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Dan Andrews, meet Tom Huston
Last week, my State Premier Dan Andrews approved the wholesale transfer of drivers licence photos to the Feds, because terrorism. And he also dismissed any concerns about civil liberties as a luxury (a luxury) that he cannot afford as a leader, because terrorism.
Some people have the luxury of being able to have that notional debate. Those of us in positions of leadership do not have that luxury.
Nor of course does leadership have the luxury of actually standing for anything any more. Particularly in the centre-left.
We don’t have many public intellectuals or civil libertarians left in our benighted age, to tell Dan Andrews and all the other leaders how full of it they are. We do at least have Waleed Aly pointing out how expedient this talk is, when the actual imminent crisis that is going to kill a whole lot more people than Tha Muzlims, climate change, raises only a complacent “meh” from leaders of the putative integrity and steely-eyed bravery of Andrews.
I finished reading John Farrell’s biography of Nixon last night. And there was a quote there from the Church Committee hearings, the post-Watergate cleanup of all the Cold War abuses of civil liberties by the US government, that stopped me in my tracks, because it’s a quote we’re going to hear again, when the following forty years of abuses (because terrorism) are called to reckoning. And people will say, Oh, How Could We Have Been So Blind. And those people will not be worth answering, because the evidence of their blindness is all around them right now.
It’s a quote from Tom Huston, the Nixon aide who came up with the Huston Plan. Which he came up with at Nixon’s bequest in 1970, and which would have been implemented in full had it not been blocked by, of all people, J. Edgar Hoover:
Among other things the plan called for domestic burglary, illegal electronic surveillance and opening the mail of domestic “radicals”. At one time it also called for the creation of camps in Western states where anti-war protesters would be detained.
And of course that kind of thing is happening again, without challenge, because terrorism.
When Huston proclaimed his penitence to the Church committee, he said the following. (You can watch the video from C-SPAN if you have the patience to.) It’s as true now as it ever was, because slippery slopes are always real. And people only paid attention to it for what, five years? Ten? Because these lessons keep having to be relearned:
The risk was that you would get people who would be susceptible to political considerations as opposed to national security considerations, or who would construe political considerations to be national security considerations, to move from the kid with the bomb to the kid with the picket sign, and from the kid with the picket sign to the kid with the bumper sticker of the opposing candidate. And you just keep going down the line.
… There’s a reason I can no longer watch House of Cards…
Well, I have news for our current leaders and the leaders of tomorrow: the Bill of Rights is not a frivolous luxury, in force only during times of peace and prosperity. We don’t just push it to the side when the going gets tough. —Molly Ivins (pbuh)