V for Vendetta, the powerful political drama based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel of dystopian society, has skyrocketed to box office success among young audiences.
Featuring Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix) and Natalie Portman, the movie’s setting is a futuristic dictatorship in Great Britain that begins after a devastating war.
Critics and moviegoers alike are calling the movie and its model of oppressive governmental control an anti-Bush critique. Hopefully, though, audiences will draw the more significant correspondence: what the Bush administration and the hypothetical dictatorship have in common is first and foremost secrecy, then control.
During the years of Clinton’s administration, the public and the press enjoyed a golden age of silver-tongued public speeches, press conferences and national addresses.
Clinton was all too willing to allow question and comment sessions on public policy, foreign trade transactions or even his public image. The Bush team, on the other hand, has proven to be walled-in and impenetrable to outsiders.
In February, the White House was under scrutiny for not releasing information that Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot Texas lawyer Harry Wittington.
Cheney’s advisers debated the morning after the shooting whether or not to publicize the incident, ultimately deciding to defer the responsibility to ranch owner and witness Katharine Armstrong.
Not by happenstance, I’m sure, Armstrong is the daughter of a former Halliburton official who hired Cheney as chief executive officer.
Another hot-fire issue centered on the Dubai ports. According to media coverage at the time of the leak, Bush had given the go-ahead for the United Arab Emirates’ Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to control major U.S. ports (the same president who wants to renew the Patriot Act so the government can intercept our domestic communications).
What made this situation even more humiliating is that neither President George W. Bush nor Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff even knew about the proposal until the venom was spewing from papers and talk shows.
Besides the embarrassing miscommunications and public/media relations failures, the Bush administration has sanctioned its business under the over-arching precept of national security time and time again.
Not unlike the Nixon legacy of cover-ups (bombings in Cambodia, Laos and later Watergate), the current administration is hostile toward the confidentiality of sources, high-profile leaks and journalists pursuing classified information.
According to the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the administration is also quietly reclassifying nearly 10,000 government documents that have already been made public. This is a very indicating and frightening statistic for the future transparency, or lack thereof, of federal and bureaucratic proceedings.
In V for Vendetta, the British government is able to gain total control by engineering a deadly virus and its partner vaccine. The conservative party strategically unleashes the virus on a portion of the public, and the resulting widespread panic allows the conservatives to intervene as the country’s savior. Not a far cry from Nazi leader Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s.
While the U.S. government by no means represents the extent of this future dictatorship, a loss of democracy occurs in incremental transfers of power and access. The more the American public receives the ‘Don’t worry, your government’s got it taken care of’ parental treatment, the more it slips into non-interference, complacency and uninformed citizenry.
President Bush’s secretive administration and national security procedures detract from the transparency of American government and democracy.
The story of V for Vendetta is like the story of all controlling regimes: power springs from what the people don’t know.
Americans should no longer tolerate secrecy from the government.
Erin Cusack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.