Who Wants to Make a Speech?

There’s a story that an American journalist was interviewing a German shortly after World War II and asked him if he had been bothered by Hitler’s curtailing of freedom of speech. 

“Who wants to make a speech?” the German shrugged.

Reading Frank Rich this morning…

The Pakistan mess, as The New York Times editorial page aptly named it, is not just another blot on our image abroad and another instance of our mismanagement of the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It also casts a harsh light on the mess we have at home in America, a stain that will not be so easily eradicated.In the six years of compromising our principles since 9/11, our democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble the supposedly aspiring democracies we’ve propped up in places like Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We’ve become inured to democracy-lite. That’s why a Mukasey can be elevated to power with bipartisan support and we barely shrug.

This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf’s….

We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon.

…and it occurs to me that my reaction, and the reaction of many with whom I talk, are beginning to resemble that German’s. There’s a weariness with struggling, even internally, when no one can stand up to evil anymore. We’ve already marched. And marched. We’ve written letters and op-eds, one after another. We’ve blogged and emailed everyone we could. And we voted for change.

The 2006 elections were about standing up. Our job was to vote. Theirs was to stand up.

They won’t stand up. They’ve been told to stand up. They’ve been told how they look when they don’t stand up. Still they won’t stand up.

Yes, it is the Bush administration that has hollowed out our democracy and everything America may still have meant. But it is Congress that has been turning the American people into hollow, passive drones.
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