James Comey. (AP Photo)
Some of us have been shouting from mountaintops, others from molehills: James Comey, currently sailing smoothly through Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for confirmation as chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was:
(a) in charge, and proudly so, of a “terrorism” case that began with a detention without charges, continued with made-up and spurious charges, and ended with a conviction won against an American whose treatment during confinement (on the American mainland) turned his brain to jello;
(b) general counsel for a defense contractor while it was busy hushing up a whistleblower who exposed $24 billion contract that they were building vessels for the Coast Guard, on a $24 billion contract, that buckled and leaked on the high seas;
(c) as of three months ago on the board of a bank, in charge of cleaning up their reputation after it paid a $1.92 billion fine for laundering drug money from Mexico; and
(d) the man who, as former FBI agent Colleen Rowley pointed out this morning in The New York Times, “sign[ed] off on most of the worst of the Bush administration’s legal abuses and questionable interpretations of federal and international law. He ultimately approved the C.I.A.’s list of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, including waterboarding, which experts on international law consider a form of torture.
Lots of shouting going on. But not much listening.
I maintain an active salon of sorts on my Facebook page, welcoming anyone who wants to join the ride (Hop aboard!). It’s my own little online magazine, with upwards of 3,600 subscribers, and I love them all. (Hi, guys!) When I post something political that tickles their fancy, it’s not unusual for me to get upward of a hundred “likes.” Yesterday, though, I reposted there my June 24 Nation anatomy of Comey’s sins and got four “likes.” (The next thing I posted, Nick Turse’s outstanding dispatch on the secrecy surrounding the America military’s activities in Africa, a crucial subject but not one three and a half times more important than confirming a new Justice Department chief law enforcement officer who’s on the record defiling the Constitution, got fourteen.) I noted, this morning, “When you’re a writer you never know which of your pieces are going to gain a toehold and which will not, and it’s best not to care too much. But I’m dismayed at the chirping of crickets that has greeted my work on our next FBI chief as a torture enabler. How deadened have our civic muscles become?” Then I posted the former FBI agent Colleen Rowley’s mighty evisceration in the Times—and that got three “likes.” Come on, guys!
And so you know this is not just about me and my purple prose: The Washington Post live-blogged the hearings this morning; that’s earned eighteen Facebook “likes.” Talking Points Memo, my go-to site for all things Capitol Hill—I love them, and so hate to single them out, but…—cover the event. Comey, it seems, is not a story even to those who generally give a shit.
It’s not like we’re totally dead to civil liberties, and the FBI’s violation of same; I have reason to know that for a fact. Compare to my piece from last month on Comey, which was tweeted out forty-three times, a piece I wrote last year on the FBI’s abuse of infiltrators and entrapment techniques in “terror” cases, which was tweeted 1,865 times. Now, that’s an important subject, also—one that senators should, but won’t, grill Comey on, too. But it’s not 433 times more important!
I asked a friend why she thought the entrapment piece caught on, and the Comey exposé hasn’t. I noted that the earlier piece focused on the infiltration and arrest of Occupiers. She replied, “I think that’s it. Occupy = nice white kids. Torture/surveillance = scary brown muslims.”
Is that it? Has our dull civic deadness come to that? We’re exhausted, that’s for sure. Notes one of my Facebook friends, “When our civic values are attacked from a few sides, some people are capable of outrage and will fight back. When they are attacked from all sides, over and over again, over a prolonged period of time, people lose the ability to react.”
“Eventually some administration will nominate John Yoo Attorney General and nobody will even deeply sigh.”
“Comatose, Mr. Perlstein, because we have come to accept that what we think no longer matters.”
Which brings us to the problem of Barack Obama:
“None of the Republicans he’s nominated seems to have extraordinary qualifications for their posts other than the R next to their names which makes confirmation easier.”
“At one time, the nomination of someone who had defend torture would have been a salient event, one that stood out for its very outrageousness. it would surely have led to a campaign to prevent the nomination. Now, however, we are faced every week, almost every day[,] with an array of events that are all equally abhorrent. They are far more that we can deal with; and we have been taught that protest is futile. I mean, really—is Obama going to back down on this nomination because we of the non-right object to it? Not hardly.”
(A useful point: even George Bush backed down on a nominee because we of the non-right objected to it: Michael Baroody, nominated to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission after making his living lobbying against consumer product safety.)
Obama’s “hope and change,” we must now accept, is a fetish; one as strange as getting turned on by popping balloons, or dressing like a cuddly stuffed animal. Only this one is far more harmful, even when practiced among consenting adults. Our president’s kink is “bipartisanship”: acting really nice toward Republicans, even if, or even especially, they act really mean toward you. You know: an S&M kind of thing.
And his “change,” in turn, changes us: it wears us down, with the learned helplessness of too many promises betrayed—renders us the opposite of citizens. Which is curious, because most of us thought that if “change” meant anything, after George W. Bush, it meant a reanimation of our civic engagement, a renewed passion for political engagement—a citizenship jamboree. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”: didn’t someone say that once upon a time?
I once had an idea for a book: an encyclopedia to catalogue the outrages and absurdities of the “War on Terror” under Bush: “Asymmetrical Warfare,” suicide as… “Gonzales, Alberto,” hospital visit to John Ashcroft of… “Mushroom Cloud,” smoking gun could be… “USA Patriot Act,” seizing of library records under Section 215 of… “Yoo, John,” government can crush suspected terrorists’ children’s testicles to obtain information… ”
It would have to be a different book now: an encyclopedia of the outrages and absurdities of the “War on Terror” under Bush and Obama. Only problem for my career would be: no commercial publisher would touch it. It could never sell enough copies to pay.
While Congress may be eager to confirm James Comey, Rick Perlstein has some questions.