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“I acknowledge that mistakes were made.”
–Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales

Isn’t the passive voice a wonderful thing? It’s a way to appear responsible, without actually taking any responsibility. A handy rhetorical tool for those in politics, and one which we got to see in use just today, as our Chief Rationalizer for the Undermining of the Constitution, also known as the Attorney General, tried to justify the political firing of eight U.S. Attorneys while at the same time pretending he had nothing to do with it.

“Mistakes were made,” certainly, but when phrased that way, it leaves open the very important question, who by? Please, tell us, exactly who made these mistakes? You? Karl Rove? The alleged president? The American people, by voting these weasels into power? I submit to you, my nonexistent readers, that there is a world of difference between saying “mistakes were made,” and admitting that “I made a mistake.”

In fairness to Gonzales, he is hardly the first political-type to try to weasel out of a tight spot using the passive voice, and he certainly won’t be the last. Examples abound of this sort of creative use of the passive voice in politics. I seem to recall someone in the Reagan administration saying it in connection with the Iran-Contra affair, and others have used similar words in similarly awkward or appalling political situations.

And there are good reasons why we see so much of this from the mouths of politicians. A rather startling percentage of politicians are lawyers, after all, and while law students are generally urged by their writing instructors to use the active voice, those same instructors will be the first to tell you that the passive voice can be your friend when you want to accurately describe the facts in a brief without making your client look guilty of whatever he or she (or it, in the case of corporate clients) has been accused of. Consider the following example:

Imagine you are representing a defendant in a civil lawsuit in which one party is being sued for, hypothetically speaking, shooting the plaintiff in the face while the plaintiff and the defendant were out hunting after having a few beers. Which of the following sentences would you rather include in your legal brief?

“Plaintiff was shot in the face while hunting.”


“Defendant Cheney then accidentally shot the plaintiff in the face.”

The first option acknowledges that the plaintiff was shot in the face, but provides no information about who pulled the trigger. Conversely, even putting in the word “accidentally” in the second statement doesn’t help our poor defendant out very much there, does it?

In fairness to the Republicans (and make a note that I am trying to be fair to the slimy bastards), Democrats are probably just as guilty of abuse of the passive voice. In the face of reporters trying to get Hillary Clinton to admit that she was wrong to vote in favor of the Iraq war, the most I have heard anyone get from her is an acknowledgment that “it was a mistake” — not that she made a mistake. (Shame on you, Hillary. You’re not fooling anyone with half a brain and that will work against you, since you’re not running for the Republican Party’s nomination.)

Some reporters push the issue, but it seems like many more dutifully repeat what is said to them without further inquiry. And of course, on Faux News, they just stick to whatever talking points they’ve been handed by their Republican Party overlords. We need to start forcing the issue when we are confronted with politicians trying to passive-voice their way out of a sticky situation. Otherwise, mistakes will continue to be made, and responsibility will continue to be ducked.

jane doe

Yes, they found him guilty, on four out of five counts. Proving that occasionally, the jury system works in this country. Really, after all the testimony, was there any doubt that he wouldn’t be found guilty on at least one count? I don’t think so.

But the question is, now what? Everyone’s like, well, Rove this, and Cheney that, but are there going to be any consequences to either of those alleged gentlemen as a result of all this? I suspect not. Just a lot of sound and fury, which in the end accomplishes nothing. Sad, yes, but true.

In a just world, Cheney and Bush would both be impeached for their repeated, flagrant violations of the Constitution and their crimes against humanity (and yes, I have decided to use that term for their authorization of torture and other misdeeds), and they would be removed from office. But in the current environment, I don’t see it happening. I want it. I’ll scream at the top of my lungs that it should happen. But again, that is just more sound and fury.

I tell myself that the great big wheel-o-karma will eventually come swinging back around and whap them all upside the head — and I will allow that perhaps we are starting to see a bit of that already. But will true justice be served? And what would true justice look like, for these bastards who have stolen our civil liberties, violated the laws of man, waged an unjustified war that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of our own citizens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, most of them civilians, and brought shame upon our nation? Is there a form of justice that can be administered in this lifetime that is sufficient to offset the crimes this administration has committed against our own citizens and the citizens of other countries?

It’s enough to make those of us of different spiritual/religious/philosophical bents begin to appreciate some of the appeal of the Christian notion of a hereafter where the good are rewarded and evildoers are punished in a manner that is suited to their crimes. The ancient Greeks told stories of Tantalus and others, condemned to eternal tortures that reflected the appalling nature of their acts. Dante wrote of the Inferno and the Purgatorio. These notions of punishment that far exceed what we mere mortals can do seem somehow fitting for the catastrofuck our leaders have wrought.

But then I wonder, what punishment for us, the American people, for failing to stop the bastards once the nature of their misdeeds became clear? Perhaps having to live with them as our leaders is our punishment? Do we not deserve to be shunned by the civilized nations of the world, for allowing such conditions to fester? I speak out, I write letters, I call members of Congress, but I feel as if I should be doing more — that I owe it to the other people of the world who are being harmed by our current administration’s actions.

And yet tomorrow, I will go to work, and to classes, and do the daily tasks of life that we all do. I will bemoan the state of the world with my co-workers and my fellow students. My day will be filled up by the little day-to-day things that seem to take up all my time, and at the end of the day I will once again wonder, what could I have done today that would help to fix things? And I will again berate myself for not having done something more concrete, and maybe hate myself just a little bit more.

Against all that, finding Scooter Libby guilty of a few relatively minor crimes really doesn’t seem all that important…

jane doe

I am in despair tonight, and I should apologize upfront because this is going to be rambling and far less focused than my posts usually are, but I feel a need to vent.

Our country is in a sorry state, and most people seem to feel like it is someone else’s problem to fix. Perhaps it is beyond fixing. I don’t know. It just seems that everywhere I look, I see mounting problems, with more problems lining up behind them. I find myself laughing in that nervous, slightly insane way that is nevertheless preferable to screaming at the existential horror of it all. I literally pull my hair and bang my head against the wall, and I lie awake at night wondering whether our country will survive another 686 days with George W. Bush in the White House.

Why do I feel such despair, you may ask? I hardly know where to begin.

First, above everything, we have the war in Iraq. The war we shouldn’t be in. The war our alleged president manipulated intelligence, manipulated public opinion, and flat-out lied to get us into. It will be George Bush’s legacy to our country, to his and our everlasting shame. Support our troops by sending more of them over there to die, that makes sense.

From this problem stem so many others. Our executive branch’s apparent abrogation of the Geneva Convention (and large portions of the Constitution), the effective elimination of habeas corpus, the torturing of prisoners of war — sorry, unlawful enemy combatants — these are not steps the president should be taking in our names. Once America stood as the bastion of freedom, honor, and human dignity. It was supposed to be a place where all men and women stood equal before the law, where all were treated with respect and one was innocent until proven guilty. That no longer is the case. Instead our officials are resorting to the means and methods of petty dictators, while still trying to claim the moral authority we once had.

Remember those civil liberties that we were always told set our country apart from other, less worthy nations? The liberties politicians say they are protecting when they send our military men and women off to war — in Iraq, in Afghanistan? Gone now, many of them. Fourth amendment right to be “secure in [your] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”? Gone. Gotta fight them terrorists. Feel like exercising your first amendment right to speak up about that? You’re emboldening the terrorists, you traitor. We must fight the terrorists overseas so we don’t have to fight them here, and the only way to save our democracy is apparently by turning it into an authoritarian dictatorship.

And don’t get me started on the growing intolerance in this country. I want to cry when I hear Christians claiming there is some sort of war against Christianity in this country, just because some people think the ten commandments don’t belong in government buildings. The reason I want to cry is because I am a practitioner of a non-Christian religion, and I feel like I am regularly hit in the face with Christianity everywhere I look these days. Don’t get me wrong — I think people should be able to practice whatever religion they want. And I am cool with the fact that the majority religion in this country is Christianity so they get their holidays as official days off work, even though the rest of us don’t. But I am terrified by people who think they should legislatively impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us. And yes, if you think that stem cell research is immoral, that Intelligent Design should be taught as science, and that park rangers at the Grand Canyon shouldn’t be able to talk about how long it took for the river to carve the geological formations there because it contradicts the biblical timeline for creation, I am talking about you.

Of course, with the war, and all the money that is going straight from the IRS to Halliburton’s coffers (with a little bit trickling out the other end to rebuild Iraq and, oh yeah, New Orleans, remember them?), the economy is now going into the shitter. Market correction, my ass. If China is getting nervous, we all should be putting aside some danger money right now. The corporations have been having their way with our economy for years now, and particularly the past few years with Incurious George in the White House, and we are all screwed.

And the mainstream media, well, now, that’s just another bunch of big corporations, right? And not a very big bunch, either, getting smaller by the year, as mega-corporation merges with mega-corporation. Certain right-wing blowhards like to talk about the alleged liberal media, but it’s mostly a myth. With a few notable exceptions. what you have is the centrist media, which genuinely tries to just report the facts, and the right-wing media like Faux News and talking heads. Yes, there are a few liberals, and thank the deity of your choice for people like Olbermann, Stewart, and Colbert, but for the most part the mainstream media is as conservative as the large corporations that control it. Fair and balanced? Ha!

Our education system is falling apart, teachers are paid a pittance, and yet right-wing pundits act like the education lobby is some scary, fascist organization. You want to know how to fix education? Here’s a start: pay teachers enough money that all the brilliant people who would love to teach but want to earn enough money to own a house and send their children to college can actually do so by becoming teachers instead of going to law school. This country needs more teachers and fewer lawyers.

How about healthcare? Our country is facing a major crisis, in part due to the fact that we have so many people without access to health care. We are going to have a major influenza epidemic (bird flu, anyone?), and millions of people are going to die because when you have large numbers of people without access to healthcare the conditions for an epidemic flourish. Creating tax incentives for people to buy their own health insurance isn’t going to do the trick, because the people who are most likely to be uninsured through their employer are also the least likely to benefit from tax deductions, or even tax credits, because they have the lowest incomes.

Ooh, and speaking of healthcare, and getting back to the supporting our troops meme, how about supporting our troops after they come home? Giving them real healthcare and psychological services, and not make them wade through some sort of managed care phone tree to get treatment approved? These men and women are literally putting their lives on the line for this government’s policies. The very least the bastards in the White House can do is give them the red carpet treatment when they get back stateside and need care. That is how you support troops, Republican Party — by giving them the services they need, not by putting some magnetic American flag on your gas-guzzling SUV.

Which, of course, brings me to the environment. Sure, in the Midwest, in mid-February, global warming seems like a great idea. But come August, not so much. And I don’t imagine the polar bears are very happy about it, either.

And now we have our president, the one who lied to get us into Iraq, making a lot of scary noises about Iran. Pardon my French, but what the fuck? We don’t have the troops, we don’t have the money, and, hey, by the way, we don’t trust anything you’re saying anymore, Georgie-Boy. So just knock it off. We’re not going there. Got it? Let me repeat. We. Are. Not. Going. There.

Of course, he probably realizes we don’t have the forces to do that. That’s why he keeps making all the scary talk about nuclear — sorry, nucular — weapons. How low have my expectations for our government gotten if I say that I will be ecstatic if we can just get through the remainder of the Shrub’s term in office without him exploding a nuclear weapon somewhere in the world?

But really, all of this is only part of the cause of my despair. My real reason for being in despair is because it seems like the reaction of the vast majority of Americans to all of this angst-producing stuff is “Meh. Yeah, it sucks, someone should do something about that.”

Yes, I know, there are demonstrably lots of people out there trying to do something about all that. The blogosphere is full of people who have not for one second turned a blind eye to all the nonsense that is happening (and may the deity of their choice bless them all for that), and there are loads of people all over the country writing letters, sending e-mails, calling their congressional representatives, marching in the streets, what have you. But there are far, far more who aren’t doing a thing, who figure that it is someone else’s problem. ‘

In other countries, if the governments did some of the stuff our alleged president and his minions have done over the past few years, people would be rioting in the streets. Entire governments have been brought down for less. Hell, Bill Clinton got impeached over a blowjob, yet Nancy Pelosi says that’s not on the table right now in spite of all of Bush’s documented crimes against the Constitution, the American people, and — dare I say it — humanity. And we are all going about our business, saying “Yeah, someone should do something about that.”

And tomorrow morning, I will get up, and brush my teeth, and head to my office, before I go to classes in the afternoon. And I will think to myself, I should be doing something more. And I will come home in the evening, and watch Countdown, and The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report, and get my righteous indignation on, and then I will do my homework, and lie awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, and worry about all of this some more. And I will fall asleep, only to wake and repeat the whole cycle again. Maybe I will send an e-mail urging my senators to take some urgent action, to be logged and dutifully ignored by some senate staffer. I toy with the idea of starting a guerrilla political theater group on campus — maybe in the fall…

I know that I have broken no new ground with this post. Everything I’ve said here, has been said elsewhere, probably better than I could, already. But I needed to get it out of my system. If only so I can sleep a little better tonight.

So what’s the deal with the title of this entry? It’s from a recurring nightmare I had when I was younger. I was trapped in my house, which was full of spiders. Thousands of the eight-legged menaces, everywhere you looked — they spun their webs across the doors and on chairs, so you had to cut a web if you wanted to sit down, or go into another room, or do anything. And I would, understandably, be freaking out about the spiders in the dream, but I would be the only person who was. Everyone else just took them as a given. “Well, of COURSE there are spiders. Why are you letting it get to you?” And I wonder, is this — everything I’ve written about in this post, everything that’s troubling me about our country right now — the same sort of thing?

Questions? Comment?

jane doe

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March 2007