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Interview in MP3 format
Our guest today is Jim Bovard. He is the author of a new book called Attention Deficit Democracy. He is also the author of Lost Rights and numerous other books. Our subject today is going to be, what is democracy, what is happening to America, and what can we do to save the country? Let me just start by reading a few comments from Jim’s book and I think you will have a better grasp of where we are going to go today. “Many Americas no longer value freedom enough to make any effort to understand government or political action. If people choose not to think, then they have chosen to submit. If people choose to make no effort to understand the machinations of government, then they have chosen to be political victims. If people choose to disregard past lies and abuses, they choose to sacrifice themselves as the next liar and abuser.” Jim, just one more little comment that you have here in the book and we will get started. I think this really sums up what has been going on for the last 50 years I suppose. You say “liberty has been at the wrong end of the shooting gallery for decades and the political assaults have been intensified during the past two presidencies.” With that Jim, tell us what is on your mind with this book, Attention Deficit Democracy.
Jim Bovard: Aaron, thanks for having me on the program. I really appreciate this. With attention deficit democracy, I am trying to wake up people to how the combination of mass ignorance, fear mongering by the government, and lying politicians is putting our entire system of government to a death spiral. There has been so much power concentrated. There is no leash on that power anymore and Americans face the situation that this power is getting momentum with each passing year with each presidency.
Aaron Zelman: Let’s go through some of the abuses of power that you see and perhaps some ways to get our power back? As they say, power to the people.
Jim Bovard: Okay, something that you and JPFO have done a lot of work on is the need for a Bill of Right cultures in this country. It is unfortunate that Americans are no longer aware of what the constitution says and what their rights are. Because of that, we are often very passive about what happens when the government violates those rights. This has become clear with property rights. The government has been permitted to confiscate private property left and right on the shadiest of pretenses, and it is happening as well with the recent controversy of government warrantless wiretaps of Americans here in the US. The Bush Administration portends that the fourth amendment doesn’t say anything about probable cause or a warrant. Instead, as long as some government official thinks it is reasonable, then the government is entitled to invade your privacy. That is kind of the rewriting of the Bill of Rights, which imposes a grave peril to Americans.
Aaron Zelman: Do you think most politicians are aware of the Bill of Rights? I am not trying to be flippant. Do you think they actually learned about them while they were in school?
Jim Bovard: They might have learned about it in government school. It is one of the great tragedies of the US, that most learn most of what they know about the government from the government. If that’s not, a self-evident conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. Some politicians are aware of the Bill of Rights. It seems that the opposition party is far more likely to invoke it, to wave it in the air, this is what we saw from a lot of republicans during the Clinton Administration, and we are seeing the same from Democrats under Bush. Some of the folks on both sides might be sincere, but it does seem as if it is only the opposition that cares about the Bill of Rights most of the time.
Aaron Zelman: Well, so it seems. You have written that lies have been the key factor in the expansion of government. What has government become so dishonest and why are Americans so blasé regarding the lies that our rulers tell us.
Jim Bovard: Politicians as a class are dangerous, that people who are seeking power over us are not, by definition, our friends. Yet if you look at some of the recent history as far as the lies that politicians have gotten away with, from Lyndon Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to Nixon lying about the secret bombing of Cambodia, to Jimmy Carter lying about the Shah of Iran being a progressive enlightened ruler, to George H. W. Bush lying about the justifications for the First Gulf War, to Clinton lying about Kosovo and the bombing of Belgrade. Entire generations of Americans have come of age since the ancient time when the president’s power was constrained by a duty of candor to the American people.
Aaron Zelman: There are a number of comments that you have in your book that I find fascinating. Let me just go through a list that we put together. You say rather than democracy, we increasingly have an elective dictatorship. People are merely permitted to choose who will violate the laws in the constitution.
Jim Bovard: This is a case if the President is permitted to be above the law, then we no longer have a republic. We no longer have rule of law and any notion of equality before the law is lost when the President is above the law. Yes, this is what has been happening in his country, that is what has been happening president after president, and most people either don’t recognize it or don’t care.
Aaron Zelman: Well, on that note, I have a question for you. If we continue along the current path where people don’t know or don’t care, what would you guess would be the future of this country in a year, 5 years, 10 years from now?
Jim Bovard: People would have even less free speech, people would have less security against government intrusions. It would be easier for government to confiscate people’s land, to confiscate people’s bank accounts, to pilfer for their emails, and who knows how many foreign wars might be started. Who knows how many other camps like Guantanamo might be set up in other places around the world or here in the US.
Aaron Zelman: That’s scary. You also mention that Washington policy debates are often like a criminal trial with all the evidence of the defendant’s past offense ruled inadmissible.
Jim Bovard: It is interesting to see how the media and the political parties argue issues in D.C. because on some areas, there is a long history of government failure and of politicians lying. Yet with each new expansion of government power or each new foreign intrusion, it is as of we are obliged to assume that the government is honest and competent. It is like we are obliged to assume that the government is only doing what it says it is doing. One example: Bush talking about these national security agency’s warrantless wire taps, Bush has said, well it was only people linked to Al Qaeda. Well it is fascinating to me that so many people would actually assume that that is the case, because Bush’s comments on the patriot act, Bush’s comments on a lot of other aspects of the war and terrorism have been shown to be false. Yet here is a case where the president is openly stating and practically bragging that he is ignoring the US Constitution and we are supposed to assume that he is only doing it for good.
Aaron Zelman: Well, following up on that, you use a term “the battered citizens’ syndrome”. You say the more debacles the government produces, the more voters cling to faith and their rulers. I think that is worth talking about.
Jim Bovard. The Federal Government is exploiting public fear to redefine the relationship between the rulers and the American people. Whitehouse Chief of Staff, Andrew Card was given a talk at the GOP Convention in September, 2004. He praised George Bush’s role as protector of the nation, and he assured the GOP delegates that this president sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child. I know as a parent, I would sacrifice all for my children. Now, it is hard to imagine a more condescending comment. I mean this is even more condescending than the stuff we heard from the Bill Clinton Administration, and yet this generated almost no controversy. Part of the reason that the government’s fear mongering is succeeding is because so many people are so ignorant, that it is easier for government to frighten people in submission. There were all these warnings about terror attacks the Bush Administration issued during the 2004 campaign. Even Homeland Security czar, Tom Ridge, later said that he thought a lot of those warnings were not justified, but there was a study done at Cornell that showed that each time the Federal Government issued a new warning of a terrorist threat after 9-11, the president’s approval rating rose by an average of almost 3%. As long as enough people can be frightened, then all people can be ruled. That is how it works in a democratic system and mass fear becomes the ticket to destroy rights across the board.
Aaron Zelman: We are talking with Jim Bovard. His book is Attention Deficit Democracy. Jim, if you had a chance to help people understand the pitfalls of democracy as the term is used in America, what would you like to tell people?
Jim Bovard: There are a lot of benefits representative of government and it is far better than any type of dictatorial system and it is far better than a one-man rule situation. The vision that the founding fathers had of rule of law and equality before the law and no one above the law, that is a very viable vision, but instead of that, we have quasi mob rule. We have simply politicians stampeding voters during campaigns. If an election is simply a one-day snapshot of transient mass delusions, then this is not a very noble form of government. If so many Americans are looking for the government to save them, then it is hard to have a dignified search for a shepherd in chief.
Aaron Zelman: Shepherd in chief, that is an interesting phrase.
Jim Bovard: This is something that we also saw during the Clinton Administration. It was something which Clinton exploited very effectively. This whole notion of feeling your pain and promising to protect against every possible threat and danger and all that stuff and a lot of people liked that and a lot of people fell for it, but it doesn’t mean that the government is going to keep its side of the bargain no matter what is promised.
Aaron Zelman: I am going to read another comment from your book. It is also on page 251. You said “It is unclear whether liberty can be revived in America. It is unclear how many Americans still give a dam about freedom, still give a dam about the chance to carve out their own lives according to their own values. It is unclear how many people would suffer any inconvenience or notoriety for voicing or supporting unpopular views. It is unclear how many Americans have the courage to decry government’s abuses that the majority tolerates or applauds.” Let’s break this paragraph down and go through this point by point if you don’t mind. Let’s deal with how many Americans care about freedom?
Jim Bovard: It is hard to know how many people do, but given that the people are so docile towards the rulers, nowadays, very few Americans show the passion for freedom that our forefathers had. For instance, think about how many young people and college students would happily permit the government to monitor all their email in return for a promise of unlimited free music downloads. How many Wal-Mart gift certificates would it take for a typical citizen to agree to forfeit all his fourth amendment rights and entitle the government to search his car, house and himself anytime that they chose? How many McDonald’s gift certificates would it take to sway a lot of Americans to pledge to never publicly criticize the U.S, President? I don’t know the exact numbers of these and perhaps some of the people who would agree to that would change their mind afterwards, but people seem to forget, that power is dangerous, especially coercive power and power to destroy your rights, power to lock you away either on false charges or no charges at all, power to suppress. It is amazing to think after all that has happened in this country in the last few years, the last few decades, that so many people have this blind faith that government is our friend and therefore, so we don’t need protections against it.
Aaron Zelman: Let me move on in the same paragraph. You say “give a dam about the chance to carve out their own lives according to their own values.”
Jim Bovard: It is interesting to think of how many folks these days are willing to make any sacrifice to live differently, to live outside the mainstream, live in a way that is not the same way that the vast majority of all their neighbors or others are living. I think of Henry David Thoreau, there was kind of a very healthy go-to-hell attitude that he had. He was going to go off and live by his pond and if folks wanted to come and talk to him, he would do them the honor of speaking to them—usually. He wanted to be on his own and that has always been one of the greatest parts of the American spirit, and you don’t have to move out to the hills or to a lake to do that. It can be a mindset in you, but I don’t know if we are losing that in this country, and if we are losing, then people are going to be less aware of the reason why they need to have at least have the option to live as they choose. It doesn’t mean that folks need to force themselves to live in a way that is going to scandalize their neighbors or whoever, but just to have that right and reserve, that is vital.
Aaron Zelman: You talk about how many people would suffer any inconvenience notoriety for voicing or supporting unpopular views. Political correctness, I suppose, is the big enemy, but perhaps you would like to talk about this.
Jim Bovard: This is something again I am sure that JPFO has seen a lot of this from people who might privately tell you that they are in favor of the second amendment or that they are in favor of a right for people to possess firearms, but they wouldn’t say that in public and they would not want to have a small decal on their front door in favor of the second amendment, because well, you know, who knows what the neighbors would say. Part of that fear has been orchestrated by the government with their free speech zones that the Bush Administration has put in many places where the President has gone to speak, the Secret Service will go someplace ahead of the President’s arrival and press for the local police to set up zones where demonstrators are quarantined. Sometimes these are a quarter, a half or a mile away from where the President is going to be speaking or passing through. There has been a concerted effort to keep protesters to quarantine them from the media. At the GOP Convention in New York in September of 2004, there were mass illegal arrests. The New York Police threw large giant nets over large groups of people, many of whom were innocent tourists, and dragged them all in and arrested them, and the NYPD also chose to ignore a judge’s order to either charge people or release them within 24 or 48 hours, I have forgotten which. The government there was completely lawless but very few people cared. Many people might say, well, you know, it was just a bunch of anti-Bush demonstrators, but next time it might be a bunch of anti-Hilary Clinton demonstrators, or it might be a bunch of anti-Chuck Schumer demonstrators. It has been surprising to me that so few conservatives have voiced concern over the precedence that are being set in favor of suppression by this so-called conservative administration.
Aaron Zelman: It is an interesting. You say “it is unclear how many Americans have the courage to decry government abuses that the majority tolerates or applauds.” What has happened to the people of this country that they would tolerate or applaud abuses, violations of the Bill of Rights? Is there something in the water?
Jim Bovard: It has been surprising, especially in the last few years, how easy it has been for the Bush Administration to nullify rights. I was also surprised at how easy it was for the Clinton Administration to demagogue against the rights of gun owners, for instance. I was amazed at how easy it was for the Clinton Administration to basically cover what they did at Waco in the fog of lies and avoid any responsibility for it. As far as the type of abuses that people tolerate or applaud, Bush’s power to label people as enemy combatants. Many people think well, this is a necessary power because you know these folks are out to get us, but there was a Federal exchange in Federal Court in late 2004. The Federal Judge Joyce Hens-Green, was asking a U.S. attorney, one of the top people in the justice department, a hypothetical. Say, for instance, there was a little old lady in Switzerland who sent a donation to an orphanage in Afghanistan and unbeknownst to her, some of that money got passed onto Al Qaeda Could that little old lady be classified as an enemy combatant, and according to the Bush Administration lawyer, he said sure, she could be classified as an enemy combatant and thereby, the Bush Administration would have a right to confine her to Guantanamo, for instance. It makes sense to have a vigorous system to protect America against, especially Al Qaeda, a foreign group that has attacked us viciously in the past and killed thousands of Americans, but there is no reason that this has to be lawless, and with the way that the Bush Administration has structured it, it has been lawless. You know, it is based on the President’s edict. This stuff on enemy combatants, the Bush Administration has fought like a tiger to avoid having to produce any evidence to a judge to show why somebody is locked up in perpetuity. Another example of that is the torture scandal. It is amazing to flash back to those simple times 4-1/2 years ago, who would have thought that the U.S. would have an Attorney General who was perhaps the best known for his advocacy of torture, and yet that is what we have now with Gonzales. Ashcroft also played along with that enthusiastically, and there have been some bizarre rulings from the Bush Administration on this. They have insisted that they have the right to use evidence gained via torture in their judicial proceedings against the people accused of being enemy combatants. I mean this is basically turning the clock back to about 1307. The whole idea of using basically coerced confessions, here again, looking back four or five years ago, who would have expected this from the American system of government, and there is a downward spiral here. Who knows what is going to go next?
Aaron Zelman: It’s scary. There is something else you mentioned in your book. “As long as rulers are above the law, citizens have the same type of freedom that slaves had on days when their masters chose not to beat them” How does that apply to America today.
Jim Bovard: Say, for instance, there is a defacto ruling that FBI agents are not bound by the law, and if an FBI agent shoots and kills an innocent American, then the FBI agent faces no penalty. This has happened in a number of cases; the most prominent was Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where the Clinton Justice Department fought tooth-and-nail to basically claim immunity to block the State prosecution of the FBI sniper that killed a mother holding a baby in a cabin doorway, but there has been a lot of other cases where other federal agents, DEA agents, or other armed federal agents have abused the rights and sometimes shot and sometimes killed Americans, and these folks are almost never held liable. If these folks have a defacto right to shoot or wound or maim Americans and don’t face the same type of penalty that you or I would face, then they are legally a superior class and we are their inferiors and we are in danger every time they are around.
Aaron Zelman: We are talking with Jim Bovard. His book is Attention Deficit Democracy We have all these problems and they are serious problems that are probably going to destroy the country and will probably get worse before it gets better, but when we have to clean up the mess and we finally get back to bringing in a Bill of Rights culture, bringing America back to America, what do you think we are going to have to do? What are we going to have to do to have a country that is worth living in.
Jim Bovard: Well, one of the first things is to restore the rule of law, to place the government back under the cage of law. Another thing is to stop falling for the myth of democracy. The myth that democracy somehow automatically protects people, it doesn’t matter how much power the government seizes basically recognize that government force is the essence of government, and that doesn’t mean that we have to abolish government, but that is a reason to minimize government because otherwise we will end up maximizing coercion. The more expansive government is, the more perils people face in daily lives, be it from IRS agents or from child support services, or from other agencies that often have little or no legal restraints on their power. Americans have to recover enough self-respect to become intolerant of official lies. People are so docile right now. It is almost as if good government means when the politicians lie to us for our own good, for the public good, and bad government is when politicians lie for their own selfish interests. How is it possible to tell the two apart? You have to trust the politicians to tell you which is which. This is the standard of what this country is becoming. It is important to recognize and politics positive thinking is often the slaves’ virtue—something that people do to con themselves about the burden and change being placed upon them.
Aaron Zelman: Just so people don’t think that you are serious all the time.
Jim Bovard: Okay?
Aaron Zelman: I have one final question to ask of you. In your notes here, you say what brand of beer should Americans drink to kill the political pain?
Jim Bovard: Ha, ha, ha. Well, you know, personally I have always been biased in favor of Pilsner or some good solid lager. Things have really gotten worse in this country as more people started drinking light beer.
Aaron Zelman: Ha, ha, ha. That is a good note to end on. Jim, I want to thank you very much for being on Talkin’ to America. I have been your host, Aaron Zelman. Our guest today has been Jim Bovard, talking about his new book, Attention Deficit Democracy. Please remember that if you don’t defend your rights, don’t complain when you lose them.
Opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of JPFO.org or its members. Talkin’ to America is a production of JPFO.org.