaced with... bullshit. In our dictionaries. Even our dictionaries are now bullshit.
A book came out about a year back, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot, former editor-in-chief of Salon.com. For the most part I thought it was pretty good. It gave a glimpse into what the Kennedys were thinking and doing during those days when the Kennedy brothers ran the country, and then what Bobby was thinking after his brother was murdered.
The one chapter that struck me as way out of line, though, was the one about the Jim Garrison investigation. Here was a DA investigating the murder of his brother and Robert Kennedy was beyond hostile to him. Much of the chapter relies on the recollections of Walter Sheridan, who a few years earlier had helped Bobby's investigation of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters and the mob. It was Sheridan who kept feeding Bobby negative things about Garrison and his investigation. It was Sheridan who said that Garrison was steering clear of Mafia connections and essentially running a big hoax. Sheridan actually got time on television to run an unprecedented hour-long attack on Garrison. Something was wrong about this.
A few weeks later I received a comment from Lisa Pease on that particular piece I'd written. Pease was one of the editors of a great collection of essays, THE ASSASSINATIONS. The book covers the assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK and RFK. They were all thoughtful essays, many of them based in part on formerly classified documents that were released in the 1990s. I recommend it to anyone interested in that particular era of our history.
Here's what Pease wrote to me on the Talbot book:
Talbot's book is excellent, with a couple of notable exceptions, one being the Garrison chapter, which literally made me sick to my stomach. I consider Talbot a friend, which makes it all the harder to say that.
When he first started writing his book, he was pretty convinced that the Kennedys had ordered Castro killed. I argued hard with him about that and insisted he look into the role of Sam Halpern in spreading that awful disinformation. Talbot really looked into it, and saw the truth of what I was saying. But I didn't press as hard on Sheridan, and how Sheridan's first loyalty was not to Bobby, but to the CIA. I wish now I had. But even so, Talbot's contribution to the true history of the Kennedy's is immense, and despite the upset stomach, I'm still very grateful that he wrote (most of) what he did.
So, ultimately, Sheridan was a babysitter for the Agency. He watched Bobby, fed him enough misinformation to steer him away from Garrison and his investigation. I'd bet that during the Hoffa wars Sheridan probably had been steering Kennedy away from those parts of organized crime which had been integrated with our national security state. Bobby Kennedy, who privately vowed to get to the bottom of his brother's murder, never hooked up with the best lead in the case. The rest is, well, history.
I dug into my stacks and pulled out the October 1967 issue of Playboy. Yes, I used to read Playboy for the articles. That issue has a truly remarkable interview with Jim Garrison, given by him during the time he was investigating President Kennedy's murder. Did Garrison concentrate on the CIA to the detriment of the Mafia involvement? Carlos Marcello didn't write the Warren Report.
As interesting as Garrison's interview was, with the ins and outs of his ongoing investigation, the end of it actually gave the reader a true measure of the man. The interviewer asked this:
"Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum--right, left or center?"
This is what Garrison said. In 1967. My bold:
That's a question I've asked myself frequently, especially since this investigation started and I found myself in an incongruous and disillusioning battle with agencies of my own Government. I can't just sit down and add up my political beliefs like a mathematical sum, but I think, in balance, I'd turn up somewhere around the middle. Over the years, I guess I've developed a somewhat conservative attitude--in the traditional libertarian sense of conservatism, as opposed to the thumbscrews-and-rack conservatism of the paramilitary right--particularly in regard to the importance of the individual as opposed to the state and the individual's own responsibilities to humanity. I don't think I've ever tried to formulate this into a coherent political philosophy, but at the root of my concern is the conviction that a human being is not a digit; he's not a digit in regard to the state and he's not a digit in the sense that he can ignore his fellow men and his obligations to society.
I was with the artillery supporting the division that took Dachau. I arrived there the day after it was taken, when bulldozers were making pyramids of human bodies outside the camp. What I saw there haunted me ever since. Because the law is my profession, I've always wondered about the judges throughout Germany who sentenced men to jail for picking pockets when their own government was jerking gold from the teeth of men murdered in gas chambers.
I'm concerned about all of this because it isn't a German phenomenon. It can happen here, because there has been no change and there has been no progress and there has been no increase of understanding on the part of men for their fellow man. What worries me deeply, and I have seen it exemplified in this case, is that we in America are in great danger of slowly evolving into a proto-fascist state. It will be a different kind of fascist state from the one the Germans evolved; theirs grew out of depression and promised bread and work, while ours, curiously enough, seems to be emerging from prosperity. But in the final analysis, it's based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state.
Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we've built since 1945, the "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions, and we've seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society.
Of course, you can't spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can't look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won't be there. We won't build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We're not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work.
But this isn't the test. The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same. I've learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act.
I've always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my Government's basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I've come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, "Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism." I'm afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.
Then the final question to him:
Considering all the criticism that has come your way, would you still launch your investigation into the assassination if you had it to do over again?
And this is what Garrison said:
As long as the men who shot John Kennedy to death in Dallas are walking the streets of America, I will continue this investigation. I have no regrets about initiating it and I have no regrets about carrying it on to its conclusion. If it takes me 30 years to nail every one of the assassins, then I will continue this investigation for 30 years. I owe that not only to Jack Kennedy but to my country.
What that crackpot district attorney, that conspiracy theorist, said back then sounds pretty rational now. It's now over forty years since he gave that interview. Garrison's dead. RFK's dead, shot dead in public like his brother. It's a different war now, different conditions, different fears, different "national security" concerns.
The world is a different place than it was in 1967, and no better for most of what the post-JFK America foisted on it. What we have now is a permanent government that seems pretty much a merging of state and business leadership. Where have I seen that before? The current administration, in the name of national security, keeps making unconstitutional claims to power and no one seems to be able to do much about it.
When the final FISA vote happened a few months ago there was a lot of anger from progressives and civil libertarians directed at Obama and other Democrats who voted for the bill. Many liberals and progressives were justifiably concerned about giving this power to George Bush.
But the analysis was flawed. The Republicans were nearly unanimous in voting for it, and they had no qualms about ceding so much power to an Obama Administration. Why, when the Republicans are willing to throw any phony scare tactic against Obama are they so unconcerned about giving real powers to the Executive Branch and a Democratic President?
The first part of the answer is easy. The phony scare tactics are just that: phony. Those are just lies to win an election, and they're not working so well this time around. The politicians who are saying them don't believe them either. The second part is easy, too, if you think about it. Those powers in the FISA bill don't accrue to the President. Those powers go to the NSA, as other recently created spying powers go to the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. That is, the President, whether he's Bush, Obama, Clinton, whoever, isn't as powerful as we were taught to believe. The President isn't in control of those agencies. The opposite is true. Because people like Bush and Cheney are consonant with our permanent government, sometimes we confuse the personification of that permanent government with the real deal.
How did our intelligence agencies get more powerful than our Presidents?
You haven't been paying attention.
I believe it was Fletcher Prouty, the Air Force colonel portrayed by Donald Sutherland in "JFK," who wrote that the reason that John Kennedy was shot dead in broad daylight in the middle of Dealey Plaza was so that everyone in the government, anyone who ever considered running for higher office, got the message. The hoi polloi could be confused or distracted by official lies regurgitated by allies in the press, or just by the enormity of the Big Lie. And they were. But the people in the know knew where the power was, who pulled the trigger.
I'd mention here that there was added symbolism that the murder occurred in downtown Dallas, the capitol of the oil business.
Granted, I've got a queasy feeling that the machines are in place to steal this election, but even if the people's will is recorded I have my doubts that the people's will will be implemented.
I'm not sure what the exact percentage is now, but the last time I checked (about a year ago) close to seventy percent of Americans wanted us out of Iraq. In 2006 the American people voted out the party that brought us the war. That party that is consonant with the permanent government. The last time anyone asked them a majority of Americans were actually ready to impeach George Bush (whose father was Director of the CIA). In 2008 we are at the edge of a landslide pushing more Republicans out of office and putting a Democrat into the White House.
For those looking forward to the second New Deal, expect the progress to be slow and halting. Expect the inexplicable when it comes to why a Democratic majority keeps failing to give us what we ask for. Expect past crimes to be left uninvestigated, expect the FBI bureaucrats to fail to look. Expect secrets to be kept. Expect bad laws to be left on the books, to be exploited when the Republicans, the party in consonance, returns to power. When the Democrats fail us, as the Carter and Clinton administrations failed us, we will look to the quality of our leaders' personalities or defects in their character. We will see weakness and deceit, but we will be using the wrong yardstick.
With such a mandate from the people what is our Congress now? A debating society. What is our President? At a certain point, only a figurehead.
We aren't going to ever get back the power we have lost until enough of us can say in public what has happened in broad daylight.