As I See It
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series.
Another development that Alexis de Tocqueville did not visualize in his treatise “Democracy in America” is what appears to be a growing distrust between our government and the people. The government is creating the impression that only it knows what is best for America, and that it does not trust public opinion. This has led to tactics of secrecy and stealth to further the government’s goals regardless of public opinion to the contrary. The inevitable result is a growing distrust of government by the public.
A prime example is Vice-president Cheney gathering together a group of his energy industry cronies to formulate the country’s energy policy behind closed doors. No other points of view were represented, and he has consistently refused to disclose any information on the nature of the proceedings.
President Bush has issued one edict after another to set aside environmental regulations that are not to his liking, which had been adopted only after a lengthy public comment process which supported them. A prime example is his attempt to reverse the Roadless Initiative of the Clinton Administration (intended to preserve the present roadless status of 58 million acres of National Forest), despite the fact that an exhaustive public comment process showed overwhelming public support for it.
Because public opinion often does not agree with his wishes, the president has taken steps to shortcut the environmental review process and to exclude public comment, particularly as it relates to logging, mining, and drilling on public lands. There is even a move afoot to privatize federal lands, which would virtually give a free hand to extractive activities. Tactics being used to scuttle environmental regulations include Executive Orders, agency directives issued by industry-biased Bush appointees, and sneak riders attached to “must-pass” legislation.
Faced with the daunting task of trying to protect our nation from future terrorist attacks in the years after 9/11, our government has enacted the so-called “Patriot” act giving Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department sweeping new powers, including such measures as unregulated wire taps and collecting information from book stores and libraries on what books people are reading. Even more arbitrary measures are being proposed. These would give the government secret access to people’s credit and financial records, suspend habeas corpus for those Ashcroft merely suspects of being a terrorist, and vaguely expand the definition of what constitutes terrorist activity. Are we heading down the road of the witch-hunts, character assassinations, and blacklisting by the House un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy during the late 1940s and early 1950s?
And finally we come to the issue of starting a war with Iraq. In 1964 our government lied to us, blowing up an incident with a couple of North Vietnamese gunboats into an excuse to get us involved in a Vietnamese civil war. We were fed the line that if we didn’t stop the spread of Communism in Vietnam, the “domino effect” would swallow up all of southeast Asia and even Australia. In retrospect it is now so obvious how ridiculous this claim was, but tragically it cost us over 210,000 American casualties, of which over 58,000 died, and nearly $150 billion.
How do we know we’re not being led down the same path again to justify our war in Iraq? We have been fed a so-far unproven allegation that Iraq still has stores of weapons of mass destruction, the supposition that it might use them against us and the rest of the world, and a strained attempt to claim a link between Iraq and al-Qaida. Unless there is more than that to go on, repeating those suppositions doesn’t make them true.
To sum up, if our government does not trust the American people, as seems to be the case, how can we trust our government? Quoting from de Tocqueville, “(We) ought constantly to be alert to prevent the power of government from lightly sacrificing the private rights of individuals to the general execution of its designs.”
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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