What kind of government sounds more tyrannical to you? One that makes sure every citizen gets health care? Or one that tortures, spies, and kills without accountability?
I ask the question because Jose Rodriguez is in the news. He’s a former CIA official who—a few years back—made the decision to (possibly illegally) destroy videotapes that showed the (possibly illegal) waterboarding of a terror suspect.
He never faced charges. Instead, he got a book contract. And in the book—which comes out this week—Rodriguez defends his destruction of evidence.
“I was just getting rid of some ugly visuals that could put the lives of my people at risk,” he says.
Keep your Tea Party protests, your complaints about health insurance mandates, and your cries of “socialism!” Unless you’re shocked and angered by the story of Jose Rodriguez, all that stuff just makes me embarrassed for you.
Because this is what the death of freedom looks like—a book promotion on Sunday’s 60 Minutes.
It’s not just when the government breaks the law—though that’s foundational. And it’s not even when government compounds the lawbreaking with a coverup. It’s when individuals get to profit from all that lawbreaking—Oliver North-style, with a tear streaming down their face and a flag waving in the background—that we have, finally, come unmoored from our own democratic values.
It’s all the more galling, because the last two years have seen President Obama called a “tyrant” and a “dictator” by his opponents more than any other president, probably, since Richard Nixon. His crimes? Well, mostly there’s the aforementioned health care bill—Google “obamacare tyranny” and you’ll get 2.5 million results. But there’s also the fact that he bailed out the auto industry, and has expressed a desire to raise marginal tax rates back to Clinton-era levels. Listen to the rhetoric—including the words of Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput—and you’d have to believe the man is the second coming of Joseph Stalin.
How very, very silly.
Meanwhile, we Americans try desperately to ignore what has been done in our name during the decade since 9/11. A short list: We created secret prisons in ex-Communist countries, and used Cold War Communist torture techniques to interrogate prisoners. (It’s as if Luke Skywalker managed to take over the Death Star and started blowing up planets in the name of “freedom.”) The government has illegally eavesdropped on Americans—then retroactively got permission to do so. Any one of these things would be bad on their own. Taken together, they signify America’s departure from liberty and justice as core values.
Real freedom involves the rule of law. And the rule of law has been badly battered over the last decade.
Lest you think this a merely partisan rant: Yes, I think George W. Bush a failed and contemptible president for overseeing all the above-named actions. (Also on my list of villains: Dick Cheney, David Addington, and former Inquirer columnist John Yoo.) But I also think poorly of President Obama, who promised to be a different kind of president—then shielded his predecessors from prosecution, and even doubled-down on some of the worst Bush-era excesses.
Want to call Obama a tyrant? Fine by me. Just do it for the right reasons.
Apparently we’ve moved on. But the precedents set by President Bush and embraced by President Obama will live in our country, and in our law, for a very long time—perhaps as long as the United States exists. The next time a president wants to squeeze our freedom a little more—for our safety and security, of course—he’ll have an ample foundation.
Right now, however, we’ve decided debate whether birth control and the Buffett Rule signify the end of the republic. Maybe there are principled reasons for opposing the Obama Administration on those issues. Just don’t let Republicans—or anybody else—tell you it’s about freedom.
If we cared about freedom, and we really hated tyrants, Jose Rodriguez would be facing a judge.