To demonstrate my previous point that:
“[T]he Republican position is this: the terrorists have won. The terrorists’ ideas and actions make America’s liberal democracy irrelevant. We must take what steps are necessary to protect the public safety; civil liberties are only for those who deserve them. Although the President took an oath to defend the Constitution, he now must defend American lives at the expense of this old document.”
Vince Flynn has written a novel he has ironically titled Protect and Defend. (See footnote if you miss the irony.) Apparently, it is now the top fiction bestseller on The New York Times, and the author is going on a promotional tour. Glenn Beck has said that Mitt Rapp, the hero of Flynn’s thriller, makes “Jack Bauer look like a puss”. Here a taste of what the novel is like from an exchange towards the end of chapter 45 during which the President of the United States, the Attorney General, and the hero Mitch Rapp are on a conference call in a crisis situation that perfectly illustrates my point:
“Mitch, [Attorney General] Pete Weber here. We all know you and [CIA Director] Irene are close but you really need to take a few steps back and remember that you took an oath, an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We all took that oath and that means that none of us is above the law, including you.”
There was a long pause and then in a voice filled with frustration Rapp said, “You have got to be kidding me!”
Rapp’s stark response caused everyone in the room to take a quick look at each other.
“Excuse me?” the attorney general asked defensively.
“The Director of the CIA was just kidnapped and her entire security detail was wiped out and you want to lecture me about an oath and a two hundred year old piece of paper?”
“Our entire country is based on that piece of paper,” Weber responded defensively.
“You may have been thinking about defending a piece of paper when you took your oath but I was thinking about protecting and defending American citizens from the type of shit that just happened. I apologize for my language, Mr. President, but this is ridiculous.” [my italics]
There are so many things to find wrong with this: the fact that Rapp misrepresents entirely the oath of office and mocks the rule of law; the fact that he deems the legal document that is supposed to be a check on his actions irrelevant; or the fact that Dick Cheney and President Bush have been reputed to have made similar statements about the Constitution and about the rule of law.
A contempt for the rule of law
The overwhelming feeling you get from the book is one of complete disregard for law and morality. Throughout the novel – which I have read – no American character ever objects to torture or law-breaking or murder on moral grounds. The only character who in some way thinks about morality is the Iranian intelligence chief who eventually works with the Americans because he knows that what his country is doing is wrong. But as the novel’s hero cuts off a prisoner’s testicles, mutilates dead bodies, and kills a Democratic Party strategist, there is explicitly no remorse. Flynn actually makes a point of saying that Rapp has no remorse or twinges of conscience over these actions. (It is also suggested the hero, acting with the CIA, killed the Vice President in a previous book: the rationale for the murder of the Democratic strategist and Vice President is that they orchestrated a terrorist attack in order to win an election. As Flynn says in the book and interview: too often politicians put their own party’s interest ahead of national security.)
The odd thing about this rejection of laws and constitutions and any traditional sense of morality is that while Flynn portrays his character’s actions as rational, they are clearly driven by visceral feelings more than pragmatism. Again and again, the “liberal” characters suggest that the hero is too emotionally caught up to think straight and do his job rationally – and Rapp admits it. Yet, knowing this, the President of the United States gives Rapp “carte blanche“. Flynn makes it clear that Rapp would do all of these things while not emotionally involved, but, perhaps to keep the audience sympathetic, keeps mentioning how emotional Rapp is. Any time any limit on Rapp’s actions and power is suggested, he reacts viscerally, with one example shown above. The strongest feeling in the novel is a contempt for law and ethics and the rule of law and conscience are considered “niceties” that are only practical in times of peace. If you doubt the current administration shares these feelings, I suggest reading Charlie Savage’s new book Takeover. The fact is that these visceral feelings are informing Republican policy – both in Vince Flynn’s imaginary world and in our own.
This contempt for the rule of law and for conscience, and the policies and actions stemming from this feeling, represent nothing less than the preemptive surrender of American values in order to try to preserve American lives. What ever happened to “Live free or die” or “Give me liberty or give me death!”? Benjamin Franklin warned, “Those who would surrender precious liberty in exchange for a bit of temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Now we have a president, a number of presidential candidates, and a few literary characters who believe liberty is only worth the paper it is protected by, who believe the rule of law does not apply in times of war, and who believe that we are in a war that will be fought for “generations”. If these men and women are right, we have reached the end of the American experiment. If the president is not constrained by the rule of law; if the balance of power between the branches of government is not respected; if the Constitution is merely an “old parchment” (to use Dick Cheney’s dismissive phrase); if the government has the right to torture and imprison and spy on American citizens in violation of Congressionally sanctioned law; if the president assumes tyrannical powers, even if he exercises them judiciously and is allowed to do so, what is left of our nation “conceived in liberty”?
I believe an Obama presidency would take the first steps to restore American values to our government. But no matter who you support, you must realize this election is of historic importance. Yet despite this, many Americans, especially, those of my generation, the post 9/11 generation are disengaged from power. We cannot afford this disengagement, ironic or otherwise, any longer.
A prescription for change
Vote and vote in large numbers and vote even if it doesn’t seem like it makes a difference. Sign up to vote today if you haven’t already. Vote for change. Vote to tackle the issues that matter. Campaign, volunteer, and throw your support behind the candidate you think is the best. Even more, and in addition, we must work in our local communities, on the web, and through our entrepreneurial efforts to start changing our society.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
We must engage with power. We must try to revive this corrupt system. We cannot wait until 2012 for real change. Our moment is now. We cannot let this election slip by. Sometimes, in the midst of trying times, all we have is the audacity of hope and our seemingly insignificant powers as individuals. We cannot decide what obstacles we will face. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Bonus QuotesA quote from Chapter 48 of Vince Flynn’s Protect and Defend:
“How are we [the CIA] going to suffer any more under these idiots [those who make laws] than we already have?”
“By you mutilating prisoners. Do you have any idea how that will play with the average citizen? They’re going to think we’re a bunch of monsters!”
“Right now, I am a monster. Just like the guys who took Irene. That’s how you fight this damn war – not with politicians, reporters, and lawyers.”
From Vince Flynn’s forthcoming interview in The Washington Times:
Congress really upset me with how they treated Attorney General Michael Mukasey and how the media pushed this question. Why aren’t reporters forcing senators and Congress to answer the same questions about torture? What do you think we should have done? Given them a lawyer, three square meals a day and let planes get hijacked?
Torture works, and all the proof you need to understand – and I’m not talking Saddam and Uday and Qusay torture. You don’t sit a guy down and say, here’s your 13-year-old daughter, we’re going to gang rape you if you don’t talk. That guy will say anything. I’m talking about a situation that’s almost clinical in nature where you keep somebody, they are being reviewed by a physician and a psychiatrist, you keep them up days on end, you question, question, question.
The most common cultural association with the phrase “protect and defend” is with the Presidential Oath of Office. The oath reads:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Mitch Rapp as illustrated above makes fun of this oath and mis-states it.