Homeland Kabuki

Christopher Hayes

As always, it’s hard to know what to make of the latest threat announcement from Tom Ridge. Democrats, who have been increasingly skeptical about these kinds of press conferences, have seemed reluctant to call out the administration on this one because the information provided is so specific. At the same time, the specificity and the fact that the administration tells us the information is credible doesn’t mean it is credible (See: Mass Destruction, Weapons of) Now among lefties you hear fairly often that Bush has already captured Osama and is just waiting until a week before the election to announce the capture. I try not to think too much about that contingency, because there doesn’t seem to be anyway to counteract it, and there are enough aspects of the Bush administration that give me agita – I can’t really handle any more. At the same time, the politics of these terror warnings are truly frightening and at their most fundamental they represent something anathema to our system of government: unchecked executive power. These press conferences are completely unrestrained by any oversight by other branches of government, and since the media doesn’t have access to classified intelligence they tend to take them at face value, unless they can find a Democrat to cast aspersions on the motivation of the warning. Basically the White House knows that at any time they can call a press conference, raise the threat level, announce in chilling detail some alleged plot and completely drive the news coverage for that day. They currently have the unilateral power to knock anything they want off the front page and create a torrent of media coverage that will reinforce their largest strength: Bush’s prosecution of the so-called “War on Terror” Think about how tempting it would be to use these press conferences as a central pillar in a campaign communications strategy. The benefits are manifold and the drawbacks are nil. The foundational principle of our Constitution is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even if I thought the president was a fundamentally decent human being, or agreed with his politics, I certainly wouldn’t trust him with the unchecked power to create panic at a whim.

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Christopher Hayes is the host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. He is an editor at large at the Nation and a former senior editor of In These Times.
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