Issue 97- July 1, 2004


Freedom Rider:

The F Word

by Margaret Kimberley

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"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they have resisted with either words or blows or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."  – Frederick Douglass, 1857

When we think of the “F word” we think of the language recently used by Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney wouldn’t stand for a member of the United States Senate, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, having the nerve to request hearings on allegations of war profiteering by corporations such Halliburton. Full of the righteous indignation legitimized by one party rule, Cheney confronted Leahy and took him to task for doing his duty as a Senator. When the Senator forgot his place and persisted in his questioning, Cheney replied, “Go f_ _k  yourself.”

Cheney’s response sums up the Bush administration’s mission statement in a nutshell. You are either with us or against us. Don’t talk back, don’t ask questions. Shut up and do as you are told, even if you are a United States Senator. Cheney’s vulgarity was far worse than the utterance of a four letter word and should end the denial about the true nature of the Bush administration. Americans must now fight against the most insidious “F word” of all, fascism. If the analogy seems off base, a prominent jurist who personally experienced European fascism in the 1930s made connections between that system and our current dismal political situation.

Federal judge Guido Calabresi and his family fled from Italy during the Mussolini regime.  Calabresi drew a parallel between the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president in 2000 and the manner in which Mussolini came to power.

“In a way that occurred before but is rare in the United States…somebody came to power as a result of the illegitimate acts of a legitimate institution that had the right to put somebody in power. That is what the Supreme Court did in Bush versus Gore. It put somebody in power. The reason I emphasize that is because that is exactly what happened when Mussolini was put in by the king of Italy.”

Fascism conjures up awful images of goose-stepping Gestapo and doesn’t fit Americans’ concept of themselves. There is no Fuhrer or Il Duce in this country. Even Judge Calabresi points out that Bush is no Hitler.

While it is true that we have no Hitler Youth or book burning ceremonies we should not allow the absence of those phenomena to encourage denial of the sinister changes taking place. All the elements of fascism are present, albeit American style. 

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who should have recused himself from the Gore v. Bush decision because his son worked for the Bush campaign, does not want his speeches taped. Scalia is so shy that a reporter recording one of his speeches had her tape erased by a zealous United States Marshal. Reporters whose notes and recordings are destroyed are lucky compared to those foreign journalists who are strip searched, handcuffed and locked up overnight if they arrive in the United States without a journalist visa.

In Springfield, Illinois, Rick Garcia, political director of the gay rights group Equality Illinois, wrote his thoughts in a memory book dedicated to the late Ronald Reagan. His words were not a paean to Reagan, but an expression of the pain caused by Reagan’s inattention to AIDS and the subsequent needless deaths that followed. Julie Staley, a reporter for television station WICS was not content to disagree with Garcia when she read his thoughts. Ms. Staley found a security guard who assisted her in confronting Mr. Garcia and berated him for his lack of adherence to right wing personality cults.

It is not surprising that an admirer of Ronald Reagan would request the help of law enforcement in order to squelch dissent, but it is terrifying that Ms. Staley was correct in assuming that law enforcement would comply with her wishes. While progressives dither among themselves and wonder whether the word fascism is appropriate, those who believe in that system are already using force and coercion to keep us in line.

Ms. Staley might object to being called a fascist, but a denial doesn’t mean that the shoe doesn’t fit. America can be saved only if enough people are ready to speak words that make others uncomfortable. Thinking people are already uncomfortable and shouldn’t be afraid of making Julie Staley and her ilk angry. They are like alcoholics living with enablers. They haven’t been told that their behavior is unacceptable and the result is predictable. They become more and more empowered as we suffer a steady loss of our dignity, rights and liberties.

Frederick Douglass surely had powers of clairvoyance. His words ring as true in the 21st century as they did in the 19th. One cannot read that famous quote in 2004 without wondering how much more we will endure. Unfortunately, the only side ready to wage ideological battle on these issues is the right wing. Democrats are quite simply over matched. They lack the willingness to fight back or even acknowledge that there is a problem when a Vice President feels free to use abusive language because a Senator insists on advising the executive branch as required by the Constitution.

Judge Calabresi ended up proving his point in a way he could not have intended. Just a few days after his original remarks were made public he apologized for having made them. If federal judges with lifetime tenure can’t be honest, then the system is no longer democratic. Like Frederick Douglass, Calabresi was right the first time.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in .  Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at

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