OLBERMANN: The man who sees absolutes where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning is either a prophet or a quack. Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet. We end the COUNTDOWN where we began, our No. 1 story with a special comment on Mr. Rumsfeld‘s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday. It demands the deep analysis and the sober contemplation of every American, for it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence, indeed the loyalty of the majority of Americans who impose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land.
Worst still, it credits those same transient occupants, our employees, with a total omniscience, a total omniscience which neither common sense nor this administration‘s track record, at home or abroad, suggest they deserve it. Dissent and disagreement with government is the life‘s blood of human freedom and not merely because it the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of his troops still fight this very evening in Iraq. It is also essential, because just every once in a while, it is right and the power to which it speaks is wrong.
In a small irony however, Mr. Rumsfeld speech writer was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis for in their time, there was another government faced with true peril; with a growing evil, powerful, and remorseless. That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld‘s, had a monopoly on all the facts. It too had the secret information, it alone had the true picture of the threat. It too, dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld‘s, questioning their intellect and their morality.
That government was England‘s in the 1930's. It knew Hitler posed in true threat to Europe, let alone to England. It knew Germany was not re-arming in violation of all treaties and accords. It knew that the hard evidence it had received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions, its own omniscience, needed to be dismissed.
The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth. Most relevant of all, it knew that its staunchest critics need to be marginalized and isolated. In fact it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty warmonger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused. That critic's name was Winston Churchill.
Sadly, we have no Winston Churchill‘s in evidence among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfeld demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill. History and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty and his own confusion, a confusion that suggested that the office cannot only make the man, but that the office can make the facts.
Thus did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy excepting the fact he has the battery plugged in backwards. His government absolute and exclusive in his knowledge is not the version of one that stood up to the Nazis. It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.
But back to today‘s omniscient ones, that about what Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: this is a democracy, still, sometimes just barely and as such, all voices count, not just his. Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience, about Osama bin Laden‘s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein‘s weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina‘s impact one year ago, we all might be able to swallow hard and accept their omniscience as a bearable, even useful recipe of fact plus ego.
But to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance and its own hubris. Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages to the entire fog of fear which continues to envelopes our nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and their cronies have inadvertently or intentionally profited and benefited, both personally and politically.
And yet he can stand up in public and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just the receipt for the emperor's new clothes.
In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child at whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?
The confusion, we as its citizens must now address, is stark and forbidding. But variations of it have faced our forefathers when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis Lemay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag.
Note, with hope in your heart, that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light and we can too. The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense and this administration are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek, the destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City so valiantly fought.
And about Mr. Rumsfeld‘s other main assertion of that this country faces a new type of fascism as he was correct to remind us that a government that knew everything could get everything wrong. So too was he right when he said that. Though probably not in the way he thought he meant. This country faces a new type of fascism, indeed.
Although I presumptuously use his sign off each night in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claims to the words of the exemplary journalist, Edward R. Murrow. But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other polarities thought they and they alone knew everything and branded those who disagreed confused or immoral.
Thus forgive me for reading Murrow in full.
“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty” he said in 1954, “We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not disended from fearful men, not from men who fear to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. And so, goodnight and good luck.”