Thursday, December 22, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Where's James Madison When We Need Him?

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."
-- James Madison, 1822

The past couple of weeks mr. bush has been making campaign speeches to shore up support for his war. Commentators invariably refer to his talks to selected constituents as "selling" his position or as "trying to persuade" American citizens that his position is right. They make the remark as if that were the most natural thing in the world, and continue on as if their own comment did not deserve scrutiny.

Only in the PR saturated and obsessed world we have lived in since 1945, where every word and image is shaped to serve the ultimate sophistry, to "convince" means to "win" an argument. But there was a time, and James Madison is a representative of it, when to argue meant to seek the truth. One exchanged ideas, opinions and facts in order to arrive at some mutually agreed truth. The difference between Madison and Hamilton's arguments in the "Federalist Papers" and mr. bush and mr. cheney's rhetoric in regard to public policy is striking -- and profoundly disturbing. What has become of our public discourse that it could fall to such a low?

But this administration has no interest in the truth. It believes that its macho notion of manhood means winning, and if it can use an argument that it knows is untrue, but that it thinks will fool you, then it is usable. Indeed, not to use a false argument if they think you will not know it is false and will therefore find it persuasive, is foolish. There is no sense whatever that mr. bush has any scruples about using the truth in his arguments

So this administration’s arguments are just another tool of the oppression this government seeks to wield over American citizens. One of their most important tools of oppression is denial of access to the information or knowledge that gives citizens power to govern themselves. Oppression by executive order, illegal means, deceit, secretiveness, and changes in the law are only the outward and visible signs of their intellect’s inward and spiritual rot.

There is a notion abroad, promulgated by this administration and by its flaks like William Bennett, that the founding fathers are important, that their vision of the nation should sustain us and never be advanced to take account of the times. Yet their language and behavior both indicate that they have no more respect for Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Washington then they do for the poor. They will trample them any time it is to their advantage.

Persuading us with more and more untruths may win for the day, but “truth will out,” and “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” It is one of the simplest lessons of history, yet mr. bush and mr. cheney have not learned it. Nor most of our Congress. We can always hope that they will learn it in this world instead of the afterlife they seem to assume is assured them. Such an increase in their knowledge would offer some evidence that justice prevails.

And it would be helpful if our proud commentators might listen to themselves and what they thoughtlessly approve as "normal" in our president’s behavior. Nothing this president does is normal, and should not be treated as if it were.