This, says Kos diarist Maccabee, is how it starts. However, looking at how many of these stories I’ve blogged already — enough that I’d start a category for them if the McCarthyism Watch wasn’t already doing the work of compiling them — I think it’s safe to say it’s not starting. It started back when Ari Fliescher warned Americans to “what what we say” in Dubya’s post 9/11 America, which turned out to be a pretty good description of stories like the one that set Maccabee off.
… they’re reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do.
What happened to Laura Berg — a VA nurse who founder herself under investigation for criticizing George W. Bush — is just the latest in a series of stories bearing out Fleischer’s words, and showing that it’s not just starting. It’s already in full swing.
Shortly after Katrina, she wrote a letter to the editor of the weekly paper the Alibi criticizing the Bush Administration.
After the paper published the letter in its September 15-21 issue, VA administrators seized her computer, alleged that she had written the letter on that computer, and accused her of “sedition.”
Here’s what her letter said.
“I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government,” it began. “The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes!” She mentioned that she was “a VA nurse” working with returning vets. “The public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder,” she wrote, and she worried about the hundreds of thousands of additional cases that might result from Katrina and the Iraq War.
“Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown, and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence,” she wrote. “This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil. . . . We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.
Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times.”
But, to borrow a phrase often repeated by Bush himself during the last presidential debates, “you can’t say that.” Not in Dubya’s America, at least. And not without consequences. Another story, of an educator who found herself fired for speaking against the war in Iraq basically makes the same point.
Just over three years ago, as the nation readied for war with Iraq, elementary school teacher Deb Mayer stood in front of her class and uttered the word that would get her blacklisted from her profession.
It was a word that got her deemed “unpatriotic” by an angry parent. A word that led to her termination from the Bloomington, Indiana school district. A word that got her labeled as a potential sex offender and ruined her chances of finding work elsewhere.
That word was “peace.”
And she found herself in a meeting with the principal and an angry parent, which ended like this.
The father turned to [principal] Rogers with a request.
“I want her to promise never the mention the word peace in her class again,” Mayer remembered him saying.
Rogers assured him that could be done, and Mayer reluctantly agreed never to mention the word “peace” in her class again.
… Later that afternoon in a faculty meeting, Rogers circulated a memo announcing the cancellation of “Peace Month,” a traditional month-long series of activities beginning on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that taught children how to settle differences through mediation.
“She said that we can talk about war, but not about peace,” Mayer said. “That for now on, nobody is allowed to have a stance on the war.”
And then there’s the professor who was beaten for insulting intelligent design once or twice too often. The conservative response basically amounted to deriding it as a potential hoax on one hand, but gleefully implying that he had it coming anyway. Besides, the purge of America’s universities has already begun too, as some conservatives are now offering to pay students to turn in information on professors who dare inveigh against the Bush administration or right wing ideology in general.
Conservatives will also gleefully remind us, as a commenter on a previous post did, that there’s nothing in the constitution prohibiting citizens from exacting consequences for dissent in the form of exercising the right to free speech.
The whole freedom of speech concern is not so much people are losing thier freedom of speech is that they are losing what they see as their freedom not to be criticized and held accountable for what they say.
I said it before on this blog, if you invited me to your house party to sing and play would you keep me around if I started preaching the virtues of the war in Iraq, devoted a song to Bush and said get out and vote GOP?
Yep it’s a slipperly slope but the 1st Amendment restricts the government from censoring me not private citizens. [emphasis added]
There’s an irony here that’s easy to overlook in these days when many Americans don’t “do” irony, and when having a sense of irony seems to run against the grain of patriotism. It is, for anyone who needs it spelled out, the irony that it’s actually Bush and his supporters (because these days, not even all conservatives support the president) who are embracing “their freedom not to be criticized and held accountable for what they say,” by silencing critics whenever possible and making examples of them powerful enough to cause would-be dissenters to “what what they say” and think twice before criticizing the Bush administration or its policies.
The other point that’s easy to miss is that the commenter is basically right — the 1st amendment prevents the government from censoring speech (to a degree). But in the beginning phases of fascism, the government doesn’t need to censor speech. It merely needs to arouse the passions of enough citizens sufficiently enough that they will enthusiastically police their fellow citizens and mete out appropriate punishments for daring to dissent against the state and its representatives.
In fact, the government only needs to sully its hands with censorship once things reach the point that even some of it’s most ardent supporters start making seditious utterings. And thanks to those very citizens, it will have more than enough power to do so. After all we live in a country where the government has the right to know what you’re reading, having the wrong reading material under your arm at the coffee shop; where displaying the wrong sort of artwork, or teaching your child “anti-American values” can also get you a knock at the door.
And very few seem to mind. After all, you may be fired, investigated, or taken in for questions, but no one’s been taken away. Not yet. If and when that happens, it might surprise some who’ve yawned at all the previous stories, but it shouldn’t. They’ve already consented to go along, quietly.