by George Beres
(Swans - August 29, 2005) Intimidation by the Bush administration is becoming so pervasive that even the strongest supporters of the legendary senator, Wayne Morse, seem fearful of speaking out.
As a member of the Wayne Morse Corporation Board in Eugene, I admire the way its dedicated citizens have honored principles of the senator's life. But things have changed lately. A current example raises doubts about their commitment to principles of an award they give to a national politician of courage. It honors political integrity like that which made Morse the symbol of independence during his quarter century in the US Senate.
Because compromised principles have become the pattern in political behavior today, it is easy to recognize any legislator with Morse's character, because it is increasingly rare. Still, the Morse board has found them.
Difficulty for even Morse proponents to reflect his qualities may be an ominous sign of the times. It suggests intimidation by the Bush administration has seeped down to those of us on the local level. We cower before that tool of autocrats which creates fear in those tempted to challenge actions of a power structure, be it dictatorship, or dictatorship-in-the-making.
Like many others, I at first wrote off early administration lies as standard political maneuvering. It got troubling when I saw news media reacting guardedly to scrutiny from those who proclaim, "You either are with us, or against us." My concern grew when I sensed legislators who -- once known for independence -- began to think twice before questioning an action of those in charge. As for once-feisty members of the political party out of office, they grew mute in the face of "warnings from above."
Even in Eugene, Morse's kind of independence is stifled by a federal administration seeking full control. Three times in the past year, the Morse Board and related groups remained silent in the face of intimidation instead of speaking out with the message of the late Oregon senator they revere. If there is a new message there, it is that threats of retaliation from government and corporate money have impact even here.
During his quarter century in the Senate (1944-1968), Morse served as a Republican, a Democrat, and in his true persona, an Independent. Even a president of his party-of-the-time was not immune to the Morse challenge to lies in high places. The man known as the Tiger of the Senate turned on President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, challenging his Gulf of Tonkin fabrication that expanded action in Vietnam into a full-scale war.
Now charges of an Iraq War with roots in the same kind of executive lies have started talk of impeachment in the Congress. An 85-year old Morse Board member, John Saemann, proposed that -- in the spirit of Morse -- the Board join those urging members of Congress to explore justifications for impeachment. Joining with him are three other board members, including a former state Supreme Court justice who knew Morse.
Their efforts were stonewalled by Board officers who said such a public expression might jeopardize the group's tax-exempt status.
Failure of the Board to respond gets awkward when Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) is one of 26 co-sponsors for a Resolution of Inquiry in the House of Representatives. Rep. Lee is the most recent recipient of the Morse Integrity in Politics Award, given every two years by the Board to remind the public of Morse's principles.
The Lee resolution would require the White House to "transmit all information relating to communication with officials of the United Kingdom, Jan. 2, 2002 - Oct. 16, 2002, on policy of the United States regarding Iraq." The dates coincide with the Downing Street Memo in England that verified Bush's decision to lie to the nation in order to invade Iraq. There is irony in this for the Morse Board, whose silence is in embarrassing contrast to the action of its 2003 award winner.
Growing intimidation by a federal autocracy and corporate money has surfaced recently in Oregon through a pattern of silence. Refusal to give voice to Morse concepts that support Rep. Lee's action was the third time in the past year when Morse-related groups gave in to intimidation from either administration threats or corporate influence.
The first was last November, through a Board affiliate at the University of Oregon, the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. The Center informed controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill that it was canceling his invitation to speak at the Center. Morse -- whether or not he agreed with Churchill -- would have demanded he not be deprived the right to speak at an event held in his name. Churchill had criticized US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Center's action was its response to government "political correctness."
The next was at the March dedication of a life-size statue of the senator at the Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County Building. Gov. Ted Kulongoski was main speaker in the short formal program. He was followed by timberman Aaron Jones, shocking community long-timers who knew his notoriety as a lumber baron was contrary to Morse's commitment to needs of small business.
County commissioners invited him to speak because he was a major contributor to funding for the statue. I know of a Jones action after Morse's death that was contrary to the Senator's dedication to the environment, and would have infuriated him. Jones promised a major contribution to the university, but only if the School of Law, which Morse once headed, would drop its Environmental Law Center. The university agreed.
These are not parochial issues in the hometown that once knew Morse. They are Oregon metaphors for the Bush administration's expanding thought control at the local, as well as national, level. The only antidote citizens of conscience can use is to speak out against government actions that go counter to the law of the land.
Prof. Churchill, victim of suppression of free expression in Oregon last March, could get it started. He has a standing invitation to speak his mind when he next can be in Eugene. His venue is obvious:
The Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.