One of the most worrying aspects of the Bush administration has been its consistent push to increase the power and authority of the government. This is particularly noticeable when juxtaposed to the administration’s moves to erode the ability of individuals to exercise their democratic rights to stand up against the government.
Note that while the Patriot Act is one example of these trends, at least that act was the product of the legislative process. What concerns me much more (though I do hope that many of the PA’s elements will be ended or amended in coming years) are things that the Bush administration has done without any legislative (or, in many cases, judicial) approval.
The Bush administration has taken to new heights the censoring of information that doesn’t fit well with state administration policies. Whether it’s some inconvenient comments by administration officials, information from the CDC website about the use of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV, the results of years of educational research that inconveniently don’t fit with administration policies, the video of Bush saying that he is “really not that concerned” about OBL, or a host of other things, if it actually happened but doesn’t seem to square with the image that the Bush administration wants to project, then White House policy seems to be to delete the offending record.
By the way, it’s worth pointing out that according to the Presidential Records act of 1978, all non-classified administration materials are supposed to be preserved and made public. Which makes sense, since it’s through the administration’s public record that the government can most effectively be evaluated by its citizens. As economist Brad DeLong says, “I’ll stop calling the Bush administration ‘Orwellian’ when they stop using 1984 as an operations manual.”
In addition, the Bush administration has consistently tried to block any inquiry or investigation into its activities. It resisted having an independent investigation of 9/11, and then obstructed it at every step; turned down requests for an investigation of US intelligence failings, and fought to keep its meeting with energy executives secret, to name just a few cases.
The Rule of Law:
According to the Bush administration, it is now possible for the US government to imprison any US citizen, hold him completely incommunicado from family, friends, or even a lawyer, and keep him imprisoned for months or years without ever filing charges. The fact that the US government feels that it can treat non-citizens this way is bad enough (of the several hundred prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, only four have actually been charged with a crime), but it’s far worse when a government thinks that it can treat its OWN citizens in such a manner, leaving its citizens with no power and no recourse to stand up to his own government. The Supreme Court (eventually) reined in some of the Bush administration’s desires in this dimension, despite the administration’s bitter resistance, but that is obviously not something that Bush deserves any credit for.
But surely, supporters of the Bush administration argue, the government would only ever treat BAD citizens of the US that way, not GOOD citizens. Surely the government would know the difference?
Apparently not. When the Bush administration has been forced to either provide evidence of guilt or else release a detainee, it has often had to release the detainee because it couldn’t prove that the detainee had done anything wrong. This has happened to foreign detainees in Guantanamo as well to US citizens. If the men were guilty, presumably the government would have been able to provide some evidence of that guilt. Instead, it simply imprisoned them for years, despite the lack of evidence against them. In other words, the government held innocent American citizens in prison for years without allowing them their constitutional rights.
Add this to the Bush administration’s beliefs that it is not bound by the Geneva Convention, and we have a government that seems to believe that it does not need to adhere to international or domestic law.
Finally, there are several ways in which Bush has tried to restrict the ability of individuals to criticize the government. Some of these are rather juvenile limitations on the ability to express political opposition to the president, such as moving protesters out of earshot and eyesight of the president. Individuals still have the right to protest the president’s decisions, but they are forbidden from making their disagreement known to the president.
During the campaign season it has also been the case that individuals who disagree with Bush may not even attend his campaign appearances – attendees must sign loyalty oaths or even write essays affirming their support of the president before they may hear him speak. To me there seems to be something inherently undemocratic in forbidding undecided (or even unhappy) voters from hearing their president give a campaign speech. But in Bush’s United States, you must have already decided that you are going to vote for Bush before you can hear him give a campaign speech.
Other attempts to stifle dissent are more ominous. Most worrying to me is the way in which the Bush administration and its allies have repeatedly tried to equate criticism of the government with treason. When it is no longer possible for citizens of the US to criticize their government, they will no longer be living in a fully-functioning democracy.
When taken together, all of these details have noticeably shifted the balance of power between the government and individual citizens in favor of the government. That’s why Bush’s vision of democracy is not one in which I was brought up believing that the US enjoyed, and not one in which I wish to live. And that’s yet another reason why I’m voting for John Kerry.