excerpted from the book
Liberty Under Siege
by Walter Karp
Franklin Square Press, 1988, paper
[THE MYTH AND REALITY
OF THE REAGAN PRESIDENCY]
All is well without us: Such is the message from the White House.
There is still an "American sound," so the President
assures us in his second Inaugural address. "It is hopeful,
big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That's our heritage,
that's our song. We sing it still." He sings it again in
his State of the Union message on February 6, 1985, sings of a
"Second American Revolution of hope and opportunity,"
is serenaded in turn by the nation's legislators singing "Happy
Birthday," is interrupted twenty-eight times by tumultuous,
rapturous lawmaker applause. Never mind that the annual budget
message-mere untelevised words-warns Congress that this land of
"hope and opportunity," this place with "no barriers
to our progress except those we ourselves erect" has grown
too poor to afford fair trials for the needy, too poor to aid
small businesses, too poor to continue mailing books at reduced
rates; too poor to support the independence of local government
with the annual program of "revenue-sharing." But not
too poor to afford a $29 billion increase in military spending.
Eight Americans in ten want the buildup ended now, yet we do not
protest against this travesty of "hope and opportunity,"
this jeering mockery of all that is "decent and fair Public
life in America has grown senseless, is not meant to e sense;
keeps the people out with its deeply calculated affront to sense.
The Democratic Party must not look "weak
on defense," Tip O'Neill announces early this February. To
whom? To itself. It must "shed its 'soft-on-defense' image."
In whose eyes? Its own. Where is the sense in that? None there
is nor meant to be Where is the / sense when the entire national
leadership cries up "amity values," while family life
decays; white half the mothers of infants are away from home working,
more than ever, up 25 percent since the champion of "family
values" entered the White House? What sense is there in a
"recovery" which leaves America too poor to afford mothers?
What sense is there in a public world given over to empty, mendacious
cant? "Decentralization" cried up while the local government
decays. "Out-of-control spending" decried while the
national debt doubles in five years. "Old-fashioned values"
praised while the family farm disappears, 180 of them per day
during the winter of 1985-86.
What sense does our public life make when the President declares
in a speech March 7 that his contra hirelings-perpetrators of
rapine and terror, led by a deposed dictator's henchmen-are "the
moral equal of our Founding Fathers"? What sense is it meant
to make when this truly atrocious scurrility passes scarcely noticed
by the nation's leaders? "I can't remember a time in the
past fifty years when officials dominated the news as much as
they do today," old Reston of the Times remarks this January
27, 1985, or "a period when so much obvious nonsense, even
so many distortions of fact have gone by unchallenged, or been
discussed with scarcely more than a whisper by the public,"
so Reston notes fifteen months hence.
We sleep like patients "etherized
upon a table," while Power,' which never sleeps, lays siege
to the liberties of the people, to the power of the people, to
every source of popular strength-before we awaken and return,
for return we shall some day some year, some decade.
The freeness of the press comes under
brutal ceaseless assault starting on high, spreading far and wide.
A too-free press endangers the nation: Such is the theme of high
officialdom. "Reporters are always against us," cries
the Secretary of State. And who does the Secretary mean by "us,"
Reagan is asked at a press conference? "Our side, militarily-in
other words, all of America." A free press is the enemy of
"all of America," cries the Republic's chief magistrate,
trying to turn the people into the enemy of their own ancient
liberties. The press in its temerity, the press, when it dares
disobey the Pentagon, "gives aid and comfort to the enemy,"
cries Secretary Weinberger, invoking the grim, threatening language
of the treason statute. "The press," cries a White House
adviser this February, "is trying to tear down America."
... "there is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not
enter upon this country if the people lose their supreme confidence
in themselves-and lose their toughness and spirit of defiance."
What the Republic needs we can no longer afford. What liberty
requires we are too poor to pay for. Such are the uses of the
deliberate deficit, false necessity, the crime of '81. At Reagan's
request Congress puts an end to general revenue-sharing, stringless
funds given to local governments, "this modest cushion [that]
lets city halls decide what their towns need most," says
the New York Times, a $4.2 billion annual boon to local independence,
local self-government. "Every community had to hold public
hearings on how the money would be spent; there could be no discrimination
in its use; public audits would show how it had been spent. It
was government at its finest .... In fourteen years there was
no example of fraud." So one James Cannon, former aide to
President Ford, laments when the deed is done. Hard-pressed now
are America's towns and villages, deep is the "erosion of
local authority," the New York Times observes. Hats in hands,
our towns must go to state legislatures, to county governments,
to "the private sector or badly needed revenues and services.
The subjugation of local government to state party oligarchies,
to corrupt county rings, to local plutocracies in the false name
of frugality is one more crime within the crime of '8 1, and not
the least damaging to liberty in America, nor perhaps the least
... From Reagan's Department C-It From
of Education there had issued forth in 1983 a great donkey's braying
about America's failed public schools and a "Nation at Risk,"
desperately in need of "an educated work force." The
braying alarm is not sounded in vain. In dozens of states across
the country enthusiastic governors, zealous state legislatures-state
party gangs-seize control of the public school curriculum, demean
what is left of local control of the schools, another constriction
of an ancient local liberty, and take up the cause of "educational
reform"-more cant for this canting Reaction. What this Republic
needs of its schools is clear as day, has been clear as day for
two hundred years. We need schools for citizens, schools that
teach all our children "how to judge for themselves what
secures or endangers their freedom," as Jefferson long ago
For why stop at the public schools? The private universities of
America provide havens for sedition, forums for the quarrelsome;
were hellholes of protest a few years back. Now they shall pay
and pay dearly for past temerity. On October 28, 1985, the Secretary
of Education, William Bennett, a true stalwart of the Reaction,
tells the American Council on Education that government has the
solemn duty to protect the "higher education consumer"
from lazy professors, slapdash colleges. Do you think your university
is "private"? Count the public money in your budget.
Do you think you are autonomous by ancient honored tradition?
You shall be made "accountable" to government, declares
Bennett. You shall serve at Power's behest, in Power's interest.
We want standardized national tests for all your "consumers."
You shall prove to the satisfaction of Power, says Bennett, that
they are making "educational progress," that you are
an efficient factory offering a "sound product." Let
the state governments enforce this new policy, says Bennett, and
state oligarchies leap at the chance. The nation's governors confer
on "higher education," call for standardized university
testing, objective proof that "learning is taking place,'
demand proof of "teaching efficiency ...
... By 1987, universities around the country
"are beginning to reform their curriculums and are making
plans to measure what their students are learning"-standardized
nationwide, Power-pleasing measurements, of course. What is higher
education? Oligarchy and its minions will tell us. What is an
educated person? Oligarchy and its minions will tell us that,
Fear of the Police Power and fear of one another. All through
1985 pictures of "missing children" peer out from the
sides of milk cartons, are depicted on posters, billboards, junk-mail
advertisements. Lurid tales of children abducted, raped and mutilated
fill the magazines, titillate the talk shows-"Stranger-Danger."
Take heed, Americans, your children are "at risk, vulnerable
to exploitation, abuse and murder." Walk down the streets
watchfully, warily, suspecting everyone. Have your child videotaped,
cries New York's unwed mayor, Edward Koch, to safeguard him or
her. Sign up with Child Find, affiliated to a teachers' union
run by A. Shanker of the Democratic Majority; the Present Danger
and the onrushing Reaction in general. Subscribe to "Kid
Watch" for twenty-nine dollars a year: "We take all
your children's data and enter and store this information in the
'Kid Watch' national computer," until such time as the kidnapper
strikes. Let the sheriff fingerprint your child; step right up
to the sheriff's booth at the county fair. Or purchase special
ID cards or make a mold of your child's teeth, should the kidnapper
decide to cremate his mutilated body, for "there are sick
people out there," says a young mother waiting to videotape
her seven-year-old boy. "Child abduction is a nationwide
epidemic," she says, for the President says so, has invited
the father of a decapitated boy "several times" to the
White House in order to say so. Congress says so, too, has passed
the Missing Children Assistance Act of 1984, to arouse the public
to the danger of child abduction, rape and mutilation, has created
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to disseminate
grossly misleading statistics, to disseminate fear and make it
official. To propagate a truly cruel lie, for the abducted children
"epidemic" is a fabrication of the Reaction's fear-mongers,
the Present Danger brought home, exposed as a "national myth"
in a prize-winning series of articles in the Denver Post. Why
sow fear of neighbors, fear of strangers, in the hearts of the
people? The question answers itself: Divide et impera. Are we
not more easily ruled, more readily tyrannized, more powerless
to act for ourselves, when we shrink in dread from j one another?
Tyranny advances with every tainted breeze of fear that wafts
( over national television. In 1986 a famous athlete dies of an
overdose of cocaine, and our national leaders, with one thunderous
voice, bray for a "war on drugs." The White House tyrant,
ever on the alert to oppress and stifle the people, calls for
a "drug-free workplace," calls upon local governments
and private corporations to compel their workers to urinate in
jars, under watchful inspection, and so be enabled to detect,
by examination of the urine specimen, whether they smoked marijuana
last weekend at a private party-for the "workplace"
is everywhere-"drastically assaulting the privacy, dignity
and civil liberties of innocent workers," the New York Times
rightly protests. "It reports on a person's off-duty activities
as surely as if someone had been present and watching. It is George
Orwell's 'Big Brother' society come to life." So a federal
judge declares in ruling against a mandatory drug-testing program.
It puts lawless police power, unrestricted by constitutional rights,
into private corporate hands, creates an instrument of terror
and harassment-at the behest of Reagan, our champion of "less
In this age of "less government,"
the Executive compiles vast computerized dossiers on scores of
millions of Americans, in violation of the Privacy Act, in the
name of "government efficiency"; expands its computerized
crime index on the pretext of fighting "white-collar crime."
The President's budget office proposes unopposed-an appalling
master list of "seriously improper" persons, a national
proscription list, pariah list, leper list, created by the 'White
House budget office. Go on strike as a teacher despite a no-strike
contract, lose your job and default on a veterans' loan, lead
a maverick community action group, be a rebellious farmer, quarrel
with the bureaucracy at any level of government, and you may fall
onto the List, become an official leper, national pariah. No federal
agency or state agency or local government, or charitable organization,
or school or college or community service, or government contractor,
subcontractor, subgrantor, may give you any kind of "federally
derived" aid, grant, loan, scholarship, fellowship, subsidy,
subgrant, subcontract, or conduct any kind of "transaction"
with you, or do any kind of "business" with you without
themselves becoming "seriously improper" and falling
under the national 'White House proscription list, available by
telephone in this age of "less government." By the end
of 1985 the Executive has subjected 316,000 government officials,
contractors, contract employees, at work or retired-the ever-expanding
"handful"-to lifetime government censorship, and censors
more than 14,000 books and articles in 1985 alone in this age
of "less government" and black Stygian public darkness,
born of remorse-, less and unrelenting collusion.
Secretary Shultz to a conference of writers in New York City on
January 13, 1986
In this age of an administration "more
committed than any in this century in philosophy and in fact to
reducing the intrusion of government into the lives, minds and
livelihoods of the individual."
"Merger-mania" sweeps over the tyrannized Republic in
the fir( year of the "Second American Revolution." In
1985 more than eight hundred public merger and tender offers are
made; four times last year's total, almost twenty times the total
in 1977. The "mania" or "binge" is the Reaction's
child, its fond creation, tirelessly promoted by Reagan's officials,
its source of strength the suspension and debauching of the antitrust
laws-by formal "guidelines" and informal winks, by assurances
to corporate attorneys and corporate boardrooms that the Reaction
wants competition weakened-in the name of "economic efficiency";
wants the market weakened-in the name of the "free market";
wants concentration and oligopoly expanded-in the name of "free
enterprise" and the "opportunity society."
With the watchful connivance of Congress, the White House I seizes-usurps-still
more power over the implementation of laws, still greater control
over public information. Reagan's executive order 12498, issued
January 4, 1985, bestows on the White House budget office the
unheard-of authority to ensure that any government activity that
"may influence, anticipate or could lead to the commencement
of rulemaking proceedings" be "consistent with the administration's
regulatory principles," consistent with its "policies
and priorities." Under this new dispensation the will of
the President stands supreme over law, shapes the law, implements
the law, makes the rule of law a mockery, makes the legislature
a mere check and overseer of the presidential will. Henceforth
under the new dispensation, no injustice or abuse may be examined
by an Executive agency of government, no condition studied, no
problem officially scrutinized if a President prefers the reign
and rule of darkness. No official information that might question
the wisdom of a President's policies can henceforth be collected
without his permission. Or, under various other guidelines, directives
and budget office usurpations, disseminated to the public without
his permission. The White House as secret Legislature, the White
House as National Censor, the White House as Ministry of Truth.
Such is the new-modeled presidency of the "Second American
Revolution." Representative Dingell protests in anger. The
new dispensation is "a fundamental threat to the separation
of powers embodied in our Constitution." Ralph Nader protests
in anger. The new dispensation gives the White House the "policy
power of life or death, health or disease, equity or inequity,
repair or deterioration, information or ignorance, open or closed
government," overwhelming the people, eroding still further
our capacity for self-government; another blow struck by the Reaction
against sleeping people's power and liberty. For "if once
they become inattentive to the public affairs," Jefferson
warned a colleague, "you and I, and Congress and assemblies,
judges and governors shall all become wolves." In the deserted
Republic the wolves are prowling.
The great task of keeping the plain people stifled falls, as always,
to the popular party, and the popular party has been laying its
plans well, elaborating and perfecting them with tireless devotion
since the 1984 elections.
We must make of ourselves a "centrist"
party, a "moderate" party, a "consensus" party,
cry the leaders of the popular party in unison, not a single voice
raised in audible dissent. We must "shed our ultra-liberal
image," cry the party oligarchs after four years of colluding
with the Right. We must set ourselves upon "an irresistible
course toward moderation," says a "conservative"
southern governor. We "will have to swing sharply toward
the center of the political spectrum," cries the president
of the ubiquitous, tireless Coalition for a Democratic Majority.
"We must move in a more moderate centrist direction,"
says one Nathan Landow, party banker and broker and "liberal"
promoter of the 1984 candidacy of poor Walter Mondale. The new
party "centrism" is to be established under the guidance
of the newly formed Democratic leadership Council ...
... Centrism is a purgative, antidote
to "leftism." It calls for the ) purging of noncentrists,
of "leftists," of "factions" of "liberal
activists" and "special interests" and all bearers
of "the new strain of neo-isolationism" until the popular
party is free of every last vestige of freeness.
"Centrism" is a victory strategy.
We must win back southern white voters to the party fold, say
the centrists. We must say nothing and do nothing and be nothing
save what will contribute to the great southern white wooing,
to the final production of a "centrist presidential candidate
who will not offend the political and cultural sensibilities of
... Centrism is a new party platform set
forth by the new Democratic Policy Commission, packed, as a matter
of course, with "centrists" by Kirk, to supply "a
broader agenda of the Democratic Party and the nation." Let
us have done with "the singular agenda of elite groups,"
says Kirk, pressing into service Kirkpatrick's great Political
Science discovery of 1972: Oligarchy is democratic and democracy
is "elitist," for Oligarchy's lies never die, while
political truth is strangled every day.
The "broader agenda" of "centrism"
demands a "strong defense," demands (as of September
1986) "increased combat strength," demands greater "combat
readiness," demands in the post-Reagan era another kind of
arms buildup to overcome the grotesque fraudulence of the first
Centrism, too, is a grim warning to\ any would-be tribune of the
people, any would-be champion of liberty besieged and equality
ravaged, that the entire power of the popular party stands united,
armed and arrayed against him. Most of all, centrism is a headlong
flight from the American people; a ship, a vehicle to carry Oligarchy
past the snares and pitfalls that bestrew the path to the "post-Reagan
Russia's newest ruler, one Mikhail Gorbachev, is bent upon the
domestic reform of his country, bent upon its economic and political
revival, wants, therefore, what the overwhelming majority of Americans
want, what the Republic desperately needs-an arms control treaty
that can end the nuclear arms race. Does the ruling Right in America
not demand "deep cuts" in the Soviet arsenal of intercontinental
missiles? It does indeed, most ardently, unremittingly, has demanded
them for years, has flayed Carter to ribbons for want of "deep
cuts" in the SALT II treaty. Has the administration not launched
an enormous nuclear buildup, avowedly, for the want of Soviet
deep cuts? Is it not planning an "enhanced deterrent"
in space in lieu of Soviet deep cuts? Why then, says Gorbachev
in 1985, you shall have the deep cuts agreement you so ardently
desire, and the price for that grand desideratum, Present Danger
goal, Reaganite goal, "Jackson wing" goal is-no price
at all: chiefly continued adherence to the 1972 Anti-ballistic
Missile Treaty, signed by Richard Nixon, ratified by the U.S.
Senate, barring development, testing and deployment of defensive
weapons in space, scotching the menace of an endless double arms
race, one of the most valuable treaty agreements into which the
U.S. ever entered.
The Soviet offer comes down to this: security
for U.S. landbased missiles, "enhanced deterrence,"
thereby, vulnerability's "window" closed, the nuclear
arms race effectively restricted at almost no cost whatever. Or
consider the alternative: an "enhanced deterrent" in
space, an endless arms race, security lost, stability lost, at
the cost, perhaps, of one trillion dollars every five years, at
the price of our sovereignty, of our freedom, of our public life
now faintly stirring. The choice must not be seen and known to
the people, or the Right cannot rule from the grave. The choice
must be shrouded in darkness, grossly distorted, the people left
puzzled, bewildered, confused; public life turned into a demagogic
riot, irrational frenzy, insofar as the White House can do it.
Led by reckless Casey, presidential "favorite," in alliance
with feckless Regan, the President's new chief of staff, Reagan
launches a campaign of fear and hatred, alarums and excursions
in 1986, desperate to stay the slippage of his power, to halt
the flight of the people, before the Damoclean sword of "deep
cuts" falls once again, piercing the black heart of the Right.
Let there be blood lust and vengeance,
first and foremost, the White House decides in early January.
... Let America stew in fear as well.
A second military buildup is needed, cries the truthless demagogue
in the White House, so powerful and threatening is Gorbachev's
Russia. The defense budget stands at $287 billion now. Not enough,
not nearly enough, cries Reagan. We must give $33 billion more
to the Moloch this year; a half trillion increase by 1991, for
our "security program is in jeopardy," threatened by
those who would bring back the hideous age of détente,
appeasement and unilateral disarming, the loathsome "decade
before 1981," before I, Ronald Reagan, came to save you,
when "the Soviets were the only ones racing." So the
fear-monger in the White House cries and lies-the very CIA contradicts
him-growing coarse and reckless with lies, as power slips from
his grasp. "Almost more than a human being can bear,"
cries poor forgotten Jimmy Carter a few days after Reagan's speech,
constrained at long last to protest against a President who says
things "he knows are not true and which he personally promised
me not to repeat." Promised but repeats again, and then again,
and again, and again, with utter contempt for truth, for vows,
for honor or decency; caring only to shill for the Right, advance
its cause and perpetuate its power. From this regimen of lies
shall we ever recover? After this reign of mendacity will public
probity ever, return? For "the triumph of demagogies is short-lived,"
warned the French poet Charles Peguy, "but the ruins are
The ancient idea of a national interest is being effaced ... Grenada
one day, Lebanon another, the Libyan shore, the Persian Gulf,
a Berlin dance hall, an Angolan village. America is here, there,
everywhere. No sparrow falls but we are there, or might be or
could be or should be. Let machete-wielding guerrillas chop off
the head of a communist official and America is there supporting
them; let them kill pregnant women in a communist-held village
and there, too, we shall be proffering arms. A Republic no longer,
a vast imperium, rather, spread-eagled, global, ever "in
search of monsters to destroy"-and monsters to deployed ...
While the White House "spews out
rage and hate, fear and falsehood"-and Reagan's credibility
silently, invisibly oozes away-Oligarchy consolidates its gains.
Lifts the 1976 ban on covert aid to Angolan guerrillas, a "major
victory" for the revived imperium ...
"A new era of American politics" has begun, proclaims
Moynihan on November 5, for the electorate is tepid, tractable,
apathetic. Their turnout is the lowest since the war year of 1942.
A "centrist" electorate truly, which sends several right-wing
senators to defeat, gives "centrism" control of the
Senate once more, demands nothing, it seems, save centrism. Whatever
stirred last January stirs not this November 4. In the House of
Representatives scarcely a seat changes hands, scarcely an incumbent
loses, scarcely more than fifty House seats are closely contested-officious
electoral partisanship has been reduced by the rule of Oligarchy
to its lowest level, perhaps, in our modern history. Liberty besieged
and equality ravaged have made no mark on the election. Nor has
the President's cowardly flight from a conference with Gorbachev,
flight from a "deep cuts" proposal, clutching his tyrant's
"dream." Nor has the sensational downing of an American
cargo plane in Nicaragua this October 5, linking the CIA and possibly
the White House to a lawless private war against the Nicaraguan
regime. A "vast, secret, bewildering" campaign, the
New York Times calls it this October 22. "A new Watergate-type
scandal," says a writer in the Los Angeles Times this October
26, about which the electorate seems to care little. "We
have exorcised the war, the riots, the rhetoric," cries exultant
Moynihan, "and thank God that time is over." Democracy
is dead, republicanism is dead, the mad jeering Right, useful
but nerve-wracking, is on its way out. Party oligarchy stands
supreme, triumphant, unchallenged at last.
The United States has sold weapons to Iran-hated reviler of America-in
exchange for the release of a few hostages in Lebanon, "with
the personal approval of President Reagan," notes the Los
Angeles Times on the sixth, in "marked contrast" to
the administration's public policy, in grotesque mockery of "Operation
Staunch," the administration's campaign to persuade the world
to stop arms shipments to Iran, in violation of the laws requiring
the President to notify Congress of such secret deeds; in violation
of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1986, which bars, by explicit order
of Reagan himself, any sale of arms to Iran, in "marked contrast"
to six years of Reagan's railing against "international terrorism,"
in marked contrast to his bragging vow to give no quarter, pay
no ransom, strike no bargains with terrorist nations, of which
Iran is one by presidential decree.
"A dreadful mistake," says Senator
Goldwater, "probably one of the major mistakes the United
States has ever made in foreign policy." A contemptible mistake,
the mistake of a vulgar demagogue who thinks the sight of liberated
hostages reunited with their families at the White House wipes
out for a degraded television electorate all thought of public
vows, policies, national pledges. That degraded we are not. The
entire country is appalled, shocked, angry, disheartened at the
vile dishonorable arms-for-hostages trade. Nor does it rally to
the "popular" President's side when he denies making
any such trade, when he cries out against the vicious lying press,
assails its "utterly false" charges, its distortion
of "the facts," its "false rumors and erroneous
reports," its "wildly speculative and false stories
about arms for hostages and ransom payments." You lie, Ronald
Reagan; you lie in your teeth. The whole country knows it, believes
it, will no longer deny it in our hearts. "Now the public
is questioning Mr. Reagan's honesty," the Los Angeles Times
reports on November 18. Four of five Americans polled by the newspaper
think Reagan speaks falsely about the arms sale. Four of five
Americans believe he has broken the law. Is civic courage returning
to America? Are we grown weary at last of our own abject subservience
to a demagogue?
For twenty days the arms scandal smolders,
sparks and rumbles, and then on November 25, like a volcano long-threatening,
it heaves up its boiling innards and spews them forth on the land.
This appalling fact the world learns on the twenty-fifth: Money
gained in the odious sale of arms to Iran has been diverted by
Reagan's National Security Council staff-one Oliver North in particular
- to support the private contra war in Nicaragua. Odious traffic
for a lawless purpose. So Reagan informs the press in a terse,
four-minute announcement, before fleeing the questions of reporters.
For there is nothing he can say that will not sink him deeper
into lies, crimes and impeachable offenses. The announcement itself
creates a sensation "unmatched, perhaps, since the days of
the Watergate crisis," the New York Times reports, revealing
an "astonishing pattern of lawless activity," the Times
also reports. Lawless and worse.
The diversion itself is a serious crime,
subject to criminal penalties: "fraudulent conversion of
government funds." The diversion, more scandalous yet, reveals
what the White House had been desperately concealing for weeks
and months: that the "vast, secret, bewildering" network
supplying the contras while the law forbids government aid is
not purely private at all. It is a White House enterprise, a secret
presidential war fought with a White House privy purse, in "flagrant
violation of the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution,"
a congressional report later declares, organized by a privately
funded White House government-behold "Project Democracy"
at work!-as if a President of the United States had the right
to pursue any private scheme he chooses, as long as he has private
means to finance it, as if the elected chief magistrate of the
American Republic were a monarch with his own royal treasury,
his own private retainers, his own royal sphere above and beyond
the meddlesome Commons.
"Dictators, not democrats, create
private governments, develop private budgets by dunning the wealthy,
traffic with profiteers and lie to legislatures. Tyrants, not
elected public servants, decide which laws apply to them."
So the New York Times rightly, and angrily, puts it. For never
in the history of the United States has the constitutional order
been so contemptuously ignored, so lightly dismissed, so deeply
and dangerously polluted, corrupted, defiled and violated.
What does it mean to "take care that
the laws be faithfully executed" when a President claims
the right not to know, the right to forget, the crimes his highest
aides commit in his service? What does the presidential oath mean
if a President can secretly declare a crime "important to
national security" and order its commission in secret? What
does the rule of law mean when a President obeys and disobeys
laws at will? What does law itself mean if it stands inferior
to the will of a President and a private purse? What does accountable
power mean when a President is free to ignore the laws that hold
him accountable? What does the U.S. Constitution mean, on the
eve of its two hundredth anniversary, if a tyrant can thrive in
On November 25, the mad, jeering tyranny
of shysters and sharks, protected by Oligarchy for so many years,
stands revealed at last to the American people. We do not flinch
from the sight; this moment of truth we can bear. Between November
1 and November 30 Reagan's popular esteem in the polls plummets
from - 67 percent to 46 percent, the sharpest one-month decline
since such polling began a half-century ago. The President cannot
save himself; his word is worthless, his "candor" a
trick played once too often, far too often. On November 26, Reagan,
in desperation, appoints a three-man "special review board"
to tell him what his highest aides were doing-ignorance is already
his first, corrupt, ignominious line of defense, but it does him
no good. Reagan is "covering up," so a majority of Americans
believe on November 30. "The public must look to Congress
for a solution," warn the editors of the New York Times:
Capitol Hill alone can restore popular "confidence"
For the nation's leaders, the fork in
the road is cruel and dangerous, the choices bleak: If we form
a special investigating committee, if we hold conspicuous public
hearings in front of network television cameras, before a citizenry
awakened, revived and riveted, will it not inspire the people
once more with love of truth and justice, with love of the law
and the law's supremacy, with love of oaths and fidelity to oaths-all
the grave republican evils of Watergate reviving once more? Would
not such a committee inspire in the bicentennial year harsh constitutional
demands, high constitutional resolves, severe constitutional reckonings?
The danger of such a committee is enormous; failure would be catastrophic;
the undoing, the ruination, of all we have fought for, struggled
for, all we have lied and betrayed for, lo these ten years and
Yet the alternative to a special committee
would very likely be worse, warns Senator Moynihan on a television
program this Sunday, November 30. "Protracted paralysis,
rancor, poison in the air" would be the inevitable result.
And something far worse than these: the exposure of the whole
mad jeering shyster tyranny, for the Iran-contra scandal is a
golden opportunity come at last for many a friend of democracy
in Congress, a chance to throw off the thrall of Oligarchy and
reveal to a people grown suddenly attentive the true extent and
depth of the tyranny of the Right, six years at work besieging
liberty and law and the power of the people. If Oligarchy leaves
a vacuum, the friends of liberty will rush in to fill it.
On the morning of November 30, Senator
Dole, Republican Majority Leader, casts the fateful die. Let there
be a Watergate-type investigation of the Iran-contra scandal,
he announces on a Sunday news program. There is no safe alternative.
"This is critical. It is not going to go away." 'What
will the committee investigate? Will it pry pitilessly into tyranny,
lawlessness and crime, private 'White House government, secret
government, impeachable offenses, guilty knowledge? Let no fatuous
friend of liberty mistake the aims of Oligarchy on this historic
Sunday, November 30, 1986.
What say you, Senator to Dole's proposal,
the New York Times inquires by telephone? The past and future
Senate Majority Leader approves. "This is my President. He's
in trouble and I don't want to see the presidency damaged."
By what, pray tell us? A light shining on tyranny and crime? A
light shining from law and the Constitution? 'What says icy, cautious
Nunn? "We must, all of us, help the President restore his
credibility in foreign affairs. We can't have a crippled President
for two years." A crippled Carter for four years mattered
not, but the "credibility" of a liar and a tyrant must
be "restored," for the people and the Republic must
be kept down.
What says lawmaker Les Aspin, perpetual
restorer of the "defense consensus"? "Keep it narrow,"
advises Aspin, a future member of the special committee. Let us
not talk largely of large things but triflingly about trifles.
"Let's find out, for example, how weapons assigned to the
armed forces can be shipped halfway around the world without the
Joint Chiefs knowing." Thus speaks Oligarchy on this busy,
historic November 30: "Congressional leaders backing the
idea of a special committee said they were primarily concerned
with resolving the issue and protecting the President's credibility"
From what? From truth? From justice? And secondly to "head
off a confusing and time-consuming situation in which several
panels start separate investigations." And liberty breaks
Let Oligarchy and its minions control
everything, dominate everything. Be advised, say Democratic leaders
on this busy, message-sending Sunday, that the popular party will
not tolerate Democrats holding forth in public "like so many
apprentice Torquemadas." Let them not cry out in anger during
the six months, ten months, however long it takes us to dim the
lights, blur the issues and salvage the tyrant.
Mere Walter Mondale sounds like an ancient
republican hero in the midst of this villainous chatter. "We
are faced here with the profoundest issue that ever occurs in
America: the accountability of elected leaders before the law.
Without that we have nothing." And we shall be made nothing,
if possible, so Oligarchy decrees. And we shall hear no noble
republican utterance. Oligarchy decrees that, too. Petty prudence
only, if possible. Private government, secret government, privy
purse government deprives a President of "the benefit of
those with the expertise in the field." Thus Senator David
Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat, on the "profoundest issue that
ever occurs in America"-and Boren is perhaps the most powerful
senator on the Iran-contra committee. The great task facing the
committee is "the larger process of reconciliation"
between "the intelligence community and Congress," says
Moynihan, for the small shall be made "larger" and the
large and noble made small.
"I think the center-troubled and
disappointed, but not infuriated-will let Reagan be President,"
William Safire of the New York Times predicts the day after the
historic Sunday. While Donald Regan's White House staff sets to
work on his latest internal memorandum: "Blame must be put
at NSC's door-rogue operation going on without President's knowledge
or sanction." While Time magazine this Monday carries the
words of the President, wallowing in habitual self-pity, talking
of "the bitter bile in my throat these days," and of
"the sharks circling" around. While Oligarchy A puts
all its immense skill and guile and power to work to save him
and keep the Republic degraded, a citizenry suppressed.
In May 5, the Iran-contra committee, part Senate, part House,
a two-headed body, at long last begins public hearings over network
The baseness and corruption of the committee
stuns even the New York Times. "In four days of questioning,
the congressional committee investigating the Iran-contra affair
never pinned down Robert C. McFarlane on what he told President
Reagan about the White House staff's activities in behalf of the
Nicaraguan rebels." Senator Daniel Inouye, chairman of the
Senate half of the committee, a Hawaiian Democrat, asks McFarlane
whether he had "advised the President on whatever you were
doing" for the contras. "Yes, sir," replies McFarlane
and Inouye drops the subject-the subject of subjects dropped.
McFarlane mentions discussing Colonel North with the President,
alleged "loose cannon," supposedly scarcely known to
the President. "Once again," notes the New York Times,
"Senator Inouye dropped the subject." Questioned by
Senator Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican, McFarlane says
the President had "a far more liberal interpretation"
of his freedom from the laws "than I did." And "Senator
Rudman dropped the matter." For the people believe in the
supremacy of law. Do we want them to hear over television that
the President does not?
... "Ollie" North of the NSC staff inadvertently saves
the day for Oligarchy. "Ollie" is no fall guy, he boldly,
forthrightly testifies, no scapegoat, no "loose cannon,"
no "cowboy" running wild. Ollie did only what he was
authorized to do-directly by Poindexter, indirectly, he believes,
by the President himself. Plucky Ollie is popular with television
viewers; little-guy candor shining brightly against the murky
evasions of the high and the mighty who have made him their scapegoat.
Telegrams pour in upon Congress, in part spontaneous, "in
part orchestrated," says Drew of the New Yorker, noting that
Western Union offers North telegrams at a discount price. What
does the popularity mean? That the Iran-contra hearings have been
too "prosecutorial," cries Senator Boren, publicly humiliating
the committee's own legal counsel. The American people want no
probing and prying, want no truth, want no light, and we shall
probe not and bring no light-a "perhaps mistaken interpretation
of the public's reaction to North," notes Drew with biting
Poindexter comes next, to tell his transparent
lies. He alone decided to divert the funds because "the buck
stops here with me," a mere adviser; because profiteering
in arms to terrorist Iran is a mere detail of implementation."
A lawyer whispers in the admiral's ear; the answers sound like
evasions, stink of evasion. "Did you brief the President
on the fact that the NSC staff was helping the contras?"
"I don't recall a specific conversation that would allow
me to answer your question in an affirmative way." What did
he and Casey talk about at a critical luncheon when the scandal
was erupting November last? The admiral can remember nothing,
save that the two ate sandwiches. His entire testimony is "literally
incredible," cries Drew. "Admiral Incredible,"
the New York Times editors call him.
Most of the country suspects that the
admiral is a thoroughpaced liar, but not one committee member
confirms that dark and dangerous suspicion; let it rot unvoiced
in our unhappy hearts. No committee member makes a serious effort
to tear Poindexter to shreds, to sum up his lies and falsities.
"Though most of the members," notes Drew, "did
not believe Poindexter's story, none were willing to explicitly
say for the record"-not one: think of Oligarchy's powerful
thrall!-"that they didn't, while the President's champions-in
Congress and the press-were quick to claim that Poindexter's testimony
proved that Reagan didn't know about the diversion." Hear
this, fellow citizens: The President has been "exonerated"
by his own adviser; the President is truthful, the President is
candid, the President is absolved; judge him not by the maxims
of liberty; we pronounce him innocent of all charges outstanding.
... The deep, calculated corruption does
more than deceive and mislead a people; does more than blur all
issues; does more than "almost ignore the President's failure
to see that the law forbidding aid to the contras, which he signed,
was not faithfully executed," so Reston ruefully notes; does
more than gloss over the appalling iniquity of a privately funded
White House warmaking machine, which "wasn't much focused
on," notes Drew; does more than pretend that a lawless, truthiess
tyrant is the honorable victim of a "secret White House junta,"
so honorable Inouye calls it. "Ollie North put the United
States Constitution through a shredder," say Democratic aspirants
for the presidency, obligingly scapegoating the tyrant's own scapegoat.
Oligarchy does more than use its power
to avert the menace of a popular republican revival on the road
to the "post-Reagan era." Day after day in the closing
weeks of these appalling hearings, Oligarchy, in its power and
temerity, dins a message of deep corruption into our ears. We
live in a "dangerous world." Such is the heart of the
message. We cannot afford any longer a stringently constitutional
President, a finicking oath and "take care" trammels.
We are a government of leaders, not of laws, for this is a dangerous
world and demands of us---do we not have a "living Constitution"?-a
measure of tyranny, a measure of lawlessness, a measure, and more,
of private, secret executive power. We cannot afford any longer
the strict accountability of Presidents, for were the Iran-contra
troubles not born of lack of "trust" between Congress
and President, born of "pervasive suspicion" between
Congress and President, so the New York Times puts it, born, in
a word, of too many checks and balances? Away with these copybook
maxims; they are baneful and dangerous in this dangerous world.
So Oligarchy preaches, brazenly advancing its cause in the very
midst of a menacing scandal. Long live the Empire and the "imperial"
presidency. Long live, too, this dangerous world" - so indispensable
to the power of the few, so destructive to the power of the people.