Virtual Democracy and Congressional Shame

By Bud Goodall

Pardon my rant. I say that in advance but without apology. Today’s New York Times article about the United States Senate vote to approve President Bush’s plan to grant legal protection to telephone companies for cooperating with illegal wiretaps on American citizens as well as to expand existing government spy powers on citizens adds to global suspicions that consistent definitions for the terms “freedom” and “democracy,” as well as our Constitutional rights, are largely the hobgoblins of small minds in domestic policies at home and foreign policies abroad. But the larger issue in that vote may be the role played by secrecy and coverups in the American political arena when real world political action has been superseded by virtual politics. (Self-disclosure: I am a certified child of the 1960’s and, as you can read here, a member of the blogging class.)

While many political observers, pundits, and academics have used every available communication media to comment and critique the cult of secrecy that defines Bush administration’s “global war on terror” and the culture of national (in)security and heightened fear that feeds and nurtures it, there seems to be no way in the real world to stop it. Observers, pundits, and academics have failed. Yesterday’s vote in the Senate adds to the shame of elected officials by demonstrating conclusively the failure of the Democratic party and sensible Republicans to halt these transgressions against American citizens. And if the party of loyal opposition cannot stand up to the task, not even with Presidential approval ratings at an all time low, then who will? I wish I could say it was us. But it is not. Certainly not we the much appealed-to “ordinary citizenry,” those of us who continue to shop rather than protest in any way; watch reality television rather than hold elected officials accountable; and remain at home with our worries about higher gas prices and the decreasing value of our homes rather than do anything personally to stop the Constitution from burning. Face it: Ordinary citizens are even less likely to take to the streets or march on Washington than to give up their cell phones. But at least some of us are willing to take phones away from our ears long enough to blog about it.

Democracy relies on free elections and free speech, and perhaps the hope afforded by these freedoms is what keeps us off the streets and on the blogs. As voters, and as bloggers, we steadfastly await the November elections and keyboard away to January 20, 2009 with the hopeful optimism of lifelong sinners praying suddenly for a miracle and salvation.

Unfortunately, like many who pray, we may find that we are talking only to ourselves. Our daily reports about the talk of leading Presidential candidates and the failures of Congress, or the ongoing war in Iraq, or the possible coming attractions in Iran replace real-world coordinated political action with virtual world self-satisfaction. Online our rhetoric smacks loudly of a national desire to rally behind a hero or heroine who can win back our pride, our good name, our status, and salvage our economy in the world. I may blog, but in this activity I also have learned good reasons to fear for the future of my country. After all, we are most dangerous as women and men when, out of fear, we urgently meet among ourselves to create a powerful new God to rule us and change our fate.But for the time being, at least we have the freedom of speech, free elections, and political blogs. With a Congress so prone to give away our freedoms in the name of national security, this too may pass.