The Fear Of The People

Who's Scared: Us Or Them?

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
5 min read
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When I watched Michael Moore’s new film on health care in the United States, SiCKO , one comment quoted twice in the movie stuck in my mind.

This was the observation that in France (or England or Canada) the government wouldn’t dare change the national health system that’s been in place for 50 years because in those countries, “the government is afraid of the voters,” whereas in the United States the “people are afraid of the government”—so we put up with a health system that routinely fails us.

I admit that quote is a pretty accurate statement of my own assessment of our country’s state of mind. We have become unwilling or unable to assert ourselves. The result is that the lame ducks in Washington no longer even bother with the appearance of listening to the will of the people.

They know it doesn’t matter if we support what they are doing or not. Since we aren’t going to bother with it, aren’t going to do anything at all beyond possibly yelling at our big-screen television sets and changing channels, they can act with total impunity. And they do.

It obviously doesn’t make a bit of difference that a huge majority of the American people thinks we should pull our troops out of Iraq. Dubya has no intention of doing that and the Democrats are enjoying his pain too much to block him … to our complete frustration.

And it didn’t matter one whit that overruling the judge (one he himself had appointed to the federal bench!) in the Scooter Libby case might seem like a gratuitous single-finger salute at American public opinion—our chief executive knew he’d be able to weather all turbulence that maneuver might kick up. Paris Hilton did more hard time than Scooter.

Alberto Gonzales’ pathetic performance? Just proclaim it a “helluva job” and keep right on truckin’, Mr. President. The American people might bitch a little, but they aren’t going to
do anything about it; you can be confident of that.

Some high school presidential scholarship winners asked Bush to end the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons. He chuckled and kept as close to a straight face as he is capable of while assuring them that, “America doesn’t use torture. Heh, heh.” We’ll swallow that, too, he knows.

Vice President Cheney thumbs his nose at Congress, the courts and anyone who doesn’t belong to the Billionaire’s Club, making up “constitutional” provisions on the spur of the moment, secure in the knowledge that if he lies audaciously enough, the
Populus Americanus Gullibulus , the great unwashed electorate, will wave him through.

They are not accountable because we aren’t demanding that they be accountable.

The founding fathers foresaw imperial tendencies creeping into the executive branch over time and they specifically inserted a safety valve against royal arrogance into our constitution, a protection against autocrats who ignore the people. It’s called

The problem is, if you declare up front that you won’t even wave the threat of impeachment at the self-anointed ones, it has no force at all. And that’s what we’ve done. We only had one bullet and we’ve pulled it from the chamber.

(All together, now. Let’s all yell “Bang” at the same time. That ought to shake ’em up real good.)

So, while keeping that sorry track record for making the Bush Boys play by the rules in mind, let me share with you my latest nightmare. I’m starting to think that Bush, Cheney, Gonzales (yes, and Scooter) et al–the D.C. power wielders–might decide they’re not going to permit us to hold presidential elections in 2008. For our own good, of course.

When I ran my latest paranoid fantasy past my friend Romero at lunch, he spluttered, “They wouldn’t dare! The people would riot in the streets if they tried that!”

That reassured me initially. But in the awkward 15-second silence that followed, both of us ran that scenario through our imaginations … and realized neither of us truly thought the American people
would riot in the streets.

Write letters to the editor? Maybe. Sign petitions? Probably. Lose any sleep over the premature termination of what promises to be a noisy, messy election? Not likely. Riot? Not a chance.

I am afraid Bush could get away with it cleanly.

Oh, he’d have to offer some half-assed reason, something at least marginally plausible. How about, unh,
national security?

“We wanted to let the elections proceed, really we did. But reliable intelligence reports indicate that this is just too perilous a time in our nation’s history, blah, blah, blah. It would be too dangerous to change leaders at this pivotal moment when the evildoers, blah, blah, blah. For the good of the people we can’t chance it—for now.”

I wish I knew deep down in my gut that the American people could never be persuaded by that line; that fear of “terrorism” could never be so overwhelming that it would permit us to be manipulated out of our rights.

But we haven’t drawn the line before, so what would be different this time?

I pray we all have a good chuckle at this delusional specter in 15 months. I hope I’m wrong. But deep down I know they aren’t afraid of us, and that’s unsettling.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail

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