"The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs," by David Unger
Jeff Glor talks to David Unger about "The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
David Unger: A big part of it, of course, was the Bush administration's radical course after 9/11 - Guantanamo, torture, extra-ordinary rendition, wholesale wiretapping. I've been a journalist covering national security issues for 35 years, so I was well aware that previous administrations had bent the constitutional rules. But they always claimed they weren't. What happened after 2001 was much more brazen. The mantra "9/11 changed everything" turned into a formula for trashing the rules America had claimed to live by for years as "quaint," unworkable and dangerous relics of another era.
But then, on closer examination, much of Bush's new paradigm turned out to be built on old precedents. Previous administrations, of both parties - and I stress, of both parties - claimed to be respecting traditional constitutional rules and practices. But the sum total of their actions had been building an ad hoc emergency state, existing in parallel with our constitutional democracy. So it wasn't just going to be a matter of moving away from Bush's policies, or Republican policies or the shadow of 9/11. That's what this book is about. We would need to reach back further, much further, say to around 1940, to re-find our constitutional way. Three years of the Obama administration have clearly shown that changing faces or parties at the top will not be enough to extricate us from the Emergency State.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
DU: The biggest single surprise was seeing how central Progressive senators from both parties - Teddy Roosevelt Progressives, that is, though most of them also backed Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 - had been in resisting the first inroads of the Emergency State. We've come to think of the Progressive Movement as supporters of big government, and they were. But World War I had alerted them to how presidential power grabs during wartime could snuff out the democratic accountability they also believed in and could divert political energy and economic resources from domestic reform. All that changed during the cold war, when both parties turned their back on their own Progressive traditions, the Democrats becoming overly enamored of presidential power and the Republicans of covert foreign interventions and CIA coups.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
DU: That's hard to know, since I've been writing, in one form or another, all my life. But my best guess is that I'd be reading about these same subjects, which fascinate me, and writing about them in my head.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
DU: I have my own favorite way of reading, which is to make my way through a lot of books simultaneously. Most of what I am reading now is about 20th century history and economics - American, European and Asian. The Emergency State has a lot of economic history in it, showing how Emergency State foreign policies and the shortchanging of democracy that went with them, helped worsen some of the global trade, competitiveness and debt imbalances that drag down the U.S. economy today. Not all of our economic problems, mind you. That would be explaining too much. But enough to make a difference and to make us look at whether some of the ways we use U.S. power - hard and soft - in the world really serve the best interests of the American people.
JG: What's next for you?
DU:This book was mostly about where we went wrong in recent decades, straying from the democratic vision that makes us who we are at our best. I'd like my next book to be more positive and prescriptive, about recovering the healthy traditions of our pre-Emergency State past, like the Progressives, and seeing what they have to say for the world of today and tomorrow.
MORE VIDEO:David Unger explains what the "Emergency State" is and how it came to be. Jeff Glor talks to David Unger about the actual dollar amounts spent in the pursuit of national security. Jeff Glor talks to David Unger about the inevitability of the U.S. being drawn into a war if there is an Israeli strike against Iran.
For more on "The Emergency State" visit the Penguin Group website.
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