Monday, September 18, 2006

Nancy Johnson's Despicable, Fraudulent Ad





H.L. Mencken may have had politicians like U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson in mind when he remarked that "the whole aim of politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence clamorous to be led to safety by menacing it with a series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Of course the threat of terrorism is real, no mere hobgoblin, but the terrorism threat conjured by the new television attack ad of Johnson's re-election campaign is worse than a hobgoblin; it is a fraud.

Johnson, the Republican who has represented northwestern Connecticut in Congress for 24 years, is denouncing her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Christopher Murphy (or, as the attack ad calls him, "[ITALICS] liberal [END ITALICS] Chris Murphy"), for being soft on terrorism. The ad imagines a telephone call from New York to "a known terrorist in Pakistan" and declares that while Johnson wants the U.S. government to monitor the call immediately, Murphy would require the government to go to court to get a warrant first, putting the country at risk of another terrorist attack.

Yes, there always has been a conflict between national security and constitutional rights in wartime, and there always have been politicians ready to suggest (or worse) that anyone who is not eager to surrender his constitutional rights is some sort of traitor. But in the case of monitoring telephone calls, the old argument is effectively moot -- and Johnson's own commercial proves it.

For the government would not know about that call from New York to "a known terrorist in Pakistan" in the first place if the government was not [ITALICS] already [END ITALICS] monitoring telephone calls without warrants, legally or illegally. Indeed, the government already [ITALICS] is [END ITALICS] monitoring all telephone calls to some degree, some very closely. The government also is getting warrants from a special national security court whenever it wants.

A warrant is an obstacle only insofar as the contents of a monitored call can be used against a defendant in a criminal prosecution, which would take place long after the discovery of any terrorist threat and long after the government could act on that threat.

That is, with his supposed concerns for constitutional protections against intrusive and pervasive government, "L." Chris Murphy, contrary to the suggestion of Johnson's attack ad, is not quite Osama bin Laden's agent or the candidate of al-Qaida.

Further, Johnson is in the worst position of anyone in the 5th Congressional District to challenge Murphy on national security issues. For even as terrorism remains a threat, lately a lot more U.S. citizens have been killed by their government's own stupid and dishonest geopolitical strategy -- the war in Iraq and the refusal of the government to apply to that war the resources necessary to win it -- than by terrorism. It is a strategy Johnson supports but about which she has had virtually nothing to say.

Johnson also is part of an administration that, even as it exploits fears of terrorism, has done practically nothing to secure the nation's ports and borders and that, indeed, seems to have turned illegal immigration into a [ITALICS] policy [END ITALICS] -- the use of a disenfranchised underclass, an underclass that can't vote or even risk complaining, to strengthen corporations, weaken labor, and suppress wages.

Johnson's attack on Murphy over telephone surveillance is meant to scare people and put Murphy on the defensive over trivia while winning Johnson a pass for her complicity in more serious problems.

In making fun of demagogic politicians like Johnson, Mencken was mostly an entertaining cynic and even a nihilist. But another great journalist, Elmer Davis, who became the U.S. government's director of war information during World War II, took a stand against such politicians on the most patriotic and principled grounds.

"The first and great commandment," Davis said, "is: [ITALICS] Don't let them scare you. [END ITALICS] For the men who are trying to do that to us are scared themselves. They are afraid that what they think will not stand critical examination; they are afraid that the principles on which this republic was founded and has been conducted are wrong. They will tell you that there is a hazard in the freedom of the mind, and of course there is, as in any freedom. In trying to think right you run the risk of thinking wrong. But there is no hazard at all, no uncertainty, in letting somebody else tell you what to think. That is sheer damnation."


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.


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