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Democracy on the ropes

Paul Andersen

Vague threats of terror on the homeland have been enough to cow the American public into giving up fundamental rights as citizens. But is fear so effective that it could alter the democratic process by delaying the November presidential election?That’s what the Bush administration thought as it recently mulled ways to stop the election in the event of a predicted terrorist attack. That plan has since been withdrawn, but it makes you wonder to what lengths fear can be employed to tamper with our traditional institutions.The newly formed U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which sought statutory authority to cancel the election, probed our deep-seated vulnerability to fear. The proposal tested how many red, yellow and orange alerts could be issued before Chicken Little’s prophecy could foment blind compliance.Perhaps I’m becoming hysterical, but when the ruling junta attempts to secure its position by delaying the primary function of a democratic government, it sounds an alarm deep inside me. That alarm signals that the philosophy of government service has fallen far from the original founders’ concept of public servants working for the common good.Revolutionary patriot Samuel Adams warned: “If ever a time should come when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”Washington is full of “vain and aspiring men” plotting to perpetuate their influence. Current political power is defined by what Thomas Jefferson feared: that money would conspire with power to establish a sinister, homegrown aristocracy.Under this aristocracy, we are supposed to happily surrender our rights under the pall of fear and prudently refrain from questioning the direction of our government. To do otherwise raises the risk of being labeled disloyal or seditious.Theodore Roosevelt understood such pressures when he warned: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”Moral treason corrupts democracy in favor of dynastic power structures. Moral treason flourishes when a population is paralyzed by fear. Moral treason assures that vain and aspiring men can and will hold power at any cost.Patriotism is the antidote when it unmasks wrong doers and exposes the self-serving interests of office holders. Patriotism means asking the hard questions and taking responsibility as citizens in a participatory democracy. Patriotism means favoring justice and freedom over expediency.Democracy is already on the ropes, staggering under voter apathy and the erosion of rights. When the democratic process can be suspended by a premeditated action of an administration in power, then the corruption will be complete. When the lever of fear can pry against the fulcrum of national security to delay our most fundamental act of national conscience, then there will be no end to the loss of our rights, no checks on the manipulation of power. Fear will have triumphed.Fear launched the invasion of Afghanistan. Fear wages the war in Iraq. Fear coerces Congress to acquiesce to the power of the executive branch. Fear gives John Ashcroft the tools to dismantle constitutional guarantees. Fear underwrites the irony of the Patriot Act.George Bush proclaimed last week that he has made Americans safe and that his re-election will make us safer still. How many terrorist alerts will it take to keep the Bush administration safe from democracy?Paul Andersen wonders what’s next. His column appears on Mondays.


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