The Era of Cowardice
By Crispin Sartwell
1815-25 was the "Era of Good Feelings." The Gilded
Age, the Roaring Twenties, the Sixties: catchy blurbs for little chunks of
I have a proposal for the name of
the period that started 9.11.01: the Age of Cowardice. Democrat or Republican,
we gazed upon the world and started clucking like chickens. We put our hands
over our hearts and saluted the red, yellow, and blue.
Instead of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" or "Brother Can You
Spare a Dime?" our era's slogan is "It's a Dangerous World." Or,
more succinctly: "Panic." A notable feature of our segment of history
is the rise of medication for erectile dysfunction: it's the Levitra decade. We
have been unmanned.
Every impulse of the Bush administration has reeked of fear: fear of the
world's people, fear of the American people, fear, above all, of freedom.
Whenever George Bush starts talking, the first thing he says is "On
September 11, 2001 our country was attacked." He just wants to remind you
that it's never too early or too late to panic.
When people say that we face a choice between freedom and security, they
are blaming our freedom for their insecurity. And when they respond to their
insecurity with the destruction of our freedom, they are manifesting the fear
that characterizes tyrants of every stripe and every period: they will be safe
from you when you are broken and enslaved.
The Bush administration immediately
sought unprecedented powers. Then it continuously exceeded those powers, and
launched a systematic program of incarceration without due process and
widespread torture. They introduced massive programs of surveillance, to the
point of trying to watch everyone, all the time.
is often said that Ashcroft, Gonzales, Cheney & co. used the fears of the
American people in order to expand their own powers, and that much is certainly
true. But they also continuously displayed their own fear of the American
people and of the world. When the people fear, they acquiesce. When the
powerful fear, they oppress.
The Bush administration insists incessantly that the Iraq invasion was a
response to 9.11, and perhaps it was: a kind of swaggering overcompensation for
their irremediable vulnerability.
Of course it takes courage to serve in Iraq. But the people whose lives
those officials have squandered are not their own.
The response of the "opposition" party has been, if anything,
even more cowardly. Russ Feingold was the only senator of either party who
managed to vote against the Patriot Act: the Democrats - and many of the
Republicans - who voted for it did so out of fear of the people, and fear for
their own political careers, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
The Democrats have not managed to stop a single one of the totalitarian
policies of the administration - the secret prisons, the torture, the
warrantless surveillance - even when they have expressed some reservations. In
cases where they begin in opposition, they end in acquiescence.
The next step is a militarization of the borders, represented as an
urgent matter of national security, no doubt to stop us from again being
subject to attack from Mexico. Remember the Alamo.
John Kerry and Hillary Clinton on
Iraq are emblematic of human beings in the midst of panic: they cannot
formulate a single coherent thought, much less a way through or out.
They endorsed the war at the beginning because they feared for their
political careers. They are working their way toward opposition now for the same
reasons. They might as well be running around in circles, screaming. In fact,
Five years is a long time to spend in a freakout. Time to calm down and
re-commit ourselves to freedom.