Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Where Spygate and Intelligent Design Meet

On page 87 of Judge John Jones’s opinion striking down intelligent design as a valid scientific theory for public schools to teach, you come across the following lines: “A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. Expert testimony revealed that the peer review process is ‘exquisitely important’ in the scientific process. It is a way for scientists to write up their empirical research and to share the work with fellow experts in the field, opening up the hypotheses to study, testing, and criticism.”

But peer review would demolish the intelligent design theory and expose it, as the federal trial in Pennsylvania did, as the theological Trojan horse that it is. With ticks. Judge Jones could just as easily have been writing about President Bush’s theory of executive privilege, otherwise known, in this latest incarnation, as Nixon on Speed. Where is its national security warrant in the complete absence of evidence, accountability, accomplishments?

Peer review is the academic term for checks and balances, otherwise known as the Black Hole of Washington politics in the last five years. The Bush administration wanted its NSA spying scheme to remain a secret because its reasoning is no more defensible, no more sustainable, than that of the dervishes of Intelligent Design. Give spygate a little scrutiny and it crumbles of its own weightlessness: It was the NSA itself, like the FBI and the CIA, that so grossly neglected to act on what it knew and could have known more about, legally, had it not been dozing at the listening posts and refusing to share what it tracked with the FBI until after the 2001 attacks. Not that the FBI, notoriously and criminally more molasses than Mossad, would have reacted intelligently. Now we have a president who claims the spying program is an absolute necessity, because the legal process doesn’t stand up to necessity anymore than it stands up to scrutiny. It cannot. An empirical look at the program might even legitimize it as a national security tool, proving to Congress, behind all the closed doors they please, why it’s needed and how effective it’s been. But for that you’d need facts. Evidence of effectiveness. Evidence of an intelligently designed spying operation.

Lacking that, you get stone walls. Lacking stones in a democracy that still puts on at least the appearance of transparency, you get lies, like what President Bush said in Buffalo on April 19, 2004: “[W]hen the President says something, he better mean it. See, in order to make the world more peaceful, it’s essential that those of us in positions of high responsibility speak clearly and mean what we say.” Moments later, this is what he did say: “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.”

There’s a lot of carping in the press about whether it’s just to call Bush a liar if he’s only being sincere, or acting on received information—that is, if, in a six-grader sort of way, he doesn’t know any better. “I’m against the ‘liar’ label for two reasons,” Nicholas Kristof, technically a liberal, wrote in his New York Times column on June 30, 2004. “First, it further polarizes the political cesspool, and this polarization is making America increasingly difficult to govern. Second, insults and rage impede understanding.” But what’s Kristof or anyone to call a contradiction as blatant as Bush’s in Buffalo in 2004 and Bush since last Saturday? What if the president is insulting us and making a cesspool of the Constitution? What if it isn’t rage that impedes understanding, but the president himself, willfully and unapologetically?

Bush is not only conceding but defending spygate, with a feign of self-righteous outrage quite similar to Sean Hannity’s reactionary tantrums. He’s calling it a vital gap-filler, like intelligent design partisans claiming their theory fills gaps evolution cannot. So what has become of the no-wiretaps-without-warrants assurance? How can that not be a lie, to say nothing of the crime of it all? The White House’s answer: The president was only referring to the Patriot Act. Not to his secret program. So he’s on fair grounds. In other words: even credibility is, as Dick Cheney would say, executive privilege. Facts are what the White House say they are. It even has its peer-reviewers: Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Dick Cheney.

For all its obsession with orthodoxy and control, not even the Council of Nicea was that narrow, that despotic, that nauseatingly self-aggrandizing.