By Al Giordano
What Russ Feingold Said:
"Having a Democratic president and particularly Barack Obama should allow us to change this mistake. Barack Obama believes in the Constitution. He's a constitutional scholar. I believe that he will have a better chance to look at these powers that have been given to the executive branch and even though that he will be running the executive branch, I think he will understand and help take the lead in fixing some of the worst provisions. So this is a huge setback and it would have been much better for Democrats to stand together and not let it happen in the first place ‘cause it's much harder to change it after the fact. But I do believe that Barack Obama is well positioned both in terms of his knowledge and his background, and his beliefs, to correct this. And so I do think that people have a right to be disappointed but I also think they have the right to hope for change on this issue in particular starting in January."
So, the FISA bill passed. And today began just as any other day. The sun came up. We drank a cup of coffee. Some of us lit a cigarette - or did any number of things that others do not approve of - and we were not locked up for it. To note the obvious, that the sky did not fall, is not akin to saying that a bill inoculating telecommunications companies against civil lawsuits (and retroactively so) for following invasive government orders, was a good thing. It's just to say that it is what it is, and life goes on, and so does the daily struggle to defend our personal and collective freedom on so many fronts.
Only in America do a significant number of people equate expressions of outrage and indignation du jour as somehow being akin to the hard work of political activism or participation. And I hate to say it, but this delusion is worse, much worse, on the left side of the dial where reaction is the standard operating procedure in place of authentic action. I speak, therefore I act is the great American illusion of politics. Sorry, but no. Only when our speech effectively causes others to act does it rise to the level of poetry (which, as Vaneigem wrote, "seldom exists in poems"). Have you ever had to sit through a poetry reading by a particularly bad poet? That's what I feel like when I find myself to trying to listen to what too many people consider activism. They're blathering on and my eyes are drooping as I'm eyeing the wall clock and the exit sign, twirling my cigarette lighter as if a rosary bead necklace.
The phenomenon of "outrage activism" in the United States - something I just haven't experienced to that degree in other lands - is understandable on a certain level: Since 1980, the United States has been plagued by presidents that routinely did outrageous things and did insufficient good things to make up for it. One could even say that with the exception of a few expressions of basic human decency by Jimmy Carter, that this perpetual disappointment has recycled itself since 1963, or even since 1945, and has wrought a permanent character trait that has calcified around the US body politic and most pointedly among those with liberal or progressive tendencies. Most Americans don't even know what real change could look like, and probably won't recognize it, or even find it scary, at first, when it does come.
I return to what Senator Obama actually said about what he will do after the FISA vote, should he get to the White House, because, well, we are now in that time and space:
Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I've chosen to support the current compromise. I do so with the firm intention -- once I'm sworn in as President -- to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.
Now, I understand why some of you feel differently about the current bill, and I'm happy to take my lumps on this side and elsewhere. For the truth is that your organizing, your activism and your passion is an important reason why this bill is better than previous versions. No tool has been more important in focusing peoples' attention on the abuses of executive power in this Administration than the active and sustained engagement of American citizens. That holds true -- not just on wiretapping, but on a range of issues where Washington has let the American people down.
I learned long ago, when working as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago, that when citizens join their voices together, they can hold their leaders accountable. I'm not exempt from that. I'm certainly not perfect, and expect to be held accountable too. I cannot promise to agree with you on every issue. But I do promise to listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn your ongoing support to change the country...
There's an interesting paradox here: We don't want the president to eavesdrop, but we do want him to listen. I particularly liked these words in that statement:
And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That's ok.
In other words, the veteran community organizer has heard it all before: the declaratory politics of "do exactly what I say or I'm getting off the bus!" Okay, well those people are off the bus now. Or are they? My own organizing experience tells me that the same people (and in the age of anonymous Internet handles there's so little accountability to track it numerically) will move on to the next outrage-of-the-day and declare, all over again, that if the nominee doesn't do as they say on their next ultimatum issue, they will be getting off the bus all over again. And we scratch our heads wondering, didn't that guy loudly announce his exit weeks ago? Sadly, a lot of such "activism" is driven by folks that have a hard time commanding or holding on to our attention in other aspects of daily life, and see such proclamations errantly as a way to accomplish that.
As the saying goes: How can I miss you if you never go away?
Or another of my favorite fortune-cookie axioms: He who says a thousand goodbyes never leaves.
It's the only dance move that some people know. Their miscalculation is thinking that the rest of us worry ourselves or lose sleep over whether they're on or off the bus. Part of the American experience - indeed, a key chapter of every Campbellian "hero's journey" - is the act of wandering out into the wilderness from time to time, learning a few new tricks, and coming back better armed to fight the battles that matter.
When I got off the bus for so many years and wandered around the outskirts, those experiences from that vantage point allowed me to see, more clearly, the United States of America, its culture and its politics, more truly as it is. It's a big part of how I've been able to, this year, predict some major events before they happened. I've concluded that a much bigger problem in the USA than any piece of legislation passed by Congress is the petrified manner in which so many Americans define and limit their participation in current events.
For those that feel their own participation is stuck in an ineffective rut, and cry out in frustration about deal breakers and and "getting off the bus" and such, as one who's been there, I highly recommend the voyage. And the fact that nobody really cared about - and few even noticed - my disappearance turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the lessons are better learned with both feet out, and not merely by straddling the exit door, hanging halfway off of the proverbial bus while warning the other passengers over and over again that one is about to step off, as that's when the chances of getting hit by a truck, and tumbling underneath, are far greater. And that can make one's head hurt.
By Al Giordano
The Field and Burnt Orange Report* cordially invite you to attend:
A welcoming reception for Netroots Nation participants, Field Hands, Texas bloggers and valued readers and supporters of our publications.
Wednesday, July 16
8 p.m. - 10 p.m.
at The Cedar Door
201 Brazos Street (Corner of 2nd)
Join us at downtown Austin's "nomadic watering hole for politicians, journalists and courthouse lawyers" and meet lots of fun and interesting folks. Admission free. Cash bar. We'll provide something to nibble on, some free and informative reading materials, the opportunity to snag some some neat new buttons and stickers, and, as part of the brief presentations, a verrrry interesting audio file or two.
* And read more about the work of the Burnt Orange Report in this recent story in The Nation.
(More announcements to come.)
And this just in: Teddy's back.
By Al Giordano
As my friend Bobby Hayes used to say at each daybreak as we filed into the mess hall at the Rockingham County Jail in New Hampshire, "what a beautiful day to wake up to a nice tall glass of Thorazine!"
All text guaranteed verbatim and unabridged!
From Glenn Greenwald (who I don't believe I've ever met or spoken with before, but who writes for Salon.com), 7:11 a.m.:
Someone just sent me a link to this claim you made yesterday:
Yes, this is already going on but not illegally! Here's how. All communications between the US and Mexico (and any other US ally) are being vacuumed up already by the Mexican-owned telecom companies and turned over to US agencies, with the full blessing of the Mexican state. The same goes for every other country in the hemisphere save Cuba and maybe Venezuela and/or Bolivia. Nothing illegal about it, because it's done with the imprimatur of those governments that have jurisdiction.
What's your basis for stating that every country in the hemisphere other than the three you mentioned turns over all communications involving a U.S. citizen to the U.S. Government?
My response, 8:42 a.m.:
My newspaper, Narco News, has reported for more than eight years now on the subjects of the drug war, social movements, money laundering, and other sensitive topics in the American hemisphere. In 2001, the New York Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling, after the National Bank of Mexico (now Citibank) sued us for what it termed defamation (libel) in eight of those reports. From the December, 5, 2001 court decision:
"Narco News, its website, and the writers who post information, are entitled to all the First Amendment protections accorded a newspaper-magazine or journalist... Furthermore, the nature of the articles printed on the website and Mr. Giordano's statements at Columbia University constitute matters of public concern because the information disseminated relates to the drug trade and its affect on people living in this hemisphere..."
That ruling, by the way, protects you and your work, too.
In this work, we have cultivated many sources and whistleblowers inside US and foreign intelligence and police agencies. The reports of journalist Bill Conroy and I, among others, frequently consult with those sources, including in Homeland Security, ICE, DEA, FBI, and others, and including their counterparts in Mexico and other lands. If you've dealt much with security and intelligence agents, you'd be familiar with their smug disregard for the US Constitution and their enthusiasm for finding loopholes and ways around it when it comes to wiretapping and surveillance. They're part of their own very special subculture that plays by its own rules.
In 1998, the Mexican daily El Universal reported on the existence of a telephone surveillance headquarters in Mexico City operated by the DEA with the permission of the Mexican government that did not solicit nor honor the concept of warranting their work with court orders and such. Since then, obviously, technological advances make all of this much easier for them to do on a wholesale level. In 2000 I asked some questions of the then-US ambassador to Mexico, in writing, about that and related matters:
Predictably, he chose not to answer. But it's not even a well-kept secret in those circles that whatever technologies are available for surveillance purposes are being used to their maximum potential in Mexico and elsewhere simply because they can. (The concepts of case law and court precedents are entirely different in Mexico and elsewhere; there's no available recourse or protection from this, and no law being broken when a foreign government or company turns over information gained by unwarranted surveillance to US agencies. It's a loophole big enough to drive a Mac truck - or a Macintosh - through it.)
To answer your question more succinctly: Multiple sources in US and foreign police and intelligence agencies say that all communications between the US and Mexico and any other ally are being vacuumed up by foreign telecom companies and turned over to US agencies. They've said it for years, by the way. (Consequentially, I never say anything via email or telephone that I wouldn't mind them hearing. I think that's the bare minimum that a journalist or dissident has to do in this day and age for our own protection.)
And I must tell you that the prosecutorial tone of your email - about a comment I made in the comments section of our newspaper - reminds of that of pioneers of the very surveillance and witch-hunt activities that got their start with HUAC and "true believer" crusaders like Roy Cohn (the kind of activity that one might wish to presume that opponents of the FISA legislation would find reprehensible). But I don't mind at all. If you want to bring me and my comments into your crusade regarding FISA, go right ahead. I love a good and public argument.
From Glenn Greenwald, 8:55 a.m.:
Can you point to anything published -- rather than claims you now make about what secret sources tell you -- to support your claim? Your claim wasn't restricted to Mexico, but to all countries in the hemisphere -- which includes Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and many others -- which are turning over communications with U.S. citizens to the U.S. Government.
That is an extraordinary claim to make -- in your desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that He does -- and I simply asked for your basis for the claim. Given how you responded, it doesn't surprise me that you would find a very simple, politely stated request of that kind to be offensive.
My response, 9:04 a.m.:
You may think that accusatory equals "polite." Maybe you also think that throwing around new accusations of a somehow "desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that he does" is also "polite?" You're evidently on a witch-hunt, Glenn. I haven't even posted a single blog entry or story about the FISA debate. It's not my priority or interest. I do, from time to time, respond to reader questions or comments on it. I'm pleased that even a small comment of mine is considered somehow threatening to your orthodoxy to the extreme that makes you want to hunt it down and attack the messenger.
Let's stop the fake courtesy, Glenn, and do your own heavy lifting on the matters that concern you, and I'll do mine.
From Glenn Greenwald, 9:15 a.m.:
In other words, you have no basis for your claim that all governments in the hemisphere other than a few turn over to the U.S. government all communications involving U.S. citizens. You just made it up.
Looks like my Roy Cohn comparison was right on the money. The guy is on a crusade. Never mind that it's in the name of "civil liberties," that cause for which I've fought daily over the past thirty years and continue to fight. He's acting like a McCarthy committee staff counsel.
A reporter (that's me) wrote something in a comments section that he saw as inconvenient to his crusade. One would think that civil libertarians would be smarter about the reality that we live in a world of total surveillance already. But for the sake of the crusade, the crusader apparently has to make it seem like there is still such a thing as freedom guaranteed by law and that a piece of legislation will single-handedly end it.
I don't even mind his or other people's crusading on it. In fact, I don't like the FISA legislation, but I'm smart enough not to blame it on the new liberal "daddy figure" that a certain sector of infantile progressives project upon any Democratic nominee for president of the United States, this year being no exception. That hasn't been a topic (until now, thanks to Glenn's ham-handed approach to throwing his perceived weight around with another journalist) on this blog. At some point soon, Congress will vote one way or another, and life will continue, as will the struggle for freedom in a world where governments no longer guarantee it.
But because I won't sign up for duty in his crusade, he now feels he has to try to malign my work with accusations that I make shit up. Hey Glenn: being an accusatory asshole doesn't make you a better journalist. It's turning you - and some other coreligionists of your crusade - into the very kind of apparatchik that brought us the FISA bill to begin with.
(Not that this conversion process is anything new on the left or the right.)
Update: This thread is getting some commentary over on a recommended DKos diary's comments section.
Update II: Readers continue writing me with evidence that even the mainstream media has reported the same facts regarding US-sponsored telecom surveillance in Mexico. From the Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2007 (not that I need commercial media organizations to ratify anything for me, but it's interesting that my "made up" facts have also been reported by major news outlets, too):
Mexican authorities for years have been able to wiretap most telephone conversations and tap into e-mail, but the new $3-million Communications Intercept System being installed by Mexico’s Federal Investigative Agency will expand their reach.
The system will allow authorities to track cellphone users as they travel, according to contract specifications. It includes extensive storage capacity and will allow authorities to identify callers by voice. The system, scheduled to begin operation this month, was paid for by the U.S. State Department and sold by Verint Systems Inc., a politically well-connected firm based in Melville, N.Y., that specializes in electronic surveillance...
They suggest that Washington could have access to information derived from the surveillance. Officials of both governments declined to comment on that possibility.
It is a government of Mexico operation funded by the U.S.,” said Susan Pittman, of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Queries should be directed to the Mexican government, she said.
Calderon’s office declined to comment.
It's mind-blowing that purported experts on the subject matter could be so willfully ignorant of facts on their beat that have been in the public domain for a long time now already.
By Al Giordano
Eighteen days ago, the air war began. The Obama campaign started it with a $15 million dollar ad buy in eighteen states. Only five four of them were states won by the Democratic presidential candidate four years ago: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, New Mexico New Hampshire and Wisconsin. And he went on the offensive in 13 14 states won in 2004 by the Republicans: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and New Mexico. (Thanks to reader Emma for correcting me on two three of those!)
As Reagan speechwriter Pat Buchanan (he who was there) notes today:
"The election of 2008... mirrors the election of 1980."
Just as 1980 was all about Ronald Reagan, 2008 is all about Barack Obama. And so Obama's first big ad buy was predictably a personal introduction from the candidate to your living room:
The Republican National Committee then countered with a pro-McCain ad that runs in four states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, portraying McCain as an environmentalist while also promoting, ahem, offshore drilling and nuclear power (the ad, wisely, is not being broadcast in nuclear-sensitive swing states Nevada or New Hampshire, nor on the drilling-shy coasts of swing states Florida, North Carolina, Virginia or New Jersey):
And the cash-poor McCain campaign has now had to ante up with its own biographical ad in eleven states:
That would have been a great ad... in 1968. Note the ad's nostalgic desire to re-fight the Vietnam-era culture wars all over again and a couple of sneering references to the word "hope." That'll get 'em up out of their rocking chairs!
What's interesting is where the McCain campaign has chosen to run the ad. It's up in only three states won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. And now McCain has to play defense (and deplete scarce resources) in eight states won by Republican George W. Bush four years ago: Colorado, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
GOP Svengali, Karl Rove, tracked the early advertising arms race:
Mr. Obama has used his money advantage to launch the air war. Starting June 20, Mr. Obama spent $4.3 million for 10 days of a televised, biographical ad covering 18 states. Mr. McCain countered on Monday with roughly $2.1 million for a week of ads in 11 states. Mr. Obama has now volleyed back, expanding his buy to 21 states for two additional weeks at a cost of $15 million - half for his original bio ad and half for a new ad on welfare reform...
Mr. Obama may be overreaching by running ads in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, Nebraska, Montana, Alaska and North Dakota - states Republicans won by comfortable margins in recent years. It would require a shift of between one-sixth and over one-quarter of the vote to win any of them. Shifts that large rarely happen.
(Rove must have phoned that one in. He confuses the two Carolinas, and his claim of "21 states" really means that Obama is using some border-state markets - Washington DC, Illinois and Nebraska - to bombard Iowa, Missouri and Virginia).
And about that "overreaching" claim: Maybe so... but maybe not... What's indisputable is that Obama's multi-million dollar advertising offensive is already forcing McCain spend and focus his energies on defending "red states" while the Democrat makes multiple incursions into his rival's base.
The point is this: For as long as Obama continues to inspire his million-and-a-half small donors to keep tossing a little coin into the cup, he'll continue to be able to play offense, putting the rival team on its heels and in a perpetual defensive posture. In sports as in politics, that's the mark of any coach's dream team game.
Update: And this just in this morning... The Obama campaign now counters the RNC's ad on energy in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio with this one, and a new website, NewEnergyForAmerica.com, too:
By Al Giordano
The left often lumps these factions together, but the Iraq war and President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" that led to an expansion of government have ruptured the coalition. Many conservatives are aghast at the rise in spending and debt under the Bush administration, its expansion of executive power, and what they see as a trampling of civil liberties and a taste for empire.
"I do know libertarians who think Obama is the Antichrist, that he's farther left than John Kerry, much farther left than Bill Clinton, and you'd clearly have to be insane to vote for this guy," said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "But there are libertarians who say, 'Oh yeah? Do you think Obama will increase spending by $1 trillion, because that's what Republicans did over the past two presidential terms. So really, how much worse can he be?' And there are certainly libertarians who think Obama will be better on the war and on foreign policy, on executive power and on surveillance than McCain."
Almost without exception, those that buy the media definition of "left" and "right" in US politics (which assigns, bass-ackwards, some authoritarian impulses to "liberals" and some libertarian impulses to "conservatives") have so little understanding of the libertarian current that pumps through the veins of many on both sides of that divide that they've missed the real story altogether.
Many conservative or economic libertarians, for example, are also civil libertarians that see some of the greatest abuses and harms by big government being caused by the US criminal justice and prison systems, to cite one huge example of state intrusion. For them, the difference between Obama and McCain is stark as night and day, and lo' and behold: Obama's the libertarian. Here's video of Obama, last September in New Hampshire, talking through a head cold with a compelling, common-sense, narrative on how that judicial system must be changed so as to stop over-clogging the system with nonviolent drug offenders:
Even the Libertarian Party candidate, former US Rep. Bob Barr, is a relative newcomer to criticizing the drug war, compared to Obama, the constitutional law professor. Barr's mea culpa - "I was wrong about the drug war" - didn't come until June 10 of this year.
When close observers of the 2008 election in the United States speak of a very possible electoral realignment come November, it's really a consequence of the greater convergence between libertarian-thinking Americans on both the right and the left. The moves that Obama is making toward the general election that confound and sometimes anger parts of the traditional Democratic or activist base are, in reality, part of the wooing process toward what may be the largest "swing vote" group of all: Independents, Republicans, new voters, and, yes, alienated Americans who haven't voted in years or decades, whose libertarian tendencies reach beyond a narrow economic focus into all aspects of government intrusion into the daily lives of the people. (During the Democratic primaries, this difference played itself out in the dispute between the Clinton-Edwards health care plans, which mandated that all Americans surrender their corporal sovereignty and privacy to the medical and insurance company establishment, and Obama's, which universally gave all a right to those services, but without forcing it upon those of us that don't want to surrender our bodies and minds to that form of private-sector state power.)
What many mistakenly refer to as "moving toward the center" or "moving toward the right" is often a case of their sudden realization of positions that the Democratic nominee has consistently held all along. It was those people's lack of investigative rigor that led them to presume that this was your father's Democratic nominee. You don't see much of that sort of Chicken Little feathers-flying pillow-fighting on the libertarian left, though, because it never suffered from the illusion that Democratic Party orthodoxy could bring solutions to many of the worst problems in the country, many in fact greatly exacerbated by the last Democratic administration in the US.
"Social Justice Libertarians" is a term that my colleague Harry Levine invented almost two decades ago, and it defined many of us that do not see the tyranny of an unregulated market as a somehow kinder or more just despot, but that do have common ground with conservative libertarians in that we do want the government out of our lives in so many ways that Democrats and Republicans alike have long presumed were their natural birthrights to meddle in them.
When we see a nominee that, from the beginning of his campaign, has broken with Democratic Party orthodoxy, we're not immediately plagued by knee-jerk reactions, nor do we howl that he's supposedly moving right. Nor have we learned to expect that anyone in politics would march lockstep with our views. We've never been in a position to imagine purity tests (and the whole concept of purity testing is anathema to free thinkers, anyway). I think I probably speak for many that are just simply relieved that the mold of the tired old media-fed and false definitions of right and left, as they pertain to US politics, has been broken, and amidst its rubble there's a new space for us to stand upon, too.
By Al Giordano
Avi Zenilman at Politico notes that the German daily "Der Spiegel is reporting that Obama may give a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate - which would, of course, lead to another round of articles wondering if Obama is the ‘liberal Reagan.'":
A member of Obama's campaign has already met with Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and the Secret Service has reportedly started to investigate security questions surrounding a visit.
No location has been announced, but the Berlin Senate has reportedly been asked whether Obama can speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where former US President Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech in 1987. Reagan made a show of asking then-Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin Wall.
Reagan's June 12, 1987 speech could also describe what is today the growing wall erected by the US government along the Mexican border:
Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar...
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Reagan was not the first president to go to Berlin to make a global speech. On June 26, 1963, it was Democratic President John F. Kennedy that delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" remarks, just as fierce in Cold War rhetoric:
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."
I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!
There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.
Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.
The speculation about a possible Obama speech at that same spot makes Peter Beinart's column in the Washington Post today all the more interesting, especially because Beinart is a senior fellow of an organization, The Council on Foreign Relations, that has, for decades, promoted a Cold War lens through which to view US foreign relations:
Having seen fellow Democrats destroyed in the early 1950s because they tolerated a Communist victory in China, (President Lyndon) Johnson swore that he would not let the story replay itself in Vietnam, and thus pushed America into war. The awful irony, (author David) Halberstam argues, is that Johnson's fears were unfounded. The mid-1960s were not the early 1950s. The Red Scare was over. But because it lived on in Johnson's mind, he could not grasp the realities of a new day.
In this way, 2008 is a lot like 1964. On foreign policy, many Democrats live in terror of being called soft, of provoking the kind of conservative assault that has damaged so many of their presidential nominees since Vietnam. But that fear reflects memories of the past, not the realities of today. When Democrats worry about the backlash that awaits Barack Obama if he defends civil liberties, or endorses withdrawal from Iraq, or proposes unconditional negotiations with Iran, they are seeing ghosts. Fundamentally, the politics of foreign policy have changed...
Beinart cites polling data that shows that Americans are not as worried or obsessed with foreign or terrorist attack as they were years ago. He concludes:
Because Americans are less afraid and because Republicans have abandoned the foreign policy center, Democrats need not worry that Obama will suffer the fate of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale or John Kerry. He won't lose because he looks weak. The greater danger is that he will change positions in a bid to look strong -- as he recently did on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- and come across as inauthentic and insincere. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin have noted, the Democrats' biggest political liability is not that Americans believe they are too liberal but rather that they believe that Democrats don't stand for anything at all. On foreign policy, Obama has a chance to change that: to articulate a vision based on the principles of global cooperation and human dignity that animated Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. He shouldn't be deterred by fears of being called soft. Those fears are the echoes of a bygone age.
Growing up with the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989 - and the Red Scares of the McCarthy Era before it - were generations of Americans whose thinking formed and calcified around it. After the fall of the wall (and with it the former Soviet bloc), US politicians - Republicans and Democrats - did their best to sustain that fear and loathing and transfer the mania to other things: the so-called war on drugs and, since 2001, the so-called war on terror. You will know the dinosaurs by those still harping on such bi-polar descriptions of an America under siege by a monstrous external threat and the corresponding witch hunts to track down and purge the imagined internal enemies within it.
The situation in the United States, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been as if the lights were turned on in the house of a blindfolded man. You can remove the furniture and even the wall, but he won't notice and will continue acting as if it's still there.
We've seen evidence of that old style of political thinking rear its head again and again this year as another, newer and fresher, one has gained the upper hand over it. There will no doubt be more shrieking - "where's my wall?" - before this year is out.
With every day's obituary pages, that worldview is, little by little, dying off. From behind come new generations, not stunted by such cowering fear of "the other," and in fact disgusted by it and those that try and inflict it upon us. And a solid number of elder Americans can also see and think beyond its destructive matrix.
The Berlin Wall is now 19 years torn down. What the moment needs - and speculation in the press suggests we might get it - is someone on the global stage to stand up and say, now and in the present: "Tear down that way of relating to the world around us!"
Update and Announcement: Field Hands that are going to attend the Netroots Nation convention in Austin July 17-22 (or The Field's party there on Wednesday, July 16), please let us know you'll be attending - and thus receive a special invitation - at this link.
Likewise, Field Hands that are going to be in Denver during the Democratic National Convention, August 25-28 (or The Field's big event there on Sunday, August 24), sign up for your special invitation here.
Another Update and Announcement: The Jed Report - makers of those fine viral videos that we frequently embed here - has been exposed... by Jed, who has now revealed his secret identity. Also: sign up for Jed's email list for news about his upcoming novel, a political thriller.