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At first, I read Friday's (12/23/2005) New York Times' editorial about Dick Cheney's role as the driving force behind the establishment of an astonishing expansion of presidential powers with great anger. However, after some reflection I have realized that George W. Bush's joke about governing as a dictator
was and is no joke.
The proliferation of ever more repressive power over the American people, as well as the increasing limitations upon our personal freedoms, will not successfully be confronted simply by rage or anger. We must attempt to achieve a deeper understanding of what lies beneath these forces of domination.
Some years ago, Mitscherlich (1993) associated the concept of a "Society Without a Father" with the emergence of fascism and Hitler's rise to power in Germany. What might this mean for the present situation in the United States? First, looking at George W. Bush, one begins to question the nature of his relationship with his own father. There are, indeed, strong suggestions that his father was experienced as absent and that there was, then, no real competition with his father to lose. In the absense of such competition, an authentic sense of conscience is not established. This results, on the one hand, in a personal life characterized by an impaired sense of self-control (note Bush's admitted debauchery during his years at Yale, as well as his acknowledged history of substance abuse). This can lead to at least two situations.
First, even with the reliance upon his wife an external source of support for his personal life (as a "conscience" alias), this may well still leave him feeling vulnerable to a strong fear of internal fragmentation and loss of control. Thus, the need to project his fears onto the outside world, and the attempt to over-control the external environment, including his presidential control over us. In other words, George Bush as a mass leader acts as if he is superior to conscience, demanding a regressive obedience from us, as if we were unknowing children. Lacking a tie to the father, for Bush a genuine father-son conflict was absent at the time that the conscience was to be formed and ties to it were to be established.
In addition, with the unavailablity of a political sense of conscience, Bush has been forced again to seek and rely upon sources of external guidance in this area. Lacking even a primitive sense of self-cohesion, he has turned to those who will provide him with the mirroring transference needs of unqualified praise and admiration. Consequently, Bush has come to rely upon men such as Cheney, Rove and DeLay. More broadly, he has come to embrace the words of the born-again, evangelical Christian movement. However, lacking his own sense of internal conscience and judgement, Bush is left unable to evaluate either the motivations or guidance of those upon whom he relies.
Thus, on the one hand we are left with a president blindly following the dictates for ever-more expanding power, oppression of the less fortunate and the legitimization of abuse, even torture of those who question or oppose the proliferation of American political domination throughout the world. On the other hand, Bush's reliance upon the evangelical Christian movement as a source of conscience has led to the unprecedented intrusion of one particular religious sect or cult into the course of governmental and public life. More perilous, it has resulted in major governmental decisions being made in accordance with and to satisfy the dogmas of that particular religious movement.
Secondly, what makes our situation ever more dangerous is the convergence of a president thus impaired with the current state of American society. We are now a society that increasingly feels alienated from public life, forced into taking the role of passive victims of the immensely wealthy, technological advances at a rate almost beyond our grasp and unbelievable, corrupt politicians more interested in their own needs than those of their constituents. As a society, then, we have rapidly become a "fatherless" society, feeling a lack of internal control and self-determination.
Thus, largely unaware of our motivation, many of us desperately have sought a solution by making, as with George W. Bush, a distraught attempt to rigidly control our external world—and one aspect of this attempt has been to seek an ally to serve as The Father, The Law, and The Authority. We are making a dangerous liaison with Bush, who is desperately seeking the same thing.
These are dangerous times: History repeats itself.
THE N.Y. TIMES EDITORIAL:
"MR. CHENEY'S IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY"
George W. Bush has quipped several times during his political career that it would be so much easier to govern in a dictatorship. Apparently he never told his vice president that this was a joke.
Virtually from the time he chose himself to be Mr. Bush's running mate in 2000, Dick Cheney has spearheaded an extraordinary expansion of the powers of the presidency - from writing energy policy behind closed doors with oil executives to abrogating longstanding treaties and using the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq, scrap the Geneva Conventions and spy on American citizens.
It was a chance Mr. Cheney seems to have been dreaming about for decades. Most Americans looked at wrenching events like the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the Iran-contra debacle and worried that the presidency had become too powerful, secretive and dismissive. Mr. Cheney looked at the same events and fretted that the presidency was not powerful enough, and too vulnerable to inspection and calls for accountability.
The president "needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," Mr. Cheney said this week as he tried to stifle the outcry over a domestic spying program that Mr. Bush authorized after the 9/11 attacks.
Before 9/11, Mr. Cheney was trying to undermine the institutional and legal structure of multilateral foreign policy: he championed the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow in order to build an antimissile shield that doesn't work but makes military contractors rich. Early in his tenure, Mr. Cheney, who quit as chief executive of Halliburton to run with Mr. Bush in 2000, gathered his energy industry cronies at secret meetings in Washington to rewrite energy policy to their specifications. Mr. Cheney offered the usual excuses about the need to get candid advice on important matters, and the courts, sadly, bought it. But the task force was not an exercise in diverse views. Mr. Cheney gathered people who agreed with him, and allowed them to write national policy for an industry in which he had recently amassed a fortune.
The effort to expand presidential power accelerated after 9/11, taking advantage of a national consensus that the president should have additional powers to use judiciously against terrorists.
Mr. Cheney started agitating for an attack on Iraq immediately, pushing the intelligence community to come up with evidence about a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda that never existed. His team was central to writing the legal briefs justifying the abuse and torture of prisoners, the idea that the president can designate people to be "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely, and a secret program allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants. And when Senator John McCain introduced a measure to reinstate the rule of law at American military prisons, Mr. Cheney not only led the effort to stop the amendment, but also tried to revise it to actually legalize torture at C.I.A. prisons.
There are finally signs that the democratic system is trying to rein in the imperial presidency. Republicans in the Senate and House forced Mr. Bush to back the McCain amendment, and Mr. Cheney's plan to legalize torture by intelligence agents was rebuffed. Congress also agreed to extend the Patriot Act for five weeks rather than doing the administration's bidding and rushing to make it permanent.
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court refused to allow the administration to transfer Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been held by the military for more than three years on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks, from military to civilian custody. After winning the same court's approval in September to hold Mr. Padilla as an unlawful combatant, the administration abruptly reversed course in November and charged him with civil crimes unrelated to his arrest. That decision was an obvious attempt to avoid having the Supreme Court review the legality of the detention powers that Mr. Bush gave himself, and the appeals judges refused to go along.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have insisted that the secret eavesdropping program is legal, but The Washington Post reported yesterday that the court created to supervise this sort of activity is not so sure. It said that the presiding judge was arranging a classified briefing for her fellow judges and that several judges on the court wanted to know why the administration believed eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants was legal when the law specifically required such warrants.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are tenacious. They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues. Still, the recent developments are encouraging, especially since the court ruling on Mr. Padilla was written by a staunch conservative considered by President Bush for the Supreme Court.
The New York Times
December 23, 2005