Creeping authoritarianism on Capitol Hill
What we can learn from one congressman's convoluted defense of the NDAA
(Salon.com) -- by John Knefel --
On the day Occupy Congress came to Washington, I tagged along with seven Bard College students who went to talk to their representative, first-term Republican Chris Gibson from the 20th Congressional District of New York. Listening to Gibson defend his vote for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama signed on New Year’s Eve and which allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens, I had a rare glimpse into the contemporary authoritarian mind-set in all its banality. It illustrated how the slow erosion of civil liberties manifests itself in the halls of power in Washington.
Gibson is a retired Army colonel, and it shows. From the Airborne division name plate on his desk, to the photographs of camouflaged soldiers that adorn his walls, to the “Beat Navy” button on his desk, his military background is on display. He spoke about serving in the military to defend American’s rights – rights that he claims to take very seriously...
When one of the Bard students asked about the NDAA, Gibson was well prepared. He removed three documents from his bag: a copy of Section 1021 of the bill, Obama’s signing statement, and an on-the-congressional-record conversation between two congressmen declaring the writ of habeas corpus was unaffected by anything in the NDAA...
And that, as they say, is the rub. After spending 15 minutes defending the NDAA, offering argument after argument about how it doesn’t change anything about citizens’ rights, how it doesn’t erode our liberties, he abandoned the point. When faced with the most egregious example of unconstitutional behavior by the executive branch – deprivation of life without due process – this staunch defender of the NDAA is forced to concede the point. What kind of logical pretzel must Gibson’s mind be twisted into? How can one cite “existing law” as the anchor of that section of the bill — as the language that prevents the executive from overreaching its power — and then, when faced with abhorrent existing law, simply concede the point? An argument that flimsy would not do well in a high school debate tournament. In the context of the U.S. Congress, it’s what passes for nuance.
This is how civil liberties get eroded: not by landslides, but by glaciers. Inch by inch. Those who claim to believe in liberty sacrifice it for the illusion of security, all the while holding themselves up as staunch defenders of the American Way. To whatever extent Gibson believes his own rhetoric about the importance of the Bill of Rights, his actions tell a different story, a story of illusion trumping logic and fact.
The greatest threat to America is the steady drip of, “I’ll concede that point,” but, after all, you’re citing a fringe example from which we can’t extrapolate. We are a Free Country, and no bill or act or presidential decree can take that away. Those who find comfort in that line of reasoning – and Gibson has plenty of company in both parties – are, whether they know it or not, acting as authoritarians. They must confront their own complacency and reverse course if they wish to actually defend civil liberties, instead of just claiming they do...MORE...LINK