December 14, 2005
Doug Thompson, publisher of Capitol
Hill Blue, says he's talked to three people present last
month when Republican Congressional leaders met with President
Bush in the Oval Office to talk about renewing the Patriot Act.
That act, passed by legislators who hadn't read it, in the immediate
aftermath of 9-11 (when most people were shell-shocked and lawmakers
in particular disinclined to use their brains), has of course
been criticized as containing unconstitutional elements. All
three GOP politicians quote their president as saying: "Stop
throwing the Constitution in my face! It's just a goddamned piece
At least one of Thompson's
sources says the president, when told his insistence on preserving
some provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives
following the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination disaster,
stated, "I don't give a goddamn: I'm the President and
the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way."
I don't know how credible this
report is, of course, but let's suppose it's true. It has the
ring of truth, it seems to me, given numerous earlier reports
on the Commander-in-Chief's state of mind and penchant for profanity.
(Capital Hill Blue has earlier noted his "short temper and
tirades" during cabinet meetings. Thompson and Teresa Hampton,
citing "a number of White House staffers" wrote in
June 2004 that "[Bush] who says he rules at the behest of
God can also tongue-lash those he perceives as disloyal, calling
them 'fucking assholes' in front of other staff, berating one
cabinet official in front of others." The Drudge Report
has carried similar stories. The most recent Newsweek
contains a report that Rice has to warn foreign diplomats, "Don't
upset him" before meeting the Chief.) The man told Palestinian
leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2003 that "God told me to smite
[Saddam Hussein]. And I smote him." Why should a man who
conducts such conversations care about a document which makes
no reference to God?
One can only hope that if Thompson's
story is true, one of those three Republican politicos will at
some point share with the public the details of the Oval Office
encounter. I mean, what a scandal for the faithful to learn that
a man who in his oath of office swore to uphold the constitution
of the United States, a document with virtually scriptural authority
among his political base, is inclined to privately dis this "piece
of paper" (sic---parchment, actually) while demanding
that loyal Republicans help him sabotage some of its key provisions
in order to prosecute his "War on Terrorism." That
war, being a goddamned piece of cynical Nazi-like manipulation
of fear and prejudice to unite people around an open-ended program
for endless aggression, isn't going well. It's inevitably producing
dissent, and the president wants to leave all options on the
table as he confronts not only genuine terrorists but his critics
among the American people.
That's we the people
who have amended that constitution over time, and obtained whatever
constitutional advances we have through struggles against oppressive
authority. President Bush majored in history at Yale, presumably
American history, and ought to know that. But he was a C-student,
and probably didn't take his studies seriously, and privileged
throughout his life, he seems to lack the empathy with normal
humans that humanistic study encourages. Recall how he mocked
Karla Faye Tucker, sentenced to death in Texas? How his former
Harvard business professor Yoshi Tsurumi described him as "totally
devoid of compassion, social responsibility, and good study discipline"?
How his one-time biographer Mickey Herskowitz has quoted him
as saying, in 1999, "If I have a chance to invade [Iraq].
I'm not going to waste it"?
The man, a Canadian official
opined in 2002, is "a moron." He's certainly an ignorant
man, perhaps impaired by bad habits, lacking intellectual curiosity,
poorly traveled, confused about basic geography, clueless about
the history of religions but certain of the truth of his own.
A thug indifferent to torture, happy to be led by advisors who
specialize in subtly playing the race/religious bigotry card,
driven by religious fanaticism rivaling that of any al-Qaeda
militant, cockily averring that he "knows" the American
people are good and Ariel Sharon is a man of peace, unable to
admit error or even speak without embarrassing himself in any
extemporaneous public situation. A man who read from his note
cards with absolute assurance that Saddam Hussein threatened
the world with his weapons of mass destruction. This is the man
who calls the U.S. constitution a "goddamned piece of paper"
which ought not stand in the way of his presidential mission.
Let his remaining supporters chew on that.
Personally, I confess, I have
no constitution fetish. To me there's nothing sacred about that
document, and if Americans are around in 300 years I expect we'll
be working with a better one. Many years ago I was recommended
by a professor for a lectureship position in a state university,
and after getting the job was told off-handedly that before starting
I needed to make a trip to the Federal Building downtown. That
state required loyalty oaths for state jobs, so I had to swear
to uphold the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.
I felt vaguely guilty, like I was reciting the Apostle's Creed,
secretly harboring doubts about the Trinity. But I did it pragmatically,
needing the money and the job experience. Years later the university
that had employed me offered a job to a senior scholar, who after
hearing he'd have to perform this ritual turned the lucrative
opportunity down. He said he'd always opposed loyalty oaths and
would not swear one now. I felt slightly ashamed at my own spinelessness.
But now I think of the heroic
work of the Center for Constitutional Rights, founded by the
late great William Kunstler. I think of the domestic enemies
of the constitution, the advocates of torture and detention without
charges or trial, and I confess that with whatever reservations,
these days I want to uphold the goddamned thing! It's
a document of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, based on
reason and humanism, very impressive when read in context. It
just takes up a few pages in your almanac. Imagine ripping them
out, wadding them up, and along with hundreds of others armed
with similar goddamned pieces of constitutional confetti paper
chanting, "In your face! In your face!" hurling
them at the Commander-in-Chief as his motorcade passes. I'm not
suggesting that, because I don't want to be accused of advocating
assault in these sensitive times. Just thinking aloud here.
But I would suggest thinking
seriously about American and world history, and reflecting on
the history of fascism. Weimar Germany, with a constituion William
Shirer called "the most liberal and democratic document
of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen" morphed
into the Third Reich, step by step as a crazy man with unthinking
admirers convinced them that external and internal enemies threatened
them. Hitler insisted that as "a defensive measure"
(against communists, whom he readily conflated with Jews) "for
the Protection of the People and the State," the seven sections
of the Weimar constitution guaranteeing individual and civil
liberties had to be suspended.
In that context those targeted
made common cause with any who would join in a united front against
war and fascism. The antifascists disagreed on many things, but
found themselves obliged to break old and form new alliances
based on the conviction that defense against fascism overrode
all other concerns. Again, I urge any present at the above-quoted
Bush explosion to speak out. Defend that piece of paper by exposing
how little it means to a Commander-in-Chief using fear and intimidation,
doing things his way, not giving a goddamn about we the people
of the United States or people anywhere else.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University,
and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author
Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan;
Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan;
Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.
He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle
of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org