by Garry Wills



The arguments in favor of the treaty to ban nuclear testing were sound on their merits, but the merits almost didn't matter. The opposition to the treaty fits a pattern of American opposition to all international engagements, and that in turn fits a pattern of fear over any delegated authority. The Senate's refusal to ratify the treaty had less to do with the specifics of this arrangement than with the mind-set that has made us unwilling to ratify the law of the seas treaty, the land mine treaty, the World Court system.

We belong to the United Nations only over the same kind of opposition, and we -- the richest nation in the world -- are deadbeat members who will not pay our dues. Some in Congress are determined, as well, that we never let our troops serve under U.N. command -- meaning we must do everything on our own. Though we are supposed to be the leader of the free world, leading is impossible if you refuse to seek grounds for joint action. A leader must influence, persuade and benefit from the efforts of others.

The stance we take toward the rest of the world is not one of leadership but of dictatorship: Take our terms or leave them. We will not enter into a process of mutual activity. There is a fear of delegating any power, lest that lead to the loss of all power. We will be taken over if we join in.

This is just a reflection, on the international level, of the fear of government we show toward our own representatives. Many of the mysteries of American life are bound up with this attitude. Other countries, for instance, cannot understand our frantic dependence on guns. They do not see that the gun is our symbol of self-protection precluding governmental intervention. If we give up our guns, we are helpless before a predacious government that will enslave us.

The same international puzzlement arises over the fact that we are one of the few industrialized nations that do not have a health plan for their citizens. Every time that sensible proposal has arisen -- from the days of the Truman administration -- it has been killed with a shout of "socialized medicine." Doctors will lose their freedom. The government will deprive patients of their choice. (As if private industry were not good enough at that in the growing HMO establishment.)

Campaign finance reform runs up against the same bugaboos. The government, we are told, will limit the freedom of people to support the candidates of their choice if it "dictates" what people can spend. Actually, everyone loses the freedom to run for office, or to hear from new voices, under the present system -- since the big money establishes who will be viable. The George Bush juggernaut is not an expression of freedom of debate but a powerful way of foreclosing it. "Freedom of speech" is a phony issue when used to defend the current money regime.

In all these areas, common sense is effectively checked whenever people raise the cry, "The government is coming! The government is coming!" There are reasons to keep government accountable, and to be suspicious of it when it tries to evade accountability, but the kind of phobic fear we have of government as in itself evil, as freedom-denying, sets us apart from other nations, and from sanity. Rather than be ruled by a government we control because it is made up of our own representatives, we submit to government by hysteria.



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