FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama and Attention Deficit Democracy

In his commencement address at the University of Michigan on May 1, President Obama warned that public ignorance subverts self-government.  Obama declared: “When we don’t pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day… that’s when democracy breaks down. That’s when power is abused.”

Unfortunately, most Americans have little or no idea how government works or who is holding the reins on their lives. Most American voters do not know the name of their congressman, the length of terms of House or Senate members, or what the Bill of Rights guarantees. Most Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice or a single cabinet department in the federal government.  But the ignorance goes far beyond Civics 101.

In his commencement speech, Obama declared that “we need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence and not just assertion.” Except, of course, when government officials assert that “there is nothing to see here – just move along.” While Obama loudly urges Americans to get better informed, Republicans and Democrats are quietly covering up some of the government’s worst abuses.

Obama heavily pressured Congress last year to  enact a law prohibiting the release of thousands of photos showing horrendous abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. troops. From 2004 onwards, the U.S. government  deceived Americans – first claiming the torture scandal involved only “a few bad apples” from West Virginia,  and then insisting that it was merely a few bad units, and then asserting that there was no national policy.  By 2008, it was clear that the torture was mandated at high levels of the  White House and Pentagon.  Suppressing the photos makes it easier for former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who crafted the policies to continue denying that any crimes ever occurred.

Obama is also squelching the vast majority of facts regarding the National Security Agency’s 2002+ warrantless wiretapping of Americans. (Federal judge Vaughn Walker recently ruled that the wiretaps were illegal ).  No individual American has been permitted to know whether NSA copied his email or recorded his calls. The Obama administration even refuses to release the Bush-era Justice Department memos that “proved” why government is now entitled to spy on citizens without a warrant.  While Congress granted retroactive immunity to the federal officials and phone companies that betrayed Americans’ privacy, Obama’s Justice Department is prosecuting a NSA official for notifying the media of the abuse.

Obama’s vision of democracy also does not include permitting Americans to learn which banks and other financial institutions received trillions of dollars of subsidies and guarantees from the Federal Reserve.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx) pushed an “Audit the Federal Reserve” amendment to the financial regulation bill.  But the Obama White House acted as if disclosing the names of the lucky companies that received windfall benefits would violate the rights of the biggest welfare recipients in American history.

How are citizens supposed to stop abuses when politicians refuse to let them know what government is doing?  The government claims that evidence of its  torture and wiretapping must be suppressed in the name of national security. But this greatly reduces the likelihood that Americans will learn from their rulers’ folly.

The recent coverups illustrate how our republic is becoming an Attention Deficit Democracy.   The government remains nominally democratic – elections continue to be boisterous events with mass rallies and tidal waves of dubious ads. But after the polling booths close, most citizens remain clueless about what their rulers do in their name.

Attention Deficit Democracy begets Leviathan because rulers exploit people’s ignorance to seize more power over them.  The contract between rulers and ruled is replaced by a blank check.  And regardless of how many secrets the government keeps, the rulers still act like the people are liable for all the government’s abuses.

Obama urged graduating students to “pay attention” and “stay informed.”  Citizens should be especially curious about what lurks behind the curtains that politicians close.   The more crimes politicians are permitted to hide, the fewer liberties citizens will retain.

JAMES BOVARD is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. He serves as a policy advisor for the Future of Freedom Foundation.

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com  This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail