Laying out a new agenda? For which America?

January 7, 2007 | By | 3 Replies More

Lewis Lapham served as editor of Harper’s Magazine from 1976 until his retirement in from those duties in 2006.  But he has continued on in his writing.  In the January 2007 “Notebook” he bristles at the suggestions of Nancy Pelosi and others that impeachment hearings are “off the table.”  Lapham advocates holding vigorous hearings to determine the ways in which “a predatory government goes about the work of stealing from a free but inattentive people their lives, liberties, fortunes, good name, and sacred honor.”  He argues that malfeasance will not be hard to find.  “Never have the attempts at regime change been so stupidly managed.”  Further, “the invasion of Iraq was designed to the specifications of a criminal fraud.”

Lapham cites a 1919 essay by Randolph Bourne in drawing the distinction between

the American political democracy (modest, tolerant, easy-going, content to mind its own business) and the American industrial autocracy, the country’s significant classes,” self-important, vain, eager to extend their economic privileges and appear on the world stage in the roles of British dukes, pleased to think of war as an upper-class sport, the means of disguising their own venal and incompetent politics in the dignity of handsome military uniforms.

This American industrial autocracy was clearly identified by Dwight Eisenhower (imagine this sort of speech at a contemporary Republican National Convention):

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience.  The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the federal government….

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.  The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.  We should take nothing for granted.  Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Lapham argues that the main question now before America “is the one confronted by the man afraid of finding out that he’s been robbed.  How much longer do we wish to pretend that nothing really happened or that nothing really valuable is lost; that the crime is a losing of the Iraq war, not the making of it?”

He argues that we can’t lay out a new agenda for America unless we make a clear decision about “which America we are talking about.”

I do not want us to get distracted from pressing business by holding hearings designed to blame and to secure political advantage.  On the other hand, Lapham raises a good point: if we don’t dig through the “dirt,” (vigorously enough to lead to the impeachment of President Bush), how will we understand what happened and prevent it from happening again?


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Category: American Culture, Economy, Iraq, Military, Politics, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Ken Larson says:

    There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

    The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

    How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

    Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

    From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

    This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

    This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

    We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

  2. Chris says:

    We won't, of course. That's exactly why certain people are telling us so loudly that we must not dwell on the past: they WANT us to be doomed to repeat it.

    Bush exposed the weakness of this nation's defenses against fraud in high places, by exploiting it. But in order to keep that weakness exploitable in future, he and his cronies must now deflect attention from it in order to prevent the American people from wising up. Ford did it once, hence his recent beatification, but I don't know if anyone is going to be able to pull it off again.

    At the risk of crossing into conspiracy-theory territory: is it really an accident that the party whose political base is, on average, less educated is the same one always sabotaging educational systems and slashing their funding? Isn't it just good political sense for the party of ignorance to ensure more generations of ignorant voters, and for the party of the faithful and the fraudulent (these are not always the same people, but they are fellow travelers for a reason) to discourage critical thinking, fact checking, etc.?

  3. Artemis says:

    Last night, while trying to get some rest and respite from a really nasty cold, I had the pleasure of watching I believe its called "Independent Lens", a show on PBS. This particular edition was about investigative journalism. There was enough thought-provoking material on the all the segments (the show documented accounts from Africa, Mexico, and South America as well as the US) to convince me that there is a huge necessity for such behind-the-scenes reporting. We have a choice as to which media we avail ourselves, and it strongly behoves us to pay attention to alternative as opposed to mainstream media.

    This blog is an excellent means for folks to get a clue and to start looking for as much information as possible about what is going on the world. Even if not written by "experts" the posts are well-written and thoughtfully produced (and how do we know if any of the posters are actually professional writers anyway, and do we care?)

    I am encouraged by the both the posts and the responses; there are clear-headed inviduals out there who do not buy the pablum platitudes and who, like me, feel insulted by the we-good, they-bad dialectic spewed by this administration.

    Keep it up, and we might just get to impeachment proceedings yet…hear, hear!


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