The President of the United States owes this country an apology. The last of them, it appears, was the very man whose letter provoked the President into the conduct, for which the apology is essential. There are now none around him who would tell him or could.An apology is this President's only hope of regaining the slightest measure of confidence, of what has been, for nearly two years, a clear majority of his people.Not "confidence" in his policies nor in his designs nor even in something as narrowly focused as which vision of torture shall prevail -- his, or that of the man who has sent him into apoplexy, Colin Powell.In a larger sense, the President needs to regain our confidence, that he has some basic understanding of what this country represents -- of what it must maintain if we are to defeat not only terrorists, but if we are also to defeat what is ever more increasingly apparent, as an attempt to re-define the way we live here, and what we mean, when we say the word "freedom." Because it is evident now that, if not its architect, this President intends to be the contractor, for this narrowing of the definition of freedom.The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger, that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but within it contained one particularly chilling phrase. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," he was asked by a reporter."If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?
Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees. And when a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path -- one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.What all of us will agree on, is that we have the right -- we have the duty -- to think about the comparison. With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right, that Colin Powell cannot be right. In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark. That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think.And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think -- and say -- what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right. Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth. Bush, what would you say to something that anti-thetical to the status quo just now?It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he alone has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights. Powell's letter -- cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive -- can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague? Would you call it "unacceptable" for Jefferson to think such things, or to write them? But at least it provides an alternative possibility as to why the President's words were at such variance from the entire history of this country. Bush, than that you truly believe we should live in a United States of America in which a thought is unacceptable.This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Between your confidence in your infallibility, sir, and your demonizing of dissent, and now these rages better suited to a thwarted three-year old, you have left the unnerving sense of a White House coming unglued - a chilling suspicion that perhaps we have not seen the peak of the anger; that we can no longer forecast what next will be said to, or about, anyone who disagrees. On this newscast last Friday night, Constitiutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the "detainees" transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured. There needs to be a delegation of responsible leaders -- Republicans or otherwise -- who can sit you down as Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott once sat Richard Nixon down - and explain the reality of the situation you have created. Bush, the others -- for warnings unheeded five years ago, for war unjustified four years ago, for battle unprepared three years ago -- they are not weighted with the urgency and necessity of this one.That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions, might not be about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them. There needs to be an apology from the President of the United States. We must know that, to you, thought with which you disagree -- and even voice with which you disagree and even action with which you disagree -- are still sacrosanct to you.The philosopher Voltaire once insisted to another author, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Since the nation's birth, Mr.Bush, we have misquoted and even embellished that statement, but we have served ourselves well, by subscribing to its essence. 18, 2006 | Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space.Oddly, there are other words of Voltaire's that are more pertinent still, just now. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter."Think for yourselves," he wrote, "and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think and the rest of us get yelled at by the President. All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.