The Tyranny Project
excerpted from the book
Liberty Under Siege
by Walter Karp
Franklin Square Press, 1988, paper
[THE MYTH AND REALITY
OF THE REAGAN PRESIDENCY]
THE TYRANNY PROJECT
On February 17, President Reagan signed an executive order bestowing
upon his office control over the implementing of laws, the "rule-making
power," which Congress delegates exclusively to the heads
of government agencies. Henceforth, under the new order the President's
agents in the Office of Management and Budget can veto - in secret
- any regulation needed to implement a law if in their private
opinion its "potential costs" outweigh its "potential
benefits"-the new cost-benefit quackery ensconced in the
very heart of the government.
No such "centralized mechanism for
presidential management of agency rule-making" has ever existed
in this country, notes the report, not unsternly. It is a system
"without precedent," without constitutional warrant-how
lightly does the Constitution sit upon our dozing, glozing, truthless
President!-without sanction by any act or intent of Congress,
a clear violation of its fundamental intent in the matter: the
Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which "specifically
contradicts and precludes the administrative scheme established
by the order." The order, in short, is a sweeping act of
usurpation, "an unconstitutional act of executive legislation
in violation of the separation of powers principle"- a "power
grab," so a White House official cheerfully calls it.
Ralph Nader tries through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain
OMB's cost-benefit documents-"if indeed they exist,"
he adds in an angry letter to Stockman-but Nader tries in vain.
"Executive privilege" cloaks the whole operation, conceals
it even from Congress. The order, says Dingell, "allows green-eyeshaded
OMB officials to manipulate cost-benefit numbers behind closed
doors." Allows them in secret to decide that human life is
worth as little as $22,500-so Dingell reports in 1985-a "potential
benefit" so paltry that lifesaving is far outweighed by the
cost of not killing Americans with toxic sludge and cancer-causing
chemicals. It allows the OMB, our champions of "economic
efficiency" to decide by ignorant fiat this September of
1981 that informing workers about the chemicals they handle will
save only 400 lives, not 4,000, as agency experts contend, thereby
leaving hundreds of thousands of people in dangerous and deadly
ignorance. It allows the OMB this summer-operating through the
Department of Transportation-to reinterpret a law so that almost
no investigation of defective cars will ever lead to their mandatory
recall. It allows the OMB to nullify in secret-public knowledge
being deemed "contrary to the public interest"-a law
ensuring fair employment for Vietnam War veterans. It allows the
freedmen of the imperial palace-operating through the Department
of Agriculture-to declare ketchup a vegetable and so curtail "out-of-control
spending" on child nutrition; allows them to eliminate preventive
medicine for 2 million poor children on the grounds that an ounce
of prevention is not worth a pound of cure. Common humanity made
a different cost-benefit analysis, but common humanity is not
a shyster. It is likely that the OMB lies behind the campaign
begun in secret this March to throw $2 billion worth of cripples
off the disability rolls by declaring that, among other secret
redefinitions, psychotics who can boil water are "employable"
and so can be thrown to the wolves. The new order allows cruelty,
brutality, pettiness and spite to course like an underground sewer
through the entire Executive Branch.
In the space of twelve months, the new
order saps and weakens civil rights laws, labor laws, mine safety
laws, worker safety laws; gives OMB a grip of steel over the Environmental
Protection Agency, casts the environmental laws into virtual limbo,
prompting a young conservative lawyer at the agency to quit his
job in "a matter of weeks," after finding what he called
the "conservative approach to the implementation of laws
a chimera. The actual approach includes a warning to every regional
EPA office that "every case you do refer" for enforcement
will "be a black mark against you."
If President Reagan's efforts to reform regulation are seen simply
as a set of favors for corporations, a new wave of anti-business
populist sentiment may develop in the 1980's," a frightened
champion of deregulation warns this summer. The warning is well
founded, for despite the tides of inflation, despite the official
triumph of corporate quackery, despite the President's urgent
appeals for deregulation, the American people's deep conviction
that the health, safety and environmental laws are high public
goods remains wondrously unshaken. "A large majority of the
public believe that government regulations and requirements are
worth the extra costs they add to products and services,"
Gallup reports this June. Only 22 percent of the country, the
Chamber of Commerce reports in November, want the laws relaxed
to encourage economic growth.
How stupid and incorrigible is this national
rabble, as exasperating to the economic Right as once it had been
to the economic Left. It refuses to live exclusively in the "economy,"
cannot see America as "one big business," still lives
in the American Republic, still judges of things, however weakly,
dimly, sporadically, by the republican standard, so fatal to the
ambitions of the Right, so detested, therefore, by the Right.
"Government is seen as the defender of the little guy against
powerful and uncontrollable forces. Even those who are generally
opposed to regulation will support regulations seen as providing
protection against powerful forces that an individual could not
otherwise control." So reports the judicious National Journal
Opinion Outlook Briefing Paper, Volume 1, Number 19, this August
24. The American people are almost universally unwilling, says
a Briefing Paper some months later, "to transfer power to
business." Unwilling to do exactly what the Right, above
all else, wants done, has waited fifty years in the wilderness
for the chance to get done?
The Freedom of Information Act must, perforce,
be gutted outright. This summer the administration prepares the
"Freedom of Information Improvement Act of 1981," which
will "improve" the act by destroying its power to reveal
the debauching of laws protecting J "the little guy"
from those "powerful and uncontrollable forces" the
Right wants to make more powerful and uncontrollable than ever.
This summer, too, the OMB plans deep, destructive budget cuts-for
do we not have deficits to reduce?-in programs that monitor environmental
conditions, in programs for gathering social statistics, programs
for measuring compliance with the laws. For why should the rabble
find out the effects upon them of our liberation of capital from
the laws they cherish? There is so much yet to be done! Public
dissemination of public information must be brought under "cost-benefit"
veto; the first steps have been taken this June by the tireless,
relentless OMB. The pettifogging federal courts must somehow be
kept from "unconstitutionally dubious and unwise intrusions
into the legislative domain," warns Attorney General Smith,
lest they bar our unconstitutional invasion of the legislative
domain. Dissenting officials must be silenced somehow; already
tens of thousands of officials are secretly signing agreements
subjecting them to lifetime government censorship of anything
they write related in any way to "sensitive compartmentalized
information," Carter's bad seed blossoming far beyond the
confines of the CIA. A fruitful idea is this of subjugation to
censorship by contract, not lost on the OMB. Thousands of people
do social research in America with government grants; study old-age
programs, computers in school, housing vouchers, pesticides, levels
of pollution, effects of malnourishment; ten thousand and one
things that reflect well or ill upon government policies and the
conditions of society. Why should they be free to publish at will
with our money? What does academic freedom, so-called, mean to
us? Let them be compelled, says the budget office, to agree, by
contract, not to publish their findings anywhere, in any way,
until a government official approves it for "accuracy of
factual data and interpretation": ignorant power dictating
to impotent knowledge; censorship without precedent in our history,
for the rabble must not be permitted to judge for themselves the
costs and the benefits of "economic efficiency" --our
Baal, our Golden Calf, our holy talisman. It is by "economic
efficiency," standard supreme, that we, the Right, judge
the American people, find them unfit for self-government.
Thus matters are proceeding at the White
House when the powerful head of a powerful committee warns his
colleagues that a perilous usurpation has taken place before their
eyes, "of paramount historical importance," in violation
of the Constitution, the laws and the prerogatives of Congress,
creating an engine of secret power that can be used-and is being
used-to dispense corrupt privilege to powerful special interests;
which can be used-and is being used-to nullify laws enacted by
overwhelming congressional majorities, laws supported at this
very moment by overwhelming popular majorities. Will the Democratic
House, which only last year demanded a greater voice for Congress,
the courts and the people in regulatory affairs, rise up against
this brazen act of "executive legislation"? Will it
champion the just sentiments of the people, give voice to their
abiding "populist" fear of private economic power?
The answer is-silence; sovereign silence.
The report concerning issues "of paramount historic importance"
falls into the public realm as noiselessly as a pebble falling
into a bottomless well. The Reaction prevails over all. No mere
committee chairman can stand against it. The smiling mask will
not be torn from the White House tyranny. The budget office will
not be checked in its course, will pursue it ever more avidly
year after year. Most of all, worst of all, the republican sentiments
of the country will not be championed-not by Oligarchy serving
itself. Better Reaganite tyranny under our checkrein than republicanism
revived. Thus Power, unslumbering, calculates.
"What we are witnessing," says
a spokesman for the ACLU this autumn, "is a systematic assault
on the concept of government accountability and deterrence of
illegal government conduct." True enough, but "we,"
the people, alas, are witnessing nothing, for the powerful keep
their own counsel and cloak with their silence the systematic
Reagan's faltering leadership, his decline in public esteem, his
weakening grip on the electorate-the all-important grip, without
which disaster looms for the Reaction-lie implicit, unspoken,
behind the topic at hand: Reagan's forthcoming budget, second
installment of the "Reagan Revolution." An election-year
budget it is, fraught with immense political danger; a recession-year
budget, too, for 9.4 million Americans are out of work this December
1981, factories are falling idle, the good jobs are vanishing,
"traditional family breadwinners" are out on the streets,
bewildered and frightened.
The new budget has got to look "compassionate,"
warns Dole. No defense cuts, no food stamp cuts. The Pentagon
cannot simply devour the poor a second time around. The "frontal
assault on the welfare state" is utterly out of the question.
The others agree, Laxalt included, but they warn and plead in
vain. Defense cuts are not to be thought of. Every dollar of the
$1.5 trillion figure plucked out of thin air has been forced upon
us by our adversaries, says Reagan. Behind the wall of obstinacy
is the simple truth: "The President," says Stockman,
"didn't have it in him to overrule his Secretary of Defense."
Something must be done about the deficits-another
reason to cut defense spending. Mr. President, says Senator Pete
Domenici, you are going to pile up in three years a greater addition
to the national debt than Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter combined:
$150 billion is forecast for fiscal 1984, ostensible year of the
balanced budget; $170 billion for fiscal 1986, even assuming five
years of unexampled prosperity, so Stockman estimates in early
November. Deficits huge, unprecedented-and growing, "a massive
fiscal disorder," Stockman calls it. A tax increase is imperative,
the Republican leaders warn Reagan. Alas, raising taxes fills
Reagan with dread. "If our critics heard about it they'd
be jumping for joy," he had said at an earlier meeting. The
idea of a tax increase-and joyful critics-robs Reagan of his sleep,
he complains to Deaver. What, then, is to be done about the deficits?
Wait for revenue feedback, says the President. But there is no
revenue feedback! How often has Stockman said this? To no avail.
Besides, the President doesn't believe in pessimistic forecasts.
He believes in "optimism." But the forecast includes
the most optimistic assumptions, "supply side" triumphant.
How can pessimism include optimism? Reagan cannot understand this.
"Go with your instincts, Mr. President,"
Treasury Secretary Donald Regan has told him. "These big
deficit numbers you are getting are just forecasts anyway."
Flight is the President's "instinct." Feckless toadying
is Regan's. The "massive fiscal disorder" is bitter
to contemplate, dangerous to deal with; sweet and effortless is
the fantasy of feedback. The Republican leaders troop out of the
'White House, danger unaverted, defeated by escapism posing as
unshakable faith and by weakness posing as strength.
What a burden upon Oligarchy is this President,
a burden almost unbearable when the President's budget reaches
Capitol Hill this February 8, 1982.
Stunning, shocking, brutal, a savage affront
to justice is this second installment of the "Reagan Revolution."
The military buildup, like a ravening beast, eats through the
fisc once more: The White House wants a $43.4 billion increase
in Pentagon spending authority for fiscal 1983. We are at the
$258 billion level now; $116 billion more than the Pentagon commanded
a mere two years ago; senseless, wanton engine of waste, grinding
away in the midst of unheard-of triple-digit deficit a proposal
so outrageous "it came under heavy fire from prominent conservatives
... and from liberals...
... Marc Marks, a Pennsylvania Republican, takes the floor of
the House on March 9 to vent his rage and despair at the brutal
rule of the Right, his rage against the "President and his
cronies whose belief in Hooverism has blinded them to the wretchedness
and to the suffering they are inflicting... on the sick, the poor,
the handicapped, the blue-collar, the white-collar workers, the
small-business person, the black community, the community of minorities
generally, women of all economic and social backgrounds, men and
women who desperately need job training, families that deserve
and desire to send their children to college."
... The country is stirring; Reagan is
tottering. Anger sweeps the country when Americans learn that
four huge corporations-DuPont, Texaco, RCA and General Electric,
hugely profitable-all four-will get a tax refund, a chunk of our
shrunken fisc to add to their profits, thanks to a provision of
last year's tax act allowing corporations to buy and sell unused
tax credits. Shocking epitome this of a tax code so hideously
unjust that a family of four earning $200,000 a year, making average
use of tax breaks, loopholes and shelters, pays an average federal
income tax of 9 percent, so the New York Times reports four years
hence, while a family of four earning $12,000 a year pays 16 percent
into the Treasury. The affluent feed on the fisc; the deficit
gnaws at the rest of us.
By mid-March Reagan looks inept and inane. His approval rating,
slowly falling since August last, now stands at 47 percent, according
to Gallup, lower than any other modern President after so short
a time in office.
At this most critical moment, as the winter draws to a close,
suddenly, amazingly, the voice of the people pierces through the
cant of the Reaction-the voice of a citizenry, of people who talk
to one another, who hear one another out, who take counsel with
one another in the town meetings of New England, last relic of
the old "ward republics" of America, which retain something
of their ancient virtue still. What think you, fellow citizens,
of this: a resolution calling upon the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to
halt the testing and deployment of all nuclear weapons, the halt
to be mutually verified, to commence at once. We are already equals
in nuclear strength, let the nuclear arms race be stopped! And
in 161 towns in Vermont, the little ward republics vote aye: The
"freeze movement" bursts upon the public stage, surges,
too, through California, surges through Massachusetts, beats at
the doors of a dozen state legislatures, county councils, city
halls, led by the clergy mainly, endorsed by Kennedy, Hatfield
and Averell Harriman, old George Kennan, Billy Graham, William
Colby, former director of Central Intelligence. It enlists "the
unpolitical public," which is worst of all, warns Rostow,
late of the Present Danger, now Reagan's arms control chief, in
a frantic memorandum to the White House. A vast eruption of public
sanity in the midst of the giant arms buildup, "too powerful,
too elemental, too deeply embedded in the natural human instinct
for self-preservation to be brushed aside" by governments,
so Kennan confidently predicts. There are "local initiatives
all over the country," reports Time. "It is a populist,
popular movement that has really sneaked up on us," commanding
at once the support of 70 percent of the population.
A vast popular revolt is this nuclear
freeze against Present Danger lies and fear-mongering, the Reaction's
lies, now Reagan's to defend. He tries, lies, fails, makes matters
worse. A nuclear freeze is "dangerous," says the President
on March 31, at his first televised evening press conference,
after days of anxious preparation. Dangerous because the Soviet
Union is the superior nuclear power, dangerous because the United
States is afflicted by "what I have called, as you all know,
several times, a window of vulnerability," the dreaded window
forgotten a few months back when Reagan, obliging supporters in
Utah and Nevada, decided to put the MX missile in a vulnerable
silo, now hastily pressed into service again, prompting a reporter
to ask: "Are you saying that we are vulnerable now, right
today, to a nuclear attack?" How can the President say "no"
to that, and blather instead about "perceptions" of
weakness that nobody except our leaders can believe? A "no"
answer vindicates the freeze; undermines the nuclear buildup,
undermines the Soviet threat, the Cold War revival, the entire
buildup and all that depends upon that. So Reagan says yes, why
not? "The Soviets' great edge is one in which they could
absorb our retaliatory blow and hit us again." Defenseless
America, nuclear sword at our throat! America betrayed, too, by
Presidents, statesmen and high-ranking generals criminally negligent
almost, until I, Ronald Reagan, arrived on the scene. A storm
of protests greets the President's coarse and reckless remarks.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General David Jones, feels compelled
to repudiate them: The U.S. and the Soviets are nuclear equals;
inferiority is a myth, he testifies before Congress. Former Secretaries
of Defense curtly repudiate them. Neither side has superiority,
says James Schlesinger, Defense Secretary under Nixon and Ford.
Even Senator Jackson demurs. The truthiess President is a menace
to the arms race, a menace to the entire buildup. Coarse demagoguery
works on the inert, unattending mass; on a people awakened it
turns on itself, a truth beyond Reagan's comprehension, but how
instinctively do:) truthless Reagan fear and loathe an informed
On March 26, "with a minimum of debate," the Democratic
Party leaders complete their latest revision of the party rules-their
post-Carter, anti-Carter, prevent-Carter rules; bestowing upon
themselves some 550 "superdelegate" seats at the 1984
convention-we must be able to veto future Carters, must we not?
They have altered the rules, in addition, to "make it easier
for the party to consolidate around front-running candidates,"
a party official explains, meaning easier for party leaders, union
ward heelers, the party's money men-the newly created Democratic
Business Council-to pick one candidate-Walter Mondale is already
chosen-fill his coffers, build his organization, bedeck him with
endorsements, put the entire AFL-CIO at his disposal and place
the party standard in his loyal, trustworthy hands. 0, blessed
precious nominating power, keys of the kingdom, lost to us for
so long, now in our grasp once more.
And what is the compromise budget" offered by Tip and Jones
and Rosty, serving "the common good"? For one thing,
the largest increase in military spending the Congress can possibly
enact. For another, a freeze on cost-of-living allowances for
the elderly; lastly, repeal of the third installment of the Kemp-Roth
tax cut. Thus the popular party in this year of hard times, elections
and blue-collar grief! We shall take money from the taxpayers,
money from the pensioners-and stuff the maw of the military Moloch.
No demand for tax justice, no call for sanity, decency, honest
frugality shall come from the popular party.
And what say you to that, men of power? The answer comes five
days later when [House-Senate conference reaches agreement on
the budget for fiscal 1983-calls for a $32 billion increase in
military spending authority, continues grinding the poor and the
ailing, delivers "a vicious, venal attack on the working
poor," so Congressman David Obey, the passed-over liberal,
describes the House version of the budget, a Democratic House
budget which is crueler to the needy and kinder to the Pentagon
than the Republican Senate version. A budget, too, that forecasts
steadily declining deficits-$60 billion by 1985-affirming and
confirming Reagan's false, glozing feedback fantasy, knowingly
affirming a known lie, for Reagan is tottering still and needs
every prop that Oligarchy can muster. "The system is too
fragile now to deal with the truth," some economist shrewdly
remarks. So fragile that the Democratic House on August 5 votes-albeit
narrowly-to confirm its faith in the President's fraudulent arms
proposal, its belief in the fictitious "window of vulnerability,"
for Reagan and truth cannot coexist. We must rally around lies
to save him!
Not a single weapon is canceled by Congress;
mere "routine cheese-paring" only, says Congressional
Quarterly. Not a piece of gross squandering is questioned. This
year $6.8 billion is to be spent for our neo-World War II carriers
and $3.2 billion cut from medical programs; $4.6 billion goes
for the "flying Edsel" and the volume of student loans
is reduced by 25 percent. "House Democrats," notes the
New Republic, "again gave Mr. Reagan almost everything he
asked for," although election time is nearing, although the
recession is deepening, and Reagan himself continues declining
in public esteem. Such is the miracle work of collusion. The murderous
mandate no longer hangs around Reagan's neck; it now hangs around
ours. Nor is there the slightest pause in the arms race. Let the
750,000 people who gathered by the river know this and mark it
well. They gather in vain. Let sentiments of justice, common sense,
public spirit, decency, sanity and compassion rot and shrivel
and die in your breasts. Let every vestige of faith in yourselves-that
which Lincoln bid the people never lose-be trampled and ground
to dust. We shall make the truthless man our savior yet.
In a surprise move," the Democratic House, under the leadership
of Tip and Rosty, votes to offer no tax bill at all; will merely
duck into the darkness of a House-Senate conference to dicker
in private with Dole. The popular party wants no part of fairness,
no part of tax justice, no part, were it possible, in the public
life at all. It attributes this "most unusual" act of
inaction to fear of "antagonizing business PACs," to
the need for election campaign money, to "reluctance to offend
certain interests," Drew of the New Yorker reports: the usual
commercial excuses for deeper, noncommercial corruption.
What can an ignorant, truthiess demagogue do? Poison the public
mind, if he can, against those who dare stand in the way. The
freeze movement is "inspired by not the sincere honest people
who want peace, but by some who want the weakening of America."
So Reagan tells a veterans' group in a speech this autumn. Its
success is due to "foreign agents that were sent to help
instigate and help create and keep such a movement going."
So he says on another day this autumn. About this foreign agentry
there is "no question," says Reagan. Any evidence? "Plenty"-alas,
not forthcoming. The White House refers the inquisitive to the
October issue of Reader's Digest. Such slander, defaming so many
people of honor and esteem, so many tens of thousands of earnest
clerics, Oligarchy cannot and will not vouch for.
Two Americans out of every three, so a Washington Post poll shows
this March 5, think Reagan cares more "about protecting the
firms that are violating" the environmental laws than he
does about protecting the environment, believe it and resent it.
Fresh from the hustings, the great hundred-seat majority sits]
idle, does nothing and worse than nothing, betrays every sentiment,
virtually, that brought it into being. A majority of Americans
want military spending cut, turning a deaf ear to the President's
frantic talk of Russia's "evil empire," to his shameless
lies about Soviet military spending far exceeding our own. The
hundred-seat majority heeds not the electorate, heeds only the
President, enacts a $32 billion increase in military spending
authority. Does far worse than that: votes without hearings, without
debate, without public knowledge, to give the Pentagon authority
to conceal from the American people any information it can conceal
from a foreigner under the export control laws; turns citizens
into foreigners, turns the vast engine of waste and paralysis
into a single vast secret of state-or tries to. Henceforth, a
patriot in the Defense Department, outraged by the hideous waste
and fraud, who dares speak out to his countrymen, risks ten years'
imprisonment for violating the export laws, now distorted beyond
The great hundred-seat majority continues
the nuclear arms buildup, although seven Americans out of ten
want the freeze movement to triumph, despite all Reagan's slanders
against it-how deaf are the people to the Great Communicator!
The huge legislative majority continue the great work of subverting
the public understanding, help Reagan overcome "the widespread
suspicion that he may be unwilling to seek a diplomatically feasible
arms control agreement"-as Congressional Quarterly tactfully
puts it-by hailing his latest proposal for its "flexibility;"
The hundred-seat majority; most important of all, votes at long
last to deploy the MX in a vulnerable silo-"a formidable
salvage operation undertaken by a curious coalition featuring
President Reagan and Democratic moderates"-after the Speaker
and White House organize a "bipartisan" commission to
urge deployment. America must aim giant vulnerable missiles at
Soviet silos in order to "communicate to the Soviets that
we have the will essential to deterrence," says the commission.
Meaning what? Meaning nothing. These pretexts are for congressional
use only. Nothing to do with thee or me. Public life is not for
thee and me. Collusion, like a vampire, drains it of all meaning,
relevance, truth; of all that speaks to our condition as citizens.
So the hundred-seat majority takes pains
not to harm the President by forcing him to veto popular programs,
acts of justice, compassionate deeds. "Constant give-and-take
between Congress and the White House produced bills that Reagan
could sign." Why not give him bills to not-sign, asks Richard
Ottinger, the angry, anguished liberal Democrat. Let us restore
student loans; it would "sail through Congress" and
let Reagan veto that. But the leadership will not allow it. The
grinding of the poor is producing real misery and ugly neglect.
"Two million kids are not getting measles and polio shots
due to the budget cuts. That's something you can dramatize,"
says the angry, baffled liberal Democrat. "But the leadership
is not doing anything." Three of five Americans polled this
June think Reagan favors "the upper-income people."
Do we of the hundred-seat majority wish to "dramatize"
that bitter truth or any bitter truth? When Reagan threatens to
veto a $1 billion appropriation for "politically popular
programs," reports Congressional Quarterly, Democratic leaders,
in panic, reduce it to $98 million, vetoing it themselves to spare
Reagan the burden. "O'Neill has given the ball game to Reagan,"
says Ottinger, given the country to Reagan, given the American
people to Reagan.
Given tyranny to the American people,
for the Right's assault on the Republic grows more intense than
ever this year, becomes a kind of mad, jeering defiance that almost
On January 7, the Justice Department, mocking justice, mocking
law, issues illegal guidelines that bestow upon the Executive
the power to charge prohibitive fees to those who use the Freedom
of Information Act to enlighten the people-who are supposed to
pay nothing, if possible, under the law as written and now debauched.
"Federal agencies are obligated to safeguard the public treasury."
Such is the thin piping pretext for this lawless assault on public
information, our information, without which popular government
is a farce, the frugality "saving" $150,000 a year,
not to cut off the "liberal mass media"-the Right's
pretended enemy-but rural weeklies, rather, and local radio stations,
small-town dailies, free-lance writers; whatever is left of liberty,
diversity and independence in our public life. That is what the
Right truly fears and strives to stifle further this January 24.
The instrument of stifling is bizarre,
jeering, mocking: a budget office change in its Circular A-122-"
Cost Principles for Non-profit Organizations." Proposed are
new accounting rules for the thousands of private organizations
that receive federal grants to carry out government functions.
All such organizations-from the Girl Scouts to the Izaak Walton
League to the Association for Retarded Citizens-must forfeit federal
funds if they speak out on public affairs, will be punished by
forfeiture if they bring a fact to a congressional committee,
make a comment on a federal regulation.
... the administration stops funding the publication of the Survey
of Income and Program Participation which measures the effect
of its welfare policies; stops publishing the Annual Survey of
Child Nutrition, The Handbook of Labor Statistics and the Annual
Housing Survey; stops publishing bulletins on occupational health
hazards; stops issuing warnings about newly discovered toxics;
withholds health care data from local officials; eliminates or
reduces "at least fifty major statistical programs,"
a House committee reports, on such matters as nursing homes, medical
care expenditures, monthly department store sales, labor turnover.
Stops publishing "U.S.-Soviet Military Dollar-Cost Comparisons,"
invaluable CIA reports that refute fear-monger exaggerations of
Soviet strength. Let the rabble look to the White House, look
to the Great Communicator, look to our Ministry of Truth for the
lies, the "leaks," the official propaganda by which
they shall live, henceforth.
On February 10, Reagan signs an executive
order barring from the federal government's lucrative on-the-job
charity drives "any organization that seeks to influence...
the determination of public policy," yet another assault
on public life and activity. Assaults our public life again a
month later, by calling for an end to postal subsidies for libraries,
schools, other nonprofit organizations, for why should we waste
public money to support the diffusion, of knowledge, to subsidize
a free people's conversation with itself. What waste. goes back
to the early days of the Republic. The Ministry of Truth shall
stop it here and now in the last days of this loathsome Republic,
enemy of all we hold dear.
On February 24, the Justice Department
orders three prize winning Canadian films-two on acid rain, one
on nuclear war-labeled "political propaganda" under
the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act. For we control the borders.
Why should we leave them open to ideas we want kept from the people?
So on March 3, the State Department denies a visa to Mrs. Salvador
Allende, wife of the slain Chilean president. Her scheduled speech
to church groups in San Francisco is deemed "prejudicial
to United States interests." We shall use every power of
government to suppress what we prefer the rabble not know.
On March 7, the Justice Department issues
its new "guidelines" on "domestic security"
and puts under police purview a vast range of our public life;
allows the FBI to infiltrate any group, however free of criminal
intent, on mere unsubstantiated charges that there is something
to "inquire" about; allows the infiltration of any group
that "supports" the infiltrated group, spreading the
surveillance net wider; authorizes the Bureau to file "publicly
available information" on any American it chooses to monitor,
for any reason it wishes. Dare to emerge from "real world"
obscurity, dare to enter the public world, and a free people falls
under the purview of the federal police power-and into its files
if it chooses.
And what say you, thus far, men of power,
to this ruthless assault on freedom? Something is said and well
said, in this subcommittee or that-honor to them-but nothing the
least audible to the country at large. So little audible that
three years hence this tyranny is still routinely described as
"getting government off the back of the people." Such
is the power of the lie in this age of collusion.
On March 11, the White House issues National
Security Decision Directive 84, outwardly to stop "leaks"-a
"high priority for the administration," says an accompanying
statement. Less openly, to assault public life yet again, to gag
the well informed by other means. Even outwardly the directive
is brutal enough, another step in the Right's unresting campaign
to terrify the Executive Branch into silence. The polygraph test,
henceforth, will be used throughout the government to trace the
source of "leaks"-an instrument of fear and intimidation,
of false accusations, pretext for ugly harassment, arbitrary firing,
invasions of privacy. Are you a lesbian, asks a polygraph tester
of a thirty-seven-year-old spinster? "Have you ever put your
mouth to another woman's sexual parts?" The FBI, henceforth,
will investigate leaks, even when no crime is suspected, "thereby
placing FBI agents at the beck-and-call of bureaucrats wanting
to terrorize subordinates." So Safire angrily puts it this
Attached to these "anti-leak"
measures, obscuring its purport momentarily, the President's directive
orders all government officials with access to "secret compartmentalized
information"-SCI-to submit their writings, books, articles,
lectures, letters to the editor, to government officials for "pre-publication
review" and approval.
Thousands of distinguished Americans, whose patriotism cannot
be impugned, whose opinions command respect, who can challenge
the word of a President, are to be gagged by a truthless demagogue
who cannot bear to be challenged, who this very May fires three
sitting Civil Rights Commissioners, an act without precedent,
destroying the commission's historic independence, for daring
to question the Ministry of Truth. "It is not difficult to
lie and deceive," Victor Hugo wrote in exile as he watched
an elective despot degrade his beIoved France, "when the
tongue of contradiction has been torn out." In the degraded
Republic right now, tongues of contradiction are being mutilated
so that the Right and its allies may more easily deceive us.
Nicaragua and the Contras
A guerrilla force of 5,000 men, trained
and armed by the CIA, has entered Nicaraguan soil, so the New
York Times and the Washington Post inform the nation this April
3, "the first solid evidence that the Reagan administration
is aiding groups bent on overturning the Sandinistas." "The
Secret War Boils Over," exclaims Newsweek the next day-a
"full-scale push" far beyond the "purported U.S.
objective" of stopping arms shipments from Nicaragua to rebels
in El Salvador. The "purported" objective is a lie.
The real objective is a crime: violation of a law enacted by Congress
December last, forbidding the U.S. to aid any armed force, our
Hessians, for the "purpose of overthrowing the government
of Nicaragua." Congress stands defied; U.S. law stands defied;
international law is mocked; public opinion is trampled upon;
White House avowals are shown to be worthless, CIA testimony to
Congress-from William Casey, director-is shown to be false. "A
crisis of confidence," Senator Moynihan calls it, and so
it is. Will the hundred-seat majority meet in caucus and cry out
with one voice against this lawless tyranny and its truthless
shill, against this 'White House demagogue who tells schoolchildren
that free speech is a "privilege" which carries the
"responsibility to be right," who talks of a "government
right to confidentiality" who poisons the public mind, poisons
the Republic itself, with his private, pseudo-constitution of
tyranny? Is there just one senator in a hundred to force that
truth upon the sheepish mass media giving it heart? One senator
alone suffices, if he is brave enough and eloquent enough and
makes the Republic his sword and buckler. The answer is: Not one
in that hundred can be found, despite a "firestorm"
over the gag rule, despite a "furor" over lifetime censorship,
despite anger and dismay over the FBI's new police state powers,
despite hostile subcommittee hearings. No matter. The Reaction
rules over all, terrifies all, and the Reaction needs Reagan propped
up, protected, exalted if possible. Seeks chiefly this of the
tyranny of the Right-that it take care not to awaken, out of its
own jeering spite and malice, the waning republican spirit of
the country. The A-122 gag rule is reduced to vague intimidation
through the efforts of jack Brooks and the House Government Operations
Committee. National Security Decision Directive 84 is revoked
in part. Let Reagan be lauded and his tyranny tempered. So Oligarchy
On and on, day after day, the propping up of Reagan continues,
for though the economy revives and Reagan's public esteem with
it-from 38 percent "approval" in January to 48 percent
this June-Power, unslumbering, can take no chances. The lying,
lawless, ignorant "leader" must be exalted; the uneasy
electorate suppressed and degraded; public life drained of all
meaning and relevance. The Reaction is safe no other way.
The Reagan -Carter debate and Carter's briefing book
In June 1983, a bizarre scandal erupts
in the White House, threatens "the President's valued nice-guy
reputation"-a curious little episode revealing much. It appears
that David Stockman, while preparing candidate Reagan for his
historic debate with Carter, had a copy of the President's briefing
book, knew word for word what the President would say, the book
reportedly provided by "a Reagan mole in the Carter camp."
James Baker, now Reagan's chief of staff; admits he got the briefing
book from Casey, then Reagan's campaign manager, a Wall Street
blackguard, habitual liar, a "longtime Reagan favorite,"
Newsweek calls him, one who "inhabits a charmed circle within
the Reagan administration," assiduous feeder of falsehoods
to the President disguised as CIA reports. Casey has "no
recollection" of any such book.
Such are the basic ingredients of 'Debategate":
a spy in Carter's entourage dedicated to his defeat...
Eighty-two percent of the country knows of the scandal; three
of five Americans think it is a major political issue. And are
'White House treachery, cheating and lying not a major political
issue? Do the people not have, as john Adams wrote, "an indisputable,
unalienable, indefensible, divine right to that most dreaded and
envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct
of their rulers"? Dreaded indeed by Oligarchy is the people's
knowledge of Reagan's character. In public, the Speaker says nothing,
is described as "uncharacteristically quiet." In private,
Albosta is rudely checked, his investigation stymied. The House
Democratic leadership fears to look excessively partisan, so Congressional
Quarterly reports; wants to "distance current Democratic
officeholders from Carter's unpopular legacy," says Newsweek,
while collusion, unmentioned and unmentionable, continues to drain
public life of all meaning and relevance.
On August 31, 1983, a Korean airliner
with 267 people aboard is shot down by a Soviet pilot hundreds
of miles inside Soviet territory, after passing near sensitive
military installations. Swiftly, Air Force intelligence puts together
the story and passes it on to "the policy-makers." Nervous
Soviet defenders had confused the off-course plane with a U.S.
intelligence plane operating nearby, had tried and failed to identify
the plane before destroying it. A confused, frightened Soviet
air defense has hideously blundered, but what use is that truth
to our leaders? Let it rot in limbo, while Secretary of State
George Shultz goes before the American people to denounce the
Soviets for coldly, deliberately, knowingly destroying a harmless
civilian airliner. "Murder in the air," cries the press.
A "heinous act," cries the President. The Korean airline
massacre is denounced at the UN by our representative, Jeane Kirkpatrick,
champion of Cold War and party oligarchy. Denunciations resound
in the Congress. "An unbelievably barbaric act," cries
Speaker O'Neill. "Horrible, inexcusable, outrageous,"
cries Minority Leader Byrd. By unanimous vote Congress declares
the shooting "one of the most infamous and reprehensible
acts in history"-nothing less. Mass hatred and bellicosity,
twin banes of liberty, how dearly does Oligarchy love them! Reagan
"couldn't have written a better script," says a Democratic
Senate aide. "He looks like a man of reason, caution and
balance-he looks like the President."
Beirut - 1983
At 2:27 in the morning, Sunday, October
23, the President, on a golfing weekend in Augusta, Georgia, learns
that a suicide attacker carrying a bomb in a truck has blown up
the marine barracks in Beirut; 229 marines are reported dead.
A demonstration, says the President, his voice "quavering"
with emotion, of "the bestial nature" 0f our Levantine
enemies, who, perforce, cannot bombard us in perfect safety from
offshore warships, but must actually die in order to retaliate.
The attack is "an appalling shock to the American people,"
so reports the press. But what is the shock? Is it the spectacle
of wanton, predictable death that shocks, the folly of blind murderous
meddling? In part at least? The United States has got to "retaliate";
the President has got "to do something," Newsweek remarks
most urgently. "There is a lot of circumstantial evidence,"
says Defense Secretary Weinberger, "that points to Iran."
Grenada - 1983
On October 25, the United States, in all
its might and majesty, invades the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada,
site of a communist coup against a communist ruler, site of a
medical school attended by a thousand Americans said by the White
House to be in danger of their lives. No reporters join the armada.
A total press censorship is put into effect. For the first time
in our history, all military news will come from official bulletins
as several thousand Americans attempt to subdue an airplane-less
army of 700. "Members of Congress and ordinary citizens alike,"
notes Time, "wondered what had prompted President Reagan
to take such drastic action against a tiny island. Coming only
two days after the death of 229 Marines. .
Well we might wonder, ponder, ask ourselves
hard, cruel questions. Is a demagogue President giving us a shabby
bully's triumph to distract from a hideous bully's defeat? Believe
this, or something akin, and the public world of America grows
grim and cold indeed. Believe this and there is precious little
left to believe in; nothing, in truth, to believe in, except in
ourselves, politically alone, politically deserted, daily subverted
by collusion; and in the Republic, daily corrupted, utterly voiceless.
For twenty-four hours the country wavers in an agony of doubt-our
moment of truth and dread of "\the truth. On the twenty-sixth
a planeload of medical students from Grenada lands in America,
television cameras present, countless millions watching. A few
students kiss the ground. One cries out "God bless America,
God bless Reagan, God bless our military." Suddenly, relief
of the greatest intensity sweeps over the country, and joy unbounded,
the "Grenada high," so-called. Away with terrible suspicions
and gnawing doubts and the American world grown cold and grim.
America is triumphant; Reagan is innocent. Let us hear no critics
and no bad news. We will not listen, we will stop up our ears,
stop our own hearts if we have to. Has the press been kept from
Grenada? Good, cry millions of Americans. For they "only
would have turned us against the decision to invade," turned
us against our leaders, turned us back on our fears, our ç
qualms, ourselves. We have not the strength left for this. A fabulist
and liar is our leader. Let us live by fables and lies, by "Morning
in America" and "America Is Back." A charmer inhabits
the White House; let us bask in his charm. Not everyone, of course,
but millions, enough for a landslide victory in the 1984 elections.
Power, unslumbering, set out to exalt a tyrant and degrade a citizenry.
October 26 marks the day its sad triumph stands revealed.