WMDs. Dodgy dossiers. Office of Special Plans. The latest lexicon born of the misdeeds of the current administration may join the ranks of similar phrases characterizing the villainy of past Washington regimes. Whether dodgy dossiers becomes a permanent part of the language the way Watergate or White House burglars words dripping with Nixonian menace have remains to be seen.
Regardless, for now these terms are important reminders of the level of dishonesty at which the Bush administration is operating. Even such suspect institutions as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency seem brimming with integrity in comparison to the activities of the Cabal. This handful of policy advisors and analysts belong to the Defense Departments Office of Special Plans who have, thanks to White House advisor Paul Wolfowitz, come to enjoy the presidents favor. Devotées of the quasi-mystic, University of Chicago political science academic Leo Strauss, who sees truth as something only a few can comprehend, the Cabal has turned Straussian theory into a philosphical justification for government deception. Strauss, according to Seymour Hersh in a recent New Yorker article, was the dissertation advisor of Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky, the latter the director of the Office of Special Plans.
But before we administer some well-deserved tar and feathers, we should not forget that what is happening in Washington D.C. is playing out in smaller versions in state and municipal governments, too. The unregulated flow of political money, the increased conduct of government behind closed doors and the willingness of public officials to abet the wealthy and powerful to exclude the publics voice has created carnival of corruption and violence not seen since the Gilded Age.
Take, for example, our state government by caucus and lobbyist. State legislators on both sides of the aisle are defending the practice of doing much of their work in caucus rather than in public meetings. Behind closed caucus doors, they are more free to allow lobbyists to draft legisation for the lawmakers a task many legislators say they have neither the expertise nor the resources to do. Since most Oregonians cant afford to pay someone to be their advocate at the state capitol everyday most Oregonians probably thought they had used their vote to retain that advocate you can guess who is whispering sweet nothings in the ears of our state representatives and senators.
Our own Portland is far from free from this drift towards secret government. Mayor Katz and an increasing number of commissioners employ consensus agenda and emergency ordinance tactics to limit public comment. The council recently made an end run around the planning process and public participation by using an ordinance dating to the 1920s to allow developers to divide standards lots into two so they can build shotgun shacks (The mayor, to her credit, voted against this one). And, of course, public access to the police has nearly become an oxymoron.
How has this happened? A big player in this has been a lapdog press that willingly ignores the erosion of the publics and the press right to know. Corporate media has shown during the past two years its willingness to assume retyping White House press releases is the same as reporting the news. Television in particular has shown its is more than happy to serve as a glass teat dispensing soothing nonsense to an increasingly indifferent electorate.
The Oregonian slavishly supported nearly every claim the Bush administration made up to and during the first phase of the war. Many of those claims are now becoming part of a dark Trivial Pursuit moving through the internet. Even the Oregonian has backed off on some of the Bush claims, but only after the damage has been done to Iraq and to our own political system.
Many in the progressive community might write this off as standard procedure under capitalism, especially capitalism that is feeling so many economic strains. They may be right, however, the point is to do more than just acknowledge the moral bankruptcy around us. Theres reason to be concerned about these trends. The industrialized democracies of the west have shown themselves susceptable to slow and sometimes not so slow slides into fascism. The Weimar Republic handed over what was left of the German democracy to the brownshirts, with little complaint from most the mainstream press of the time. The Britain of Thatcher, Major and Blair have eroded civil liberties and democratic rights with only the slightest protest from the majority of the media.
Information and open government are important parts of not just insuring we dont slide into fascism, but that we move our own agenda. The more we know, the more we can better organize. The more government is forced to keep its doors open to us, the better chance we have of creating those spaces necessary to build mass movements movements that can either transform the existing political structure to meet the needs of the people or to throw the whole thing out and start fresh.
The ability to change the mainstream press is limited. While the profit motive creates opportunities for us to use the mainstream press to get our message out to a wider audience, it is still an uphill struggle against corporate influence and control of the media.
We can supplement that narrow stream of truth by supporting a strong and vital alternative media. In Portland, the demands on alternative media certainly makes such support vital. Yet even though we are experiencing what most would consider dark times, that support is not as forthcoming as it should be. There are many alternative media efforts that are struggling. At the Alliance, we have seen our subscription base enter a slow decline over the past several months. People are reading us we get the calls, letters, drop-in visits and conversations on the street that lets us know that is happening. But that isnt translating into a growing base of support.
In the coming months, I hope everyone who is reading the latest internet list of Bush lies considers that fact. The Alliance (and KBOO, IndyMedia and all the other alternative media groups active in Portland) are providing the information progressives need to keep those government doors open, to keep building our movement, and to start making the changes that will guarantee we wont be reading more lists of presidential lies in the future.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: September 4, 2003