Road to Serfdom

Scott Horton:

There are times in the last six years when I've felt like I was trapped in one of those science fiction movies from the fifties. A focal character has discovered a group of ruthless aliens out to destroy the world, disguised as human beings and accepted in the fold of the community. He could go denounce them in a wild-eyed way to his friends and neighbors - but who would ever believe him? I got an early, very deep look into the heart of the Bush Administration. I was shocked at what I saw and at first didn't trust my own eyes and ears. That disinclination to believe what we directly observe is almost always a mistake, sometimes a serious mistake. And yet for years it's been a steep uphill struggle to get the American public to see and understand what is in front of them, and the danger it presents to our nation and the world. The Bush team are not strange monsters from outer space; in fact they are human. All too human. Their failings are the sort that commonly mark the weak-minded man who comes to wield great power without oversight and accountability. Today Alberto Gonzales reiterates his claim that "mistakes were made" - though supposedly not by him - and George Bush stands behind his long-time personal counselor, saying that he approved the sacking of the eight US attorneys, and there was nothing the matter with that decision. These excuses are flatly dishonest, and the suggestion that their actions were consistent with established practice of other governments is pernicious.

What is at stake here? The issue is enormous. It is whether the criminal justice system will be turned into a partisan political tool. Bush's Administration is already widely called a "hackocracy" because of his tendency to fill slots with unqualified and incompetent partisan hacks. But the crisis at DOJ goes far beyond that. Even civil service positions - which have been protected from this sort of partisan corruption since the Hatch Act of 1939 - are being politicized. The Boston Globe, for instance, has closely documented the process of weeding out qualified career attorneys from the Civil Rights Division at DOJ and their replacement with political retainers - and the same process has continued throughout the Department. But at the heart of the DOJ scandal lies political intrusion into the exercise of prosecutorial discretion - one of the areas which a democratic society most needs to shield from partisan intrusion...

He opens his essay with a long quote from George Orwell:

"[T]he avoidance of reality is much the same everywhere, and has much the same consequences. The Russian people were taught for years that they were better off than everybody else, and propaganda posters showed Russian families sitting down to abundant meal while the proletariat of other countries starved in the gutter. Meanwhile the workers in the western countries were so much better off than those of the U.S.S.R. that non-contact between Soviet citizens and outsiders had to be a guiding principle of policy. Then, as a result of the war, millions of ordinary Russians penetrated far into Europe, and when they return home the original avoidance of reality will inevitably be paid for in frictions of various kinds. The Germans and the Japanese lost the war quite largely because their rulers were unable to see facts which were plain to any dispassionate eye.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps toward it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one's opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong. But even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one's subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one's thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one's weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean word where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one's political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality."

- George Orwell, "In Front of Your Nose," The Tribune, Mar. 22, 1946.

That idea helps explain the endless excuses, rationalizations, and evasions offered by hard core Republicans.

I still think that Bill Kristol is a space alien, though.

Via Brad DeLong

(emphasis mine)


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