OBAMA COMMANDS: TRUST GOVERNMENT AND COOL IT
by Nat Hentoff
from HUSTLER Magazine August 2010
OUR LEADER AND WE THE PEOPLE SHOULD HEED THE ADVICE OF HIS PREDECESSORS AND THE FOUNDING FATHERS.
Between standing ovations at the University of Michigan on May 1, the President denounced those around the country who denigrate government as “inherently bad” and then lash his administration as “socialist,” among other epithets. Sending the graduates out into the dangerous universe, he reminded them that in a democracy “government is us.” But since his is the most secretive administration in our history, how much do We the People know about what he’s doing in our name?
Obama did speak abstractly of preserving “individual freedom.” As he solemnly intoned, “The question for your generation is this: How will you keep our democracy going and vibrant…at a moment when our challenges seem so big and politics seem so small?”
On the very night of Obama’s commencement address, our democracy was frighteningly challenged when a naturalized American citizen, Pakistani-born and earner of two Connecticut college degrees, came close to murdering thousands in New York’s Times Square. Faisal Shahzad is one of a growing breed of terrorists whom you would never know as a terrorist if you met them at their jobs or at a bar.
As former New York and then Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton warned, the lethal jihadists’ focus “has shifted from the large-scale 9/11 type assault” with al-Qaeda now “leaning on its loose networks of affiliates…to do any attack, large or small, that will hit [the] U.S. at home.” Bratton underlined, “That will not stop.”
I live in Greenwich Village,halfway between the horror of 9/11 and the near-bloodbath this May at Times Square.I am not without fear,particularly now that more aspiring suicide bombers look and talk like me. If the next Faisal Shahzad succeeds, Obama will finally have a bipartisan Congress eager to pass a new USA PATRIOT Act with even more electronic handcuffs on our individual liberties. Already, as head of “us,” as he puts it, Barack Obama has exceeded even Bush and Cheney in making our privacy obsolete while diminishing other individual liberties in the Bill of Rights, including a continuation, as I’ve reported in HUSTLER, of his predecessors’ torture policy that al-Qaeda and jihad affiliates welcome as a robustly effective recruiting tool.
With this nation in greater fear of actual instant terrorism than at any time since 9/11, Commander in Chief Obama would enthusiastically structure the next liberty-reducing PATRIOT Act tribute to George Orwell.
Obama did say one thing to the University of Michigan graduates with which I agree: “The practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. … If you’re a regular Glenn Beck listener [on Fox News], then check out the Huffington Post sometimes.” Similarly, when I used to teach at New York University, on the first day of class I would insist: “If you read The Nation or The New Republic, you must also read The National Review or The Weekly Standard.”
I also always gave my students a pocket edition of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, telling them: “That’s how you’ll judge whatever local, state and federal government is in power.” But, in counseling active citizenship to University of Michigan students, Obama left out the Constitution, an apparently bowdlerized version of which he used to teach at the University of Chicago.
As future suicide bombers doubling as U.S. citizens emerge, my advice to HUSTLER readers is that they confront their Congressional representatives and the White House with certain views opposing Obama’s from our history. Said Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”
And from Dwight D. Eisenhower, if you’re old enough to remember who he was: “I read where members of the so-called intelligentsia…urge a strong President. They are deluding themselves… with the idea of an all-powerful Chief Executive. In this democracy a [truly] strong President is one who will be concerned about doing things in a Constitutional way, respecting the Legislature and the Judiciary”—and especially “us,” whom all of those in office purportedly represent.
Indeed, we may yet be sucked by fear into a time like when the Bolsheviks taking over Russia resulted in a “Red Scare” here. In 1920, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer rounded up thousands of purported Communist aliens—among them American citizens with no connection to communism— for what Palmer called “a disease of evil thinking.” Many of the prisoners were summarily deported without any judicial intervention. One of the planners of Palmer’s raids on the radicals was Justice Department staffer J. Edgar Hoover, who later, as head of the FBI, increasingly shelved individual civil liberties as an obstacle to national security—a roundup term increasingly in use by Bush-Cheney-Obama.
Far too many Americans are just plain ignorant of their liberties and rights against government in the Constitution and will fearfully vote for pledges of national security rather than the Constitution. Our survival as a free people will depend on more of us taking heart and will from Samuel Adams, called by Thomas Jefferson the Father of the Revolution: “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brushfires in people’s minds.”
And you ought not to forget Thomas Jefferson’s message to all Americans to come: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
Even if you’re not of what some would consider good conscience, but regard yourself as an independent American, keep Samuel Adams in mind as you vote in the midterm elections and thereafter. As Jefferson also kept repeating, only you can protect your liberties!
Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America ; Living the Bill of Rights ; and the forthcoming Is This America?