In our desire to understand the implications and consequences of the recently-revealed breach of our civil liberties by the Obama administration and the national security apparatus of our country, a breach courageously revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, there is one factor which I think will likely be overlooked for some time. The mistrust in government that President Obama’s behaviour is fostering in the public will do more to set back the cause of progressivism and social democracy in the United States than the eight destructive years of his predecessor’s regressive administration.
The sad twist, of course, is that our descent into our Orwellian-looking world—in which the NSA spies on citizens’ online activity, the CIA murders people using drones, and our national security apparatus abducts people and holds them without trial—was initiated by a party which exists primary to serve corporate rather than public interests, and makes the case for its anti-social, retrograde policies by bleating about government overreach .
When the Republican Party was in power, it at least took some heat from a small and motley assortment of progressives, some of their criticism motivated by commendable principle, others by knee-jerk opposition. For most of President Obama’s tenure, as he continued and in some cases expanded the despicable policies of his predecessor, there was largely silence. Silence from the GOP because they agreed with him. And silence from progressives because they feared that if they broke ranks they would become politically vulnerable.
But in the last year some rumblings of discontent have begun emanating from Congress. Some of these have come from Democrats who are waking up to the fact that our President is committed to neither civil liberties nor to social democracy. But for the most part, the emerging critics of the state have been members of the very party which egged on the Bush administration as it trashed our democracy for eight years. Foremost among them are the likes of Rand Paul, a contemptible specimen trading on his father’s name who believes in the freedom of the poor to fail and the liberty of the powerful to exploit other members of society.
These people are opportunists, who see a golden opportunity to pursue their primary ambition: the dismantling of the protections and provisions that are provided by our government to members of the public. Such protections should include protection from poverty, protection from disease, protection from the indignity of unemployment, protection from pollution, and protection from economic and social exploitation. To these should be added provision for economic security, provision for access to education, provision for labour laws, provision of infrastructure, and provision of public safety personnel.
The opportunity lies in the manner in which right-wing critics equate the infringement on our civil liberties by the security arm of the state with the work of departments and agencies which exist not to perpetuate some fantasy war on terror, but to serve the public equitably, without the few profiting at the expense of the many.
The narrative that the right wing is spinning will cite the abuses perpetuated by the military and intelligence agencies—and let’s face it, given the influence of the arms industry, companies like Blackwater, XE and Academi, and the war-profiteers who vacuumed up profits behind our bombing campaigns in Iraq, our national security apparatus is steadily being privatised—as an example of why the “government” cannot be trusted, treating “government” as an undifferentiated blob, instead of a mass of agencies, departments, practises and cultures, each of the with different purposes and remits
In Congressional elections in 2014, and in the presidential election of 2016, these irresponsible right-wingers will campaign against cookie-cutter, right-wing Democrats like Hillary Clinton, forcing the conversation further to the right. They will seek to equate the very real abuse of power by the NSA and other agencies—abuse which was authorised by the Republicans who passed the Patriot Act—with the good work of other departments.
They will seek to persuade us that we should live in a country in which an individual’s humanity and citizenship is measured by his or her wealth, and where ill-gotten wealth is not only tolerated, but encouraged. In this country, right wingers will tell us, services like healthcare and education should only be available to those who can afford prices set by a profit-oriented market.
And what is the alternative to their fearful, stripped down, harsh version of society?
It is one in which people can recognise a common interest in pursuing common endeavours which stand to benefit something called the public. It is a society wherein all labour is valued and rewarded in such a way that people can live happy, equal lives. A society in which public goods like education are provided to all children and students with the knowledge that they will emerge from this collective investment better and more prepared people. We could create a society in which access to healthcare and medicine depends not on a dollar income, but rather on a shared humanity. And where the ability to breathe clean air, drink sanitary water, and eat safe food are birthrights rather than luxuries available to the wealthy. This could be a society in which all members recognise a mutual obligation to one another, and to one another’s children. Where greed and profiteering—in which wealth is always accumulated at the expense of others—are stigmatised, and where the knowledge that good deeds and hard work will benefit the community provide more satisfaction than the accumulation of material goods and fabulous economic wealth.
We live in times when such a society is difficult to even imagine, to such a degree have avarice, inequality, and individualism been elevated by the Republican Party and its corporate handlers. But if we are asked to accept that all centralisation of authority, all attempts to restore equity from the federal government will pan out like the security state’s authoritarian indulgences, imagining such a place will become all the more difficult.
In short, the liberties the President has taken in pursuing his war of terror, the disdain he has shown for civil and human rights, and his pursuit of an ugly foreign policy which runs counter to the public interest will diminish our chances of creating a just, equal, and kind society.