Recently, in a remarkable essay for the New York Review of Books, famed Russian biophysicist and political activist Sergei Kovalev wrote:
I imagine-with both sorrow and certainty-that the Byzantine system of power has triumphed for the foreseeable future in Russia. It’s too late to remove it from power by a normal democratic process, for democratic mechanisms have been liquidated, transformed into pure imitation. I am afraid that few of us will live to see the reinstatement of freedom and democracy in Russia.
Kovalev’s words echoed something recently said to me by Meteor Blades: “I expect to die as part of the permanent internal opposition in the Democratic Party. I don’t see any more Sanderses on the horizon, of any stripe. Maybe in your lifetime, but not likely in mine.”
I cannot begin to say how disheartening it is to hear such things from such lions of political activism, both of whom went to prison rather than relinquish their right to fight for their freedom and the freedom of their fellows. The following is a letter sent to one of my Senators, Chuck Schumer, which is my response to the conclusions of Kovalev and MB.
Dear Senator Schumer,
As one of your constituents, I’d like to speak to you for a moment about our nation, our government, and your recent decision to support Michael Mukasey as President Bush’s nominee for Attorney General.
Despite my disgust for the possibility of Mukasey as Attorney General, I understand your vote. It was the right thing for you to do, from your own point of view. The consequences of your support are for you, remote. Neither this or any other small action is likely to see you defeated in either a primary or general election. It will not stem your financial support from New Yorkers, nor to the DSCC which you lead. And there is surely some truth in your belief that Mukasey is as good of a nominee as any of us can hope for from President Bush, no matter how many times his nominees are rejected.
I must, however, remind you of one thing. All of this only makes sense if things continue as they have in America. That we have two political parties, each comfortably secure in their places of power. That we have a media and lobbyist culture where even defeated representatives can be assured of a lucrative and influential role in the government of our country. And that the American people will be willing to go on forever with generally indifferent and ineffective government.
This ought to be a pretty good bet. But do not forget the risk that it runs.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the founders of the United States is that as they set up their new government, they did so while believing and acting upon the notion that government was the enemy of the people, and that they were creating as little government as possible because of it. This is unprecedented in human events. Who would choose to create a government while trying to cripple it and warn people to fear it? Our founding fathers, of course.
What would those founders have made of the America we live in today? One where habeas corpus is no longer a promise to all American citizens? One where our government spys on our telephone calls and internet activity, not secretly as in the Hoover era, but claiming openly the need to? One where the highest officials in the land claim not merely the right, but the need, to torture suspects? One where the executive branch of the government can simply write a letter and be granted the power to search private homes, and deny citizens the right to even speak of the searches?
This is merely, of course, what us common Americans know about. Hardly a week goes by lately without a new outrage against the American people coming to light, such as propaganda news conferences by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Should we still believe our press to be able to uncover all acts such as this by our government? Or should we realize that simply because you are bad at it now, we have no reason to believe that our government could well improve at such trickery of the people?
Which is where the risk of your wager on Mukasey appears. Because Americans are the spiritual heirs of our founders. We have been taught since infancy that liberty is more important than life. And we believe it.
As a New York Senator, you may well know a bit about hedge funds. The basic description of what they do is to hedge risky investments against other investments, to mitigate the risk posed to their capital. I propose that you learn from their example.
Because voting for Mukasey is a risk to the American people which can only be mitigated if steps are taken to ensure that the American government does not illegally spy on Americans, does not use torture to coerce suspects into giving evidence against themselves, does not use extra-legal powers to search citizens’ homes, and does not deny held suspects the right to challenge their detention in court. The only way to mitigate the risk Mukasey poses to Americans, and by extention yourself, is to use every tool in your power to make such things outside of the ability of the American government.
Because the country that you and I live in today is no longer the America the Constitution describes. And I, with others like me, are not willing to live quietly as well-cared-for serfs. We will live free, as the saying goes, or die. And as we go, so goes the United States of America.
Will you do what it takes to ensure that all of us live freely?
Originally posted at Daily Kos