Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What I'm scared of

I'm going to be writing an essay on The West Wing, the imperial presidency, and the glorification of power. And it brought me to what I'm scared of. I'm not scared of Ted Stevens and his bridge to nowhere; I'm not scared of the special interests that constantly ask for privilege after privilege and make, as suggested by another member of the Daily's editorial board, the heterosexual white male the most marginalized person in society.

But I am scared of what they bring. Special interests bickered too in late Weimar Germany; it brought the businessmen and the masses to Hitler as a man that had the will to get the job done. I'm scared of a new Fuhrer, a man that can seem to personify the people. I'm scared of a union leader with a microphone chanting, "The People, United, Will Never Be Divided" (or more ominoursly, Defeated). I'm scared of a Jeb Bartlet bravely, surrounded by the Secret Service at 4am, declare to Leo after Syria shot down an air force jet, that he's not scared, that he will "blow them off the face of the earth with the force of God's own fury." I'm scared of the Facebook group Stanford Students for a Philosopher King, because they're willing to sell out the liberty of everyone in return for being ruled by someone who was smart. As if that would solve everything! And Jeb Bartlet is a philosopher king.

Most critically, I'm afraid that the only limitation that people see this is short-term pragmatism. It wouldn't work, Mr. President. Making America a new Rome is just too costly. But wouldn't it be nice if we had the power to say "you kill an American, any American, and we come back with total disaster."*? I guess we can't do it. Oh well... Heck, I would be happy with a rule-utilitarian argument, a la Mill saying we can't curtail freedom of speech because in the long run it will stifle society. We can't create global empire because global empire is a bad thing, bad for the security, freedom, and growth of the world.

*Actual quote from Bartlet

But instead, we get wimpy pragmatist arguments. We will be viewed at home and abroad badly. One day, someone will decide that they don't care about these minor objections, and proceed full speed ahead. We've seen it already in Iraq. George Bush waged war not only against a ruthless tyrant, but stayed to oppress a people, and the best John Kerry could say about it was that our allies were pissed about it and we should have consulted them first. Not this war is wrong, bring the troops home, but let's get everyone involved, let's have a kindler, gentler empire.

But either way, it's still an empire. If these are the terms of the debate - if the answer of liberty is excluded entirely - then whoever wins, we lose our freedom. First Iraqis lose, but then we lose too. And that's what I'm afraid of.