Friday, June 03, 2005

Michael: Watergate/CoIntelPro in perspective

The 'Break-Ins' that formed the core of the CoIntelPro and Watergate scandals are now the subject of some linguistic wrangling among the chattering class. Did Nixon and Hoover and Felt really mean 'break-in' literally, or were they speaking 'figuratively'. It seems there is a little wiggle room in the historical record. But more important than their intent at the time, is the legacy their actions left in American legal and political history.

In hindsight, the issues at the heart of Watergate and CoIntelPro seem almost ridiculous. 'Break-ins' that once brought down the government and resulted in the indictment of high-level FBI officials, are, in fact, the exact same sort of paranoid hunting expeditions that happen every day now under the Patriot Act's 'Sneak and Peek' provisions providing for warrantless searches. The GOP could well be using such searches to target political enemies, and might even succeed in keeping it quiet. Creating a dossier on political dissents for investigatary purposes, once a scandalous practice smacking of Stalinism, is now a common-place 'precaution' by the government. The coordinated harrassment, illegal detainment, purposeful injury, and even killing, of political protestors in street confrontations has become a federally-subsidized (remember the Florida free trade conference and the New York RNC conventions) speciality of police forces in major metro areas around the country, rather than the basis of a national scandal (recall the 1968 DNC convention). One has to wonder whether the same behavior or revelations of Watergate/CoIntelPro today would result in the resignation of a President and the indictment of high-level Administration officials; Given the reaction to Plame, Gitmo/Abu Ghraib, and other scandals, I suspect not.

Most shocking is how much we resemble the proverbial frog in a pot in regard to our basic civil liberties and political rights. Scandals that would have had the frog shooting out of the pot, handing down indictments, and bringing down the goverment a generation ago (assuming frogs have ever been known to do such things), have come to seem routine and almost unremarkable now. Police burgarizing our homes under an unconstitutional law, harrassing politically involved citizens at the behest of politicians, and targeting street protestors for detainment and injury, are now fairly unremarkable (unless you're some kind of bleeding heart pinko, terrorist sympathizer, of course).

What will American civil liberities and political rights look like in another twenty years, I wonder? Will there even be such things, or will our rulers be having frog legs for lunch?

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