The Mix

Justice O' Connor on 'Dictatorship' and the presidency

It's bizarre; the prospect of a dictatorship comes as the executive office becomes a ludicrous and unmanageable proposition.
"If you look hard enough, you can find a variety of information and insight. But you have to look hard, you have to create your own kaleidoscope. ... If you keep turning it long enough, and you get the right angle so the light's just right, you get a good sense of the whole." -- Bill Moyers.

There's something the arch-pundit and former Reagan and Bush II speech writer Peggy Noonan wrote four months ago that I want to share and add to the kaleidoscope of what is sure to be a massively discussed speech by Sandra Day O' Connor whose most significant quote was that "it takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

Noonan wrote this out-of-the-blue editorial in the Wall Street Journal effectively conceding what I've felt and witnessed myself -- that the federal instrument and political class that operates it is almost dead: "I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. ...

"But this recounting doesn't quite get me to what I mean. I mean I believe there's a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough history is coming. ...

"Let me focus for a minute on the presidency, another institution in trouble. In the past I have been impatient with the idea that it's impossible now to be president, that it is impossible to run the government of the United States successfully or even competently. I always thought that was an excuse of losers. I'd seen a successful presidency up close. It can be done. But since 9/11, in the four years after that catastrophe, I have wondered if it hasn't all gotten too big, too complicated, too crucial, too many-fronted, too . . . impossible. ...

"It's beyond, "The president is overwhelmed." The presidency is overwhelmed. The whole government is."

It's worth reading the whole thing. What made it such a staggering concession for me is who said it. Noonan represents in many ways The Mind of the political class in Washington. I don't have too many tears to shed for vampires like Noonan, and I think in a lot of ways, what's dying isn't something I'm going to mourn. I think a lot of folks are going to confuse their own feelings of demise for some kind of national zeitgeist. It will be good for this to be pointed out to them. But I'm guessing that the millions of deeply alienated and lonely wage slaves with demeaning and dispirited lives aren't going to care at all. Personally, this is the banshee wail of something I'd be quite happy to see totally dead.

But. If there isn't a ready alternative to supplant our standing federal instrument, and the whole thing crashes, watch out for one of the scariest reactionary movements in the history of mankind. There is something pretty dark and vicious in the American underbelly. I suppose that means that a lot of the political writers out there had better stop praising the profoundly undemocratic nature of what's really going on in DC.

Can a president, any president, represent 300,000,000 people? Does 435 members in the House for 300,000,000 sound like anything close to representative democracy? We're electing dictators, and have been for a long time.
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.
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