Excerpt from Lewis Lapham’s article titled Light in the Window
in “Harper’s Magazine,” March 2003

A government that becomes accustomed to thinking of itself as an empire falls easily into the habit of issuing imperial decrees and soon acquires the characteristics that Secretary of State Cohn Powell last February attributed to a failed state, ‘‘unrepresentative of its people . . . rife with corruption,” blighted by “a lack of transparency,” thinking that “it can achieve a position on the world stage through development of weapons of mass destruction that will turn out to be fool’s gold . . .“ The secretary was speaking of North Korea and Iraq; he might as well have been talking about Vice President Dick Cheney’s vision of a reconfigured United States. If not as a concerted effort to restrict the liberties of the American people, how else does one describe the Republican agenda now in motion in the nation’s capital? Backed by the specious promise of imminent economic recovery and secured by the guarantee of never-ending war, the legislative measures mobilized by the White House and the Congress suggest that what the Bush Administration has in mind is not the defense of the American citizenry against a foreign enemy but the protection of the American oligarchy from the American democracy. In every instance, and no matter what the issue immediately at hand, the bias is the same—more laws limiting the rights of individuals, fewer laws restraining the rights of property:

  1. The systematic transfer of the nation’s wealth from the union of the poor to the confederacy of the rich. President Bush’s new plan to exclude from taxation all corporate dividends received by individuals, at the same time lowering the income-tax rates previously scheduled to take effect between now and 2009, assigns the bulk of the refund (64 percent) to the wealthiest 5 percent of the nation’s taxpayers, more than half of the award to people earning at least $200,000 a year, a quarter of it to people earning more than $1 million a year.

  2. The easing of environmental regulations on the energy industries in New England.

  3. The opening of the national forests in the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to further expropriation by the oil, gas, mining, and timber industries.

  4. The persistent issuing of health-insurance regulations intended to subvert and eventually overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, that recognized a woman’s freedom to decide whether or not she will give birth to a child.

  5. The reinforcing of the monopolies held by the big media syndicates on the country’s systems of communication.

  6. Outfitting the banks and credit-card agencies with the privilege to sell to the highest bidders any or all of the personal data acquired from their customers.

  7. The broad expansion of the government’s police powers under the USA Patriot and Homeland Security acts, the Justice Department reserving to itself the right to tap anybody’s phone and open everybody’s mail.

  8. A series of bills in Congress meant to reduce the nation’s health-care costs by denying medical services to people too poor to pay for the upkeep of the insurance companies.

  9. The nomination to the federal appeals courts of judges apt to find legal precedents in the pages of the Bible rather than in the Constitution.

As if wishing to leave nobody in doubt about the political bias now afoot in Washington, President Bush took the trouble to juxtapose his endorsement of affirmative action for the rich (the speech to the Economic Club of Chicago on January 7 (2003) favoring the removal of all taxes paid on corporate dividends) with his objection to affirmative action for the poor (his remarks from the White House on January 15 finding fault with the admissions policies at the University of Michigan).