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Shadows and Secrets: What a Shadow Government Might Reveal for us about Our Secret Government

By David Lytel March 11, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wants to know more about the Bush Administration’s plan for the suspension of the Constitution in case of national emergency. Is the Bush Administration’s establishment of bunkers containing executives of government agencies a shadow government or is it a secret one? While the Republicans have been blistering in their attack on him, to many Democrats Daschle hasn’t gone nearly far enough in shining a light on the question of who runs the country. Not only does the secret government need to be revealed, but the country urgently needs a real shadow government – one that provides clear alternatives to the policies in place today.

Of course, on the face of it what Bush is calling a “shadow government” isn’t that at all. Instead, it is just as Daschle characterizes it -- a “secret government.” Is its purpose to ensure the continued functioning of federal agencies in the event of a disaster? Or is its purpose to enable the usurpation by the executive branch of the powers the Constitution places in three co-equal branches? Not only do the American people have no idea, but frighteningly neither does the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, who is also being kept in the dark.

If the Bush Administration wanted to ensure a “continuity of government” in the event of a catastrophic national emergency it would have taken steps to make sure that the people’s representatives in Washington, assembled in Congress, would continue to be able to meet and act. Surely such a crisis would require a policy response and not just the continued delivery of the mail and collection of taxes. Instead, as Daschle points out, the duly elected representatives of the will of the people, in whom the Constitution vests the power to raise revenues and declare war, have been “left in the shadows,” not even consulted by the Bush Administration’s secret plan to perpetuate itself.

While Daschle’s courage is appreciated, to many Democratic activists he hasn’t gone nearly far enough with his questions. Bush’s plan is actually for a new secret government that serves as a back up to the current secret government. A growing body of evidence reported abroad identifies the Bush Administration’s own bellicose threats in secret meetings with the Taliban as the provocation for the attack of September 11th. It was a sneak attack only to the overwhelming majority of us who are not part of the secret government. The Taliban understood only too well that it either had to give in to the control of its oil and natural gas reserves by American petroleum companies or it would be destroyed. Those secret talks that collapsed in the summer are the real unreported prelude to the war. So September 11th represents more than the worst attack on American soil in history. It is also the greatest failure of American diplomacy since the Japanese government’s declaration of World War II got lost in the mail.

The reason the Bush administration is fighting so hard to keep the records of Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force secret is most likely the further evidence they would provide that the Administration is an aggressive foreign commercial agent on behalf of the U.S. petroleum industry. It is increasingly likely that the Task Force’s records would reveal that the Texas oilmen in business asked the Texas oilmen in government to threaten the Taliban with war if it did not let us secure control over the oil fields of Central Asia. To our everlasting regret, they chose war over capitulation.

What America needs most urgently in these challenging times is a real shadow government – one built and maintained by the opposition to illuminate alternatives to the current public policies. The Republicans have had a remarkable success creating the illusion that democratic debate and consideration of a range of possible policy alternatives is unpatriotic. Bush and his Congressional allies have de-legitimized any politics that is not about the mobilization of support for Bush and his agenda. Not surprisingly, this has worked so well for them that they’re happily attaching more cars to it that have nothing at all to do with terrorism, like drilling for oil in Alaska and massive tax rebates to their corporate underwriters.

But there is, in fact, a good shadow government out there made up of people ready to govern. We’ve never needed one more. Congressman John Lewis, UNICEF head Carol Bellamy and former Senators Bill Bradley, Bill Richardson and George Mitchell are just some of the Democrats who could be brilliant secretaries of State. Banker Steve Rattner could be a very successful secretary of the Treasury. Walter Dellinger or Eric Holder would be outstanding Attorneys General. Retired General Claudia Kennedy could be a masterful Secretary of Defense. In this time of national crisis these are just some of the people who could provide valuable insight on the road not being chosen in areas ranging from national defense to the creation of robust economic growth.

If we are truly fighting in Afghanistan to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world, then we can certainly render our own government’s policy-making apparatus more transparent and tolerate an open debate on the future course of an endless war. We don’t need a secret government and we don’t need a back up to the secret government. We need a shadow government to help America understand that there is more to being the world’s omnipotent power than just trusting a cartel of Texas oilmen to do whatever they think is right.

Lytel is Managing Partner of Democrats.com, the largest independent community of Democratic activists with headquarters on the Internet at Democrats.com