Thursday, February 09, 2006

Interview: Mark Crispin Miller Part 2

Mark Crispin Miller Connects the Dots on Election Problems

Part 2


That refusal to confront the evidence, and to concede that Bush & Co. were not elected, is certainly not based on reason. It’s based, rather, on deep denial and fearful ideology. It’s based on the absurd conviction that it can’t happen here. But ... our whole system of government is based on the assumption that it can happen anywhere, at any time—that it can happen here, and surely will unless we keep this system going with all its checks and balances. The Framers studied history, and saw “it” happening repeatedly, wherever power was concentrated in one person or one body or one mob. That’s why they designed the system as they did.

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Mark Crispin Miller, professor of culture and communication at New York University, is an expert in propaganda and mass persuasion. Having scrutinized the election of 2004, he concludes that team Bush wants to permanently disenfranchise the majority. In his "J'accuse" book on the 2004 election, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), Miller documents how the Republicans likely stole a second presidential election, just in a more complicated way than they did in 2000.

To those who dismiss such claims as "over the top," BuzzFlash responds, if the Republicans stole the presidency in 2000 by hot-wiring the Supreme Court of the United States, why wouldn't they do it again? They would -- and they probably did. If we could transplant Mark Crispin Miller's passion and stamina into the backbones of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, we wouldn't have a silent coup taking place now in the United States. In this, Part 2 of a two-part interview, Miller looks at the voting machines, and at our collective refusal to see and acknowledge what has happened to our democracy. (Part 1 is here.)

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BuzzFlash: Let’s talk about a major problem that the press refuses to discuss: the privatization of the voting process. That’s really what the spread of computerized voting machines is all about. Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia—the three largest manufacturers of such machines—are private vendors. They keep their programming codes secret as “proprietary information,” and, worse, all three are extremely close to the Republican Party. There is no way to determine whether these machines are accurate. Using them is tantamount to having secret vote counts.

Diebold in particular has been in the news. Some months before Election Day, 2004, Wally O’Dell, Diebold’s CEO, sent a Bush/Cheney fundraising letter out to other rich Ohio Republicans, promising to do everything he could to “deliver Ohio’s electoral vote to the President.” In December, he suddenly resigned. What’s going on?

Mark Crispin Miller: O’Dell quit in the face of a class-action suit, brought by Diebold shareholders, over securities fraud and other crimes. Diebold is in big trouble, both legally and financially—just at the moment that they’re pushing hard to get their DRE [direct recording electronic] machines into virgin territory. Diebold is not the only company that’s doing this. All three of the top private vendors—Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia—have been in collusion with corrupt state officials nationwide to get the DRE machines set up in states that haven’t used them, or more extensively established in those states that have been using them. This drive has been ongoing for the last few months, because of the Help America Vote Act [HAVA] deadline of Jan. 1, 2006 for all states to commit themselves to a particular voting system.

It’s been a major struggle nationwide, with lots of grass-roots resistance to the spread or imposition of the DRE machines. In some states, the movements have successfully challenged the deadline, arguing correctly that the voting process is far too important for the people to be hustled into making any binding choices by some arbitrary date. In Connecticut, the secretary of state recently put off the purchase of any new machines for a whole year, and there’s a fierce campaign to do the same in Pennsylvania. Bush’s “Justice Department” now intends to sue New York for noncompliance with HAVA, because New Yorkers won’t be hurried into the machines. The Busheviks have always rushed the process, so as to buffalo us all into submission. That’s not only how they forced the passage of the Patriot Act and dragged us into war. It’s also how they got themselves “elected.” Remember how they kept on bellowing for an immediate surrender by Al Gore throughout the post-election stand-off in 2000?

By insisting on the HAVA deadline as if it were God’s law, they’re doing the same thing.
It’s a giant hustle. BushCo has to push us into using these machines, as no well-informed believer in democracy would ever do voluntarily. According to a recent Zogby poll commissioned by Op-Ed News, over 80% of the American people want to return to paper ballots.

Where election officials have done their civic duty, subjecting the machines to careful scrutiny, the defects in those corporate wares have been made clear to all. There was an explosive case not long ago in Leon County, Florida, when the insecurity of Diebold’s systems was demonstrated publicly by an efficient hacker. [The demonstration had been organized by Earl Katz and Sarah Teale for "Votergate," their upcoming documentary on election fraud.] The demonstration was so powerful that Ion Sancho, supervisor of the Leon County Board of Elections, declared a ban on Diebold’s goods in future races. Volusia County then did likewise. The blow was so dramatic that Jeb Bush himself came out deploring Diebold’s shoddy merchandise. This was not exactly staggering, since Florida deploys ES&S machines instead of Diebold’s, but it was still significant.

As there is no good reason to use DRE machines, and as a huge American majority does not support our using them, the Bush Republicans have had to bend or break the law to get them forced down our collective throats. In North Carolina, for example, Diebold filed suit to be absolved from the requirement that all vendors seeking to do business in the state put their programming codes in escrow. A judge refused. Diebold announced that they were going pull out of North Carolina. And then, almost at once, the Board of Elections approved Diebold’s doing business there despite the judge’s ruling.

To say the fix was in would be a whopping understatement. To oversee the machine selection process, the board had hired Keith Long, who had helped Diebold get 22,000 DRE machines into Georgia in 2002. (The whole sordid history is available online at North Carolina, let me add, is basically a Democratic state—John Edwards’ state. I’ve sent him a copy of Fooled Again, and also have been forwarding his office all the news I get about the situation in his state. Since he wants to run for president, I’m hoping that he’ll seize the issue.

These battles are raging nationwide, and everything’s at stake, and yet the press won’t deal with it. It’s unbelievable.

BuzzFlash: These private vendors essentially count our votes in secret. They withhold their programming codes; they refuse to provide a paper trail; and they’re in tight with the Republican Party. How can the world’s greatest democracy allow it?

Mark Crispin Miller: It’s staggering. If you tell a Canadian about this, you’ll see a jaw drop nearly to the floor. It tells us quite a lot about the civic atmosphere today in the United States. We are long since estranged from our own revolutionary heritage, and all those principles on which this republic was first founded. If democracy had any meaning for us—if it weren’t just a catchword flung about by quasi-fascist propagandists—we’d know that mere elections in themselves aren’t necessarily democratic. Even Saddam Hussein held elections. What makes elections democratic is their absolute transparency and popular control. Where the people have to fight pitched battles nationwide to get the sort of voting system they prefer, there cannot be what anybody rational would call “democracy.”

BuzzFlash: Let’s talk about Fooled Again. There have been some negative reviews, and what’s surprising is that they appeared in progressive outlets. In both Salon and Mother Jones, the criticisms turned on fairly trivial matters, and you answered those attacks. But something perplexes me about the general refusal of the media to talk about your book. The book’s called Fooled AGAIN. It raises the essential issue, which seems to me to be a hard one to deny: that the 2000 election was stolen, and that the Bush regime was illegitimate to start with.

That first theft was ignored completely by the media. After 9/11, a consortium of major news outlets released their long-awaited study of the vote in Florida, downplaying the inconvenient fact that Gore would have won Florida if all the votes were counted there. And the Democrats just shrugged. Even Al Gore refused to recognize the Congressional Black Caucus’ protests. All that crime went unacknowledged. A mob of party goons used violence to halt the vote count in Miami. They did it right on camera. They were all party operatives sent down from Washington by Tom DeLay. We know exactly who they are. Thugs openly stole the election in 2000, and yet not one charge was ever filed.

Mark Crispin Miller: Don’t remind me.

BuzzFlash: Yet now the media suggests that it’s absurd even to wonder whether the 2004 election was legitimate. But, hey—“fooled again.” In other words, didn’t this also happen four years ago?

Mark Crispin Miller: I’d say that, given such a history—and also given the extreme statistical improbability of Bush’s second victory—the burden of proof should not be on those with qualms about that win, but on those who claim that this disastrous president was really re-elected.

Just after Fooled Again came out, I debated with Mark Hertsgaard, author of the Mother Jones piece, on “Democracy Now!” He said then, and claims also in the piece, that he does not doubt that Bush/Cheney stole the first election.

I’m sure he does believe that, but it was really a rhetorical maneuver, meant to augment his authority as a debunker of the “theory” that Bush/Cheney stole the last election, too. (His piece in Mother Jones was an attack not just on Fooled Again, but also on The Conyers Report and big book on Ohio compiled by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman.) “I believe Bush/Cheney stole the first one,” Mark was saying, “so what I’m saying now about the second race should be authoritative.”

But I don’t think Mark really does believe that it was stolen in 2000; or rather, I don’t think that he’s accepted the appalling truth. Because if he really grasped the implications of that theft, he would not be bending over backwards trying to poke holes in the case that there was vast election fraud committed by the Bush Republicans in 2004.

Let me note that I think very highly of Mark Hertsgaard’s work, and he’s an old friend of mine. But I think it’s an illuminating episode. Here’s a very smart and gifted journalist, and a staunch progressive. On Bended Knee, about the US press’ capitulation in the Reagan years, is a terrific book. The first time we had lunch together, it was on the birthday of James Madison, and we drank a toast in honor of that great American. And yet Mark’s piece on the election of 2004 was both sloppy and reactionary. It was embarrassing, full of half-truths and slanted quotations. At one point he quoted Sherole Eaton, a whistle-blower in Ohio, to make the argument that she’s not really sure that any fraud occurred in Hocking County, where she’d blown the whistle. She fired off a sharp email to Mother Jones, saying that he had quoted her out of context, although she had asked him not to do it, and also asking why they hadn’t had someone unbiased write such a piece about Ohio.

Why would Mark, of all people, make such crude mistakes? And why would Salon repeat those shaky claims as if they were authoritative?

The Salon piece was also weird. It was pretty vicious, calling Fooled Again “a fraud” and “pseudo-journalism.” That was quite a judgment coming from Farhad Manjoo—whom I thank in the book’s acknowledgements, because I learned so much from his reporting prior to Election Day. Before Election Day, he did some great reporting on the fraud committed by the GOP—and then, after Election Day, he started writing pieces jeering at the notion that the GOP committed fraud. He seems to feel compelled to distance himself now from what he had himself reported. What’s going on here?

Let me tell another story that may shed some light on such denial—because I think that’s what we’re dealing with. At the end of my book tour in late November, I was taking a night train back to New York from Washington, and saw Rep. Jerry Nadler in the club car. He’s my congressman, and a genuine progressive, and, as it happens, one of the few folks in Congress who clearly recognizes the problem of election fraud. He’s one of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, and so took part in the investigation that resulted in the Conyers Report. I introduced myself to him, and gave him a copy of Fooled Again.

We chatted about the election, and the need for election reform. “Where’s the issue now?” I asked him. His answer floored me. He said that it was going nowhere, since the fraud committed in Ohio, he suggested, wasn’t so extensive as to have given Bush his victory. He said: “Bush won by, what?—400,000 votes?” In fact, Bush allegedly won Ohio by just 118,000 votes; and the GOP’s malfeasance there, from the numerous constraints on Democratic voter registration to the statewide under-supply of voting machines in Democratic areas, and the systematic flipping of Kerry votes into Bush votes, and that bogus “terrorist alert” in Warren County, and the subversion of the recount, among many other dirty tricks—all that monkey business certainly gave Bush his victory margin, and then some. And yet here was Jerry Nadler—one of the good guys, and, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, surely well-informed about Ohio—coming up with this enormously inflated figure, as if to justify, in his own mind, not going any further.

All these cases illustrate the vast repressive impact of denial. Somewhere deep inside (or maybe not so deep), Hertsgaard and Manjoo and Nadler all know better. But they don’t want to know. And it seems to me that that disinclination on the part of reasonable people is more dangerous than all the fervor of the Christo-fascist right. I hate to say it, but this is also how Nazism prevailed in Germany. Anyone who doubts this ought to check out Martin Mayer’s "They Thought They Were Free," which was published in 1955. To read it here and now is an uncanny experience.

BuzzFlash: Some day, if we’re lucky, we’ll look back at all of this and wonder how so many clever people could have been so blind to what was happening all around them. We’ll all agree that Bush v. Gore was an outright stroke of anti-democratic activism. Certainly it made no logical or legal sense: Justice Scalia halts the counting of the vote in Florida, because the vote count might do damage to the reputation of the presumptive winner, George W. Bush, when Bush could be the winner only through completion of that very count. In other words, Scalia and his cohorts were presuming that George W. Bush would be the winner—and so Bush “won.” You can’t put in a bigger fix than that.

That was only the beginning of the Busheviks’ subversion of democracy. They’ve been at it whole hog ever since, from the spread of Diebold and ES&S machines throughout the nation, to the gratuitous gerrymandering of Texas, and the recall of Gray Davis (a venture masterminded by the White House). Repeatedly they’ve tried to quash democracy not just in the United States but all over the world, as in Haiti, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Iraq.

Yet when you fully document the Busheviks’ subversion of the 2004 election, you get all this static from the left..

Mark Crispin Miller: Yes. The liberals and progressives who reject the “theory” of Republican election fraud have tended to deploy the same rhetorical technique. We can’t call it a counter-argument because it’s really not an argument at all, but mere ad hominem attack: “Anyone who says this is insane.”

What’s especially disturbing about that reaction is that it repeats the primary talking point of the Bush Republicans, who from the start have changed the subject by smearing those who try to talk about it.

The Bush Republicans relied entirely on ad hominem attack in their highly organized response to The Conyers Report on Jan. 6, 2005. That was the day the Congress formally recorded each state’s electoral votes, and there was a Democratic challenge to Ohio’s numbers, thanks to Barbara Boxer. Following that challenge, each house retired to debate the challenge—which meant debating the abundant evidence compiled by Conyers and his Democratic colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee. It was a remarkable debate, although it wasn’t really a debate, since there was no exchange about the evidence. The Democrats kept trying to focus on the evidence in the report, while the Republicans would just deny that there was any evidence in the report, and heap abuse on those who had the gall to note the evidence. As I point out in Fooled Again, the House “debate” was very tightly scripted, with the same incendiary phrases popping out of different speakers’ mouths, to make the point that anyone who tried to talk about the evidence was a “conspiracy theorist,” “paranoid,” “sore loser,” etc. To all the evidence in the report the Bush Republicans replied by shouting that there wasn’t any, and that whoever said there was, should be on medication in a padded cell.

I want to point out here that I’ve been an Independent for a long time, so I don’t have any partisan intentions. I see the Bush administration as profoundly un-American and deeply dangerous, but my motivation is not partisan. It’s civic, and it’s moral. I am frankly staggered by the fact that Democrats like Donna Brazile, and Hillary Clinton, and Christopher Dodd, and Al Franken, and progressives like Mark Hertsgaard, and reporters like Manjoo, have all responded to the evidence of vast electoral fraud exactly as the perpetrators have themselves responded to it.

BuzzFlash: Their position on election fraud is similar to the Democrats’ position on the war. Those who oppose it don’t dare come out and say so—even though our presence in Iraq has badly jeopardized our national security.

It’s much the same with the integrity of our elections. I’m sure that most of the Democrats would like to see the last election thoroughly investigated, and would support electoral reform as soon as possible. But God forbid they should come out and say so. "Profiles in Courage" this is definitely not. In fact, that stance only enables the Republicans to do their thing. If you’re an eyewitness to a mugging, and you only tell your friends about it and refuse to go to the police with what you know, you’re an accessory after the fact. You could conceivably be prosecuted.

That’s the story with John Kerry, for example. He told you privately, and has told others privately, that he believes the race was stolen, then lets his staff deny he ever said so. He likewise told a Democratic gathering that Bush should be impeached, and then his office took it back. It isn’t leadership to make such statements privately and then deny them publicly.

Mark Crispin Miller: When I briefly met with Kerry on Oct. 28, I tried to tell him, very tactfully, that there was only one way that he might win back the millions who were turned off by his quick concession on Nov. 3, and that would be to openly discuss the danger of election fraud, and push hard for electoral reform. I told him that, if he would take the time to study all the evidence, he would be able to say, quite sincerely, “At the time I conceded, I believed that there was no chance we could win. But I’ve been studying that election very carefully since then, and I have had to come, regretfully, to the conclusion that the race was not legitimate. This is not about me, or my political future. It’s about the American republic, which will not stand unless its citizens can vote, and every vote is counted.”

But he is too intimidated to take so bold a step. I’d suggest that what John Kerry fears is not the people’s disapproval, but the odium of the political establishment—the national parties and the press, and their corporate paymasters. If he wants to talk about election fraud, he hasn’t anything to fear from the grass roots. I sampled plenty of grass-roots opinion on my book tour. I went all over the country, and the crowds showed fierce enthusiasm for some truth about the last election, and for blunt talk of the need for thorough electoral reform. These were very mainstream crowds.

The issue is far more important than John Kerry’s political career, or the future prospects for any other over-cautious Democrat. It has everything to do with the enormous crisis now confronting this—I was going to call it a “democracy,” but that’s the problem, isn’t it? The US isn’t a democracy. It’s something else. Today, both parties and the press comprise a single entity that’s floating miles above the surface of the earth, where all the rest of us are trying to get by. It represents an absolute perversion of the system as envisioned by the Framers.

The press, which is supposed to function as a check on governmental power, and thereby help to keep the people free, now protects the government against the people; and in this enterprise they are allied with both national parties, which run not on the energy and discipline of their grass-roots constituents but on a great flood-tide of corporate contributions, and other, shadier disbursements. Add to this the factor of dominionist fanaticism—which, again, the Democratic party and the press will not acknowledge or discuss—and you have the system that we’re struggling with today: a system of “soft” fascism, hurtling toward theocracy.

It’s those insiders who are most invested in this system—the party operatives and media people—who will roll their eyes and snicker when they hear the slightest peep about election fraud. It’s not the people who react like that. I believe that there’s a deep commitment to democracy at the grass roots. That’s why I wrote the book: to make it clear that, if you sensed that there was something badly wrong with that election, you were not being paranoid but rational. You weren’t hallucinating when you saw democracy get mugged.

BuzzFlash: We saw it. We saw it happen in 2000, and again in 2004. It happened in broad daylight. You’d have to have been fast asleep, or blind, or crazy, not to notice it. It’s all meticulously documented in your book, but anybody who was paying attention at the time would have to see that something very bad was happening.

Let me repeat my earlier question: If they could get away with stealing their “election” in the first place, from Al Gore, why would they not do everything they could to steal their “re-election” in 2004? Did they have a change of heart or something?

Mark Crispin Miller: This idea that Bush/Cheney surely never would protract their rule through fraud—talk about a faith-based notion! Look at what we now agree they’ve done! We concede that they lied us into a losing war. We concede that they did nothing after many warnings prior to 9/11. They didn’t even quietly arrange the reinforcement of the cockpit doors on US airliners. We concede that they did not nothing to prevent the devastation of New Orleans by Katrina, and that they then did nothing after the deluge. We concede that they plotted to expose a secret agent who was working to protect the USA from terrorist attacks. We concede that they insist on torturing anyone they like. We concede that they have countless numbers of us under surveillance, and that it’s illegal, and that Bush thinks he can do it anyway. We concede that they are packing the Supreme Court with far-right extremists who would give this president the powers of an emperor.

We concede all this—but not that they would commit election fraud (again)! “My goodness, no, they’d never do that!” Where does such self-delusion come from? Subverting our democracy is not just one more of this administration’s many crimes; it’s their essential crime. It’s what they’re all about. It’s how they got themselves positioned to commit their countless other crimes. And it’s not just what they did to place themselves in power, it’s what they’re now continuing to do, so that they never lose that power again.

That refusal to confront the evidence, and to concede that Bush & Co. were not elected, is certainly not based on reason. It’s based, rather, on deep denial and fearful ideology. It’s based on the absurd conviction that it can’t happen here. But anyone who tells himself that it can’t happen here has failed to grasp the meaning of this great republican experiment. Our whole system of government is based on the assumption that it can happen anywhere, at any time—that it can happen here, and surely will unless we keep this system going with all its checks and balances. The Framers studied history, and saw “it” happening repeatedly, wherever power was concentrated in one person or one body or one mob. That’s why they designed the system as they did. And that’s why BushCo’s slow destruction of that system is so very dangerous, and why we must fight back in every way we can. But we can’t accomplish anything until we face the facts.

BuzzFlash: Which both parties and the media have suppressed. Meanwhile, they out-shout us. They have more media outlets, and they lie relentlessly.

Mark Crispin Miller: They have to, because they can’t take power honestly. They’re trying to impose an alien agenda on the people of this country. A movement that attempts to win legitimately, by building mass consensus, does not need to buy the media, does not need to stun the nation with big lies, does not need to neutralize its critics and dissenters with outrageous smears, does not need to gerrymander states, and does not need to win elections through the systematic use of dirty tricks.

There is no other way for these Republicans to win, because they don’t appeal to anyone but billionaires and theocratic lunatics. The current situation may be bleak, but it would be a whole lot bleaker if this regime had the popular support that it pretends to have, and that the Democrats and press imagine that it has. As Fooled Again makes clear, the people of this country did not vote to re-elect this president, any more than they elected him four years before. I think that’s damned good news.

BuzzFlash: Let me mention just one disorienting double standard that permits this madness to continue. In Ukraine’s election, the exit polls were used as solid evidence of vast election fraud by the regime. We had no qualms about those exit polls, as we whole-heartedly embraced the seeming losers there. Here, on the other hand, the exit polls suggest that Kerry won the presidential race—but we dismiss those exit polls and somehow accept that the official numbers were correct. Why are exit polls reliable in Ukraine but defective here?

Mark Crispin Miller: Well, why are DRE machines okay to use in the United States, but not okay in Venezuela? Hugo Chavez’ government signed a contract with a company called Smartmatic (which lately bought Sequoia, the big touch-screen machine manufacturer that’s been used by the Republicans to steal votes here). Some of the conservative parties down there chose to boycott the election, because they were alarmed to see the government deploy those DRE machines. So, there, the shoe is on the other foot. Next time some apologist for Bush & Co. scoffs at anybody’s qualms about the paperless touch-screen machines, ask him what he thinks of Chavez using them.

Double standards of that sort have now become routine—because the Bushevik worldview is paranoid, and the press keeps echoing that worldview. It’s like the double standard that obtained throughout the Cold War, when only they were “terrorists,” only they did “propaganda,” whereas our terrorists were “freedom fighters,” and our propaganda purely “educational.” Under Bush & Co., self-contradiction is incessant and ubiquitous. As I note in Fooled Again (and demonstrate in Cruel and Unusual), that sort of warped perception comes from extreme paranoid projectivity: the tendency to rail at others for traits or longings that one hates and fears inside oneself.

It’s a pathological reflex, based on extreme repression and violent self-loathing. It underlies the Busheviks’ insane hostility toward Bill Clinton, whose every misdemeanor, real or imaginary, roused a toxic rage in people who actually had done and were doing (and still are doing) far more evil things themselves. The Bushevik response to the Islamist enemy is pretty much the same, with Bush consistently attacking them for crimes that his own regime has committed, or is planning to commit, and for repressive tendencies that mark his own government. Again, the source of that pathology isn’t simply economic, but psycho-sexual.

We can catalogue the double standards till the cows come home, but it won’t make any difference whatsoever. Because such rational argument is only that—and the movement we’re fighting isn’t rational. This is something that a lot of savvy people can’t or won’t perceive.

By and large, people who live in the “reality-based community” are often blind to the irrationality of their opponents. They think that merely pointing out a lie, or a double standard, or a contradiction, is enough to get all parties nodding in agreement. But it doesn’t work that way. We’re dealing with a movement that is anti-rational. It’s faith-based. To paraphrase Bush, it’s a movement that believes what it believes, and it believes what it believes is right.

BuzzFlash: It’s elitist.

Mark Crispin Miller: Profoundly so. It believes what it wants to believe. If it hears contrary evidence, it comes up with evidence of its own. That is what the Busheviks have done across the board—in foreign policy, in environmental policy, in education, in (or against) science. They’re going to believe it, come what may, because they think that God is with them, God has blessed their enterprise, God supports their propaganda.

There’s a stubborn myth throughout the left that all Bush/Cheney’s theocratic noises are pure humbug, intended just to fool the pious masses of the right so that the super-rich can keep on stealing all the nation’s wealth. Well, certainly the super-rich are making out like bandits, siphoning the national wealth into their bank accounts, and there’s no doubt at all that the cartels are busily exploiting the far right’s religiosity. But this idea that all the theocratic hubbub is mere window-dressing, cleverly exploited by a tight cabal of rational manipulators somewhere at the top, is simply wrong.

There is a powerful apocalyptic streak in Bush’s government, which wants to “bring it on”—to use up all the earth’s resources, to let the super-hurricanes and AIDS kill off as many evil-doers as possible, to touch off World War III at Armageddon. That suicidal impetus is not a pretense, nor, clearly, does it serve the interests of Capital. It is an even greater threat to world peace, US national security and planetary welfare than the whole Islamist movement, which only wants a global caliphate, whereas the Christianists would like to see the world go up in flames, because then Jesus will return, to give them permanent dominion and deep-fry their enemies.

So this is not a movement that the rational can ever shame into surrendering by merely demonstrating its illogic to its followers. The movement can’t be shamed, because it’s shameless; and it can’t be cowed by clear analyses of its unreasonable views, because it’s proudly wedded to unreason.

What we must do is recognize this movement as the latest resurgence of that atavistic paranoia that has, throughout our history as a species, always posed the gravest danger to democracy. Republics and democracy have always foundered on the rocks of paranoia: thus it was in Athens, and in Rome, and wherever else a rational community has given way to the demand for war and empire. Democracy depends on reason, on a reasonable sense of mutuality and common enterprise, and therefore on the possibility of trusting others not to trash the rules or otherwise subvert the general good. Paranoia, on the other hand, is based on fear, and therefore on a kind of “logic” that’s impervious to evidence and quite incapable of learning from experience.

Unless we face the fact that this is what we’re up against, we’ll be no more successful at defeating it than Bush will ever be at trying to wipe out Islamism.

Paranoia cannot be wiped out, any more than “terrorism” could be ended through a greater use of terror. Paranoia is an atavism, deep within us all, and so the only way to end it would be to annihilate the human race. Paranoia can, however, be contained; and a functional democracy is one in which the paranoid component is suppressed, restricted to the woodwork, by the workings of a governmental system maintained by the rational majority.

Only in times of extreme terror and anxiety—times of general paranoia—do majorities become irrational; and that lasts only for a while. It’s what happened after 9/11. That national mood has long since passed; and now it’s time to face the facts, marshal all the evidence of what is really going down, and fight it as we must.

This means that the political establishment must face the facts. It means we should tell people the truth instead of trying to spin them, trying to figure out what they would like to hear so we can feed it to them. We should just face reality, and speak out publicly. If our fellow-citizens are grown-ups, worthy of democracy, then they can handle it. If not, then there’s no point in even trying.

We have to say, “This is what’s happened. This is why it happened, and this is what we must do to get through it.” We have to be uncompromising in our commitment to reason, to democracy, to pluralism, compromise, deliberation. We must get back to a system based on checks and balances, the separation of church and state, the Bill of Rights and the pursuit of happiness. And in order to do that we have to re-embrace our revolutionary heritage. And that means saying no to ignorance and superstition.

I know that sounds old-fashioned. I mean, here we are just after the long twilight struggle between capitalism and socialism, which we mistakenly believed to be “the end of history.” Now it turns out that the Enlightenment was not a done deal after all. We’re right back where we started in the 18th century, fighting all those old battles once again—and this time without slavery and patriarchy (but with the burden of gigantic corporations). We have to win those battles once again.

The Framers understood that all free people have to fight and win those battles endlessly. This is what we’re doing now, and what we have to keep on doing; and to do it, we must have the courage of our convictions. It’s finally up to us, just as it was in 1776. The Democrats won’t do it, and the press won’t help, so it’s up to us. And I think the people largely understand that it is in their own best interests to be rational and face reality at last. I think it’s possible. I think it’s necessary. That’s why I wrote the book.


Interview Conducted by BuzzFlash Editor Mark Karlin.


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