Author Responds: Will Democrats Restore Our Liberties Stolen in the Bush Era?

The AlterNet article exploring proposals to restore rights and liberties undermined during the Bush era has sparked several debates among readers. AlterNet invited writer Ari Melber to respond.

A persistent critique in several discussion threads contends that constitutional rights cannot be effectively restored within a political and economic system that is dominated by corporations. One reader argues that a Democratic president "will not repeal any of the harms done by Bush" because both parties "are financed by the same corporate masters and thus are indistinguishable." Another, hilaryuk, contends:

... the erosion of civil liberties is merely another symptom of the malaise affecting all western "democracies" [wherein] the political system now serves an economic one [...] multinational corporate capitalism. The new masters of the universe owe no particular loyalty to any one country or political organization, seeing nation and party as useful tools in serving their interests. They don't primarily hanker after world domination, just bigger profits. So a change of political personnel cannot change anything of significance and any "reforms" will be largely cosmetic.
It is clear that American corporations have a disproportionate impact on our political process -- readers hardly need a review of the evidence here. Professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich now contends that rising corporate power, coupled with a decline in the institutions that once mitigated economic harm, such as unions and regulators, has led to the replacement America's democratic capitalism with "supercapitalism," the title of his new book. The new order runs on "a corporate arms race in which platoons of lobbyists with piles of campaign money pursue laws that will give companies competitive advantage over their rivals," he explains, rather than allowing democracy to facilitate debates over what policies advance the public interest.

Companies are also regularly enlisted to implement U.S. policy, which can include questionable or unconstitutional acts, potentially increasing their stake in policies that undermine rights and liberties. Just surf the news this week and you'll see specific examples of corporations spending capital to back the Bush Doctrine. Telecommunications companies are lobbying for Bush's expansive domestic surveillance bill (and their own retroactive amnesty) while Blackwater lobbies to defend the administration's use of its outsourced soldiers in Iraq. (The FBI found that Blackwater employees killed 14 people without cause in September.) Readers have raised an important dynamic here.

But does that mean corporations will stifle all reforms? No. These macro-economic trends predate 2001, and few would claim that corporations were advancing torture or domestic surveillance "for profit" back then. Simply put, a new administration can change policies, and companies will pursue profit within the new landscape. While the current outlook is bleak for many reasons, (as I note in the article), the telecommunications amnesty debate actually shows how current law can sanction corporate complicity in attacks on our liberties. Lawsuits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation could cost companies millions for privacy violations -- if Congress does not buckle and provide retroactive immunity.

Since AlterNet asked for responses to a range of comments, I'll also briefly confront some of the absurd feedback. Arguing that the "'war on terrorism' is nothing but a distraction," socialpsych suggests that terrorism should be given less "weight" compared to the greater number of American deaths caused by traffic accidents. Another reader, common intelligence, doubts that "the next president and Congress" will repair "the damage Bush has done," offering the outrageous conclusion that the "most worrisome terro[r]ist cell is in the United States government." As with any anonymous comment, no one knows if these are genuine views, or trolls, or what. But it is obviously wrong to "weigh" murder and terrorism against deaths caused by accidents. Asymmetric warfare is based on weaker powers leveraging new types of devastation against stronger powers. Obviously, the stronger power should not respond by downplaying the magnitude of attacks or future threats. Likewise, it goes without saying that it is wrong and outrageous to claim the U.S. government is "a terrorist cell."

Finally, several readers criticized the choice of candidates that were discussed in the article. Democritus took me to task for neglecting one civil libertarian in the Democratic field:

What is disturbing about Melber's article is that he does not mention -- not even once -- Dennis Kucinich's name. Yet it has been Kucinich, more than any other Democrat, who has taken on the Bush-Cheney juggernaut. Kucinich would [...] repeal the Patriot Act, get rid of the military commissions, close Guantanamo, eliminate illegal surveillance of citizens and end our occupation of Iraq [...] He is the only Democrat who knows how to stop the Bush-Cheney machine from continuing to break the law in the way Melber deplores. Yet key Democrats backed off from Kucinich's resolution as if they were scalded, with Pelosi and Reid sounding more like moderate Republicans with each passing day.

The comment "Why Not Kucinich" drew over 25 replies. Readers are absolutely correct -- Kucinich has been an early leader on these issues. So my reply may sound boring and unfulfilling, but the article was not focused on assessing the candidates' records. Most of the 1,400 words were devoted to the road ahead for policy, separate from where each candidate stands. I ran through a few highlights for five Democratic candidates' plans in 321 words. As thehousedog noted, a 1,400-word article titled "Will Democrats Restore Our Liberties Stolen in the Bush Era?" was already pushing it: "This article is too long. The title asks a simple question. Here is the simple answer: No."

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