The past is dead, the future is unimaginable

One quick thought about the detainee legislation now being debated in Congress: it would give the president one of the defining powers of tyrannical dictators, namely the ability to lock up anyone he wants for as long as he wants, entirely beyond the reach of the law.

I would say I’m stunned at how rapidly we’ve arrived at a point like this, but even thinking those words, I hear the voices of millions before me echoing hollowly the same dumb astonishment when their beautiful, prosperous, enlightened countries at one time or another descended into the same unthinking darkness.

Maybe it wasn’t so rapid, either. Maybe we should have been listening to Noam Chomsky all along.

Another defining power of tyrants is to suspend or nullify elections whose outcomes they don’t like. But really, when you have the first power, you don’t need the second one. Under the law now being debated, nothing, nothing would stop President Bush if he decided to, say, imprison the next Democratic presidential candidate — or any journalist willing to convey that candidate’s message to the voting public.

If he’s not willing to go quite that far, as a backup it always helps to have the largest maker of the nation’s ballot machines in your back pocket.

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