Bigger & More Repressive Government




T

he
right wing speaks regularly about the menace of “big government”
and the importance of shrinking “the beast,” but they
include in government only its civil functions, not the military
establishment or police, which are put in a separate category. This
is based on their view that “government” must be considered
bad, whereas the military and police are good. Thus government in
its usual meaning didn’t shrink under Reagan and isn’t
being down-sized under Bush-2 because the increase in military and
police outlays more than offsets any cutbacks in civilian state
expenditures. Furthermore, to the dismay of the right wing, important
parts of civil society outlays are mandatory and may even expand
under prior law. While right-wing regimes have been able to diminish
entitlements for the weakest members of society, they have not yet
mustered the political power to destroy Social Security and have
only begun to undermine Medicare. But their intentions here are
clear and, with a reelection of Bush-2, enough diversion by war
and repression in the name of fighting terrorism, and a satisfactory
obfuscation of the issues with the help of the corporate media,
the Bush cabal and right-wing might actually pull off shrinking
“the beast” (i.e., spending on the civil society). 


Meanwhile,
military and police expenditures will grow by leaps and bounds to
serve five ends. First, military outlays facilitate the projection
of power abroad to the advantage of transnational companies. The
U.S. corporate elite is pleased to have the overwhelming military
power of their country in the post-Soviet world used for their benefit.
Some of the elite might prefer a less aggressive and unilateralist
imperialism, but many are happy and supportive and the great majority
of the business community approves the Bush-2 administration. 


Second,
the military outlays directly benefit numerous arms contractors,
the Pentagon, and a great many workers, all of whom lobby for a
growing military budget and are pleased with Bush-2’s wars,
which generate new business. The military-industrial complex (MIC)
is very powerful and has spread its largesse over many states for
strategic political reasons. MIC power is reflected in the fact
that the huge and sharply rising military budget is regularly passed
without serious debate in the Congress or the mainstream press and
Bush and Gore competed only in protestations of devotion to a growing
military budget. When the federal government, under budget pressure,
forces cutbacks in government expenditures, demanding efficiency
improvements to offset revenue shortfalls, such cuts and demands
are never imposed on the MIC. 


Third,
the pro-Israel lobby supports aggressive policies abroad, as this
results in strengthened ties with the Israeli military, greater
support for hardline Israeli leaders and policies, and a willingness
to overlook small matters like the illegal large-scale dispossession
and ethnic cleansing of people in an occupied territory. This lobby
power is closely linked to the integration of the military establishment
of the United States and Israel. Israeli activist and analyst Jeff
Halper points out, “Israel’s sophisticated military hardware
and military software are very important in weapons development
in the United States. Israel has become the main subcontractor of
American arms.” Given that in Israel “there are no ethical
or moral constraints [in selling arms]…you have a high tech,
military expert rogue state…. For the most part, Israel is
the subcontractor for American arms to the ‘Third World.’
There is no terrible regime—Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Argentina
and Chile during the time of the colonels, Burma, Taiwan, Zaire,
Liberia, Congo, Sierra Leone—there is not one that does not
have a major military connection to Israel…. So this is the
missing piece… Israel is a key member of the empire” (interview
with Halper by Jon Elmer, “Israel and the Empire,” www.fromOccupiedPalestine.org,
September 20, 2003). 




Fourth,
war and a focus on “security” are marvelous devices for
distracting public attention from mundane matters like the upward
redistribution of income and wealth and the looting and destruction
of the environment in the corporate interest. In the United States,
with the help of the corporate media, this focus on war, allegedly
in service to U.S. “security,” has been turned to the
benefit of an Administration that was on duty and responsible for
what was perhaps the greatest security failure in U.S. history—9/11.
Since then this Administration has carried out foreign policies
that would seem almost perfectly designed to reduce security—carte
blanche to Ariel Sharon to aggressively pursue a Greater Israel
program that was already a source of enormous hostility to the United
States; the attack on Afghanistan and great turmoil produced in
that region; the illegal invasion-occupation of Iraq; support of
counterrevolutionary forces everywhere as long as they were “with
us”; declaration of the right to preventive war in general
and an intention to militarize further in the interest of domination;
economic policies at home and abroad that have worsened inequalities
and polarized communities and the world. 


Fifth,
since a counterrevolutionary right-wing program is going to elicit
serious and growing internal protest, large and properly trained
cadres of police and ample prison space are necessary complements
to control that other “beast”—the people—in
the word usage of Alexander Hamilton. Just as the United States
trained Latin American military and police in methods of fighting
against “populism” in their countries, by this means helping
to produce a “favorable climate of investment” by bringing
into power National Security States, so a large, well-trained, and
ruthless police is needed in the home country as it pushes a right-wing
agenda that is contrary to the interests of a vast majority. Hence
the right-wing approval of a hefty budget for the police as well
as military establishment. These are both needed to help protect
“freedom”—that is, the unconstrained ability of the
strong to dominate, with business free to operate without government
restraint, and the masses induced to serve their masters quietly
and without protest. 


U.S.
activists, civil libertarians, and minority communities are well
aware of the fact that the Bush administration has been putting
in place a repressive apparatus, complete with a legal and judicial
underpinning to give it sanction. They are also aware of the increasing
use of repressive tactics as the government confronts growing protest.
One of the many ironies of the New World Order is the way in which
the leaders of the Free World increasingly meet in remote places
out of the reach of their citizenry, like Doha/Qatar, and how within
each country larger and larger areas are blocked off to prevent
protesters from getting within leadership or TV audience sight.
(In a famous Ron Cobb cartoon of 1967 that could by updated for
widespread application today, we see President Lyndon Johnson on
a podium addressing “Mah Fellow Americans,” with only
a sea of police in sight around and before him.) In the same undemocratic
mold, agreements like NAFTA are prepared in secret and without public
participation, just as WTO decisions are made in non-public meetings
by unelected bureaucrats, all in the pursuit of “freedom”
as defined above, which is actually reducing freedom in its common-sense
and traditional meaning. The

New York Times

rarely if ever
mentions this ironical divergence between claimed interest in freedom
and complementary tactics of undemocratic decision-making and repressive
and freedom-threatening treatment of protests from below. 


The
future of repression looks frighteningly bright. The Patriot Act
was a major step in removing constitutional protections of privacy,
trial by jury, habeas corpus, and indirectly the rights of free
speech and assembly. (It should be noted, however, that as in so
many areas, Bill Clinton’s Anti-Terrorism and Effective Penalty
Act of 1996 led the march now being advanced by Ashcroft and Bush,
permitting the use of federal troops against the civilian population,
thereby nullifying the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 and allowing
the selective suspension of habeas corpus protections.) The judiciary
has been restructured by Republican aggressiveness and Democratic
weakness into an increasingly repression-supportive collective and
the prospect of years more of Bush-2 court appointments is scary.
Both Scalia and Rehnquist have indicated that legal protections
of citizens rights are in abeyance in wartime. The evidence from
Miami and other protest sites is that “preventive” police
actions in violation of the law at many levels (illegal use of force,
illegal arrests, mistreatment, plus, of course, denial of the constitutional
rights to free speech and assembly) are becoming better organized,
better armed, and more ruthless; designed to discourage as well
as disrupt protests. 


The
Bush party is advancing the repression agenda as fast as is feasible—witness
the temporarily aborted Patriot Act II, with its enlarged and vague
definition of terrorism and support for terrorism and its proposal
for executive authority to deprive those guilty of terrorism, or
supporting it, of their citizenship. There are no apparent limits
to what Bush-Ashcroft will do in moving this country toward a fascist
state if they can get away with it. Sadly, there is a strong possibility
that in the not-too-distant future this country will suffer another
serious terrorist event, which would provide a ready basis for a
new SuperPatriot Act that would effectively nullify the Constitution.
General Tommy Franks has recently suggested this nullification as
a likely outcome of such a terrorist act and, as noted, the Bush
war against terrorism has been well designed to elicit a terrorist
response. The election of a Democrat in 2004 might slow the momentum
toward a more repressive state, although in the face of major terrorist
acts this would not be certain under a Lieberman or Clark administration. 


The
mainstream media have done their bit for the Bush program. First,
they allowed him to come away unscathed from his horrendous 9/11
security failure and to position himself as a protector of U.S.
security. Second they have allowed him to undermine U.S. security
by a series of illegal wars and essentially unconditional support
for Sharon and accelerated ethnic cleansing in Palestine without
serious criticism. Third, they allowed him to brazenly lie his way
into the invasion-occupation of Iraq, failing to challenge his lies,
and in fact functioning as agents of war propaganda. Their service
here, and failure as public servants, may be read from the pre-invasion
majority belief that Saddam Hussein was an “immediate threat”
to the United States and that he was personally involved in the
9/11 attacks. Fourth, their criticism of the Ashcroft- Bush campaign
to weaken constitutional protec- tions has been extremely low- key,
where it exists at all, and has been easily offset in its effects
on the public by their conduiting Bush fear propa ganda. 


Finally,
the media have effectively become part of the Bush reelection campaign
by giving his pronouncements excessive and uncritical attention
and by failing to focus on his overall macro-economic performance—service
to his donors by his tax, environmental, and Iraq contracting policies,
and his assault on the Constitution at home and international law
abroad. In a dramatic case, the

New York Times

(and many
other papers, and TV) gave huge front-page coverage on November
28 to Bush’s quickie visit to Iraq to have his picture taken
eating turkey with “our warriors.” This photo-op stunt
was designed to counter the image of Bush as the man who said “bring
’em on” from Washington, DC and who had failed to give
enough attention to the returning body bags. The media made this
propaganda stunt work, just as they had done for warrior Bush’s
landing on the

USS




A


braham Lincoln

to
announce “mission accomplished.”





Edward S. Herman
is an economist and media critic.