09/09/2010 01:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The End Of American Goodness - Obama Greases The Skids

Americans have always viewed the man holding the sign, "The End Is Near" as a bit nutty. We see ourselves as a great nation and a good people. The best of times are always ahead, never behind. Hope trumps all. The march of freedom is forever forward. Isn't it? Will we always be a great nation, a Great Power, and a people of goodness? Are you sure? Have we, at our peril, ignored reasoned, intelligent warnings? Alexis de Tocqueville was right. "If America ceases to be good," he wrote 175 years ago, "America will cease to be great." Did the Frenchman see this coming?

The Ninth Circuit federal court in San Francisco - widely praised and simultaneously denounced as America's most liberal court - has hammered the last nail in the coffin of American goodness. That court has ruled in favor of the Obama administration's assertion of the state secrets doctrine to throw out of court any action by five men who were the subjects of "rendition" under the Bush/Cheney administration. These men didn't lose their case in front of a jury, or even by a decision on the merits issued from the bench. Instead, the Ninth Circuit has denied these men their opportunity to present a case at all against those they claim are responsible for kidnapping them, flying them around the world to conspiring foreign nations, and there having them tortured - all in our name - yours and mine - by our government, carried out by the CIA we support and pay for, and by its various private accomplices. President Barack Obama asserted that to even have such a trial in an American court would violate "state secrets." Thus, to protect American freedom, we must stifle American freedom. To bow down before the state secrets doctrine is to deny fundamental justice and liberty to those seeking their day in court. I didn't say that. The Justices of the Ninth Circuit said so, and they agreed it must be done even if they did so "reluctantly." They should have known, the road to Hell is paved with reluctance.

Our American hero of World War II and later a Republican President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower said, "America is best described by one word, freedom." Try telling that to the five men denied their day in court by another American President who played the state secrets card. Doesn't our Pledge of Allegiance close this way: "With liberty and justice for all." What part of "For all" have we jettisoned with such casual indifference?

A government of law, not of men, has been overturned in favor of a government of fear. Fear dressed in a coat of "state secrets," proclaimed by men not subject to question, not faced with examination or a requirement to demonstrate credibility and proof. We have teetered at the edge before - many times according to some - but now we have been pushed off the cliff of principled, constitutional civil liberty. The last chance left is the Roberts Court. That's like hoping a bed of cotton candy will break the fall. It won't. The result will be the death of American exceptionalism, the end of Lincoln's dream of America as "the last best hope" of freedom on earth, and the beginning the authoritarian nightmare that lies ahead for us all.

It's been written that it took a patrician like Franklin Roosevelt to introduce the principles of social responsibility to federal government - all of course in the salvation of American capitalism - and we needed the viscerally anti-communist Richard Nixon to open the way to Red China - all again in the salvation of American capitalism (just cast a glance at our national debt to the Chinese if you doubt that) - and now we have seen how it takes our first black President, reviled by the far-right as a Leninist-Hitler-Muslim piñata, to push this nation past the line of reason, off the mountain top of freedom and civil rights and onto the rocks of despotism. The tyrants who follow - no, not hardly from the left but rather from the far corners of the darkest right - can thank Barack Obama for greasing the skids.

While we falsely pride ourselves on how faithful we are to our beloved Founding Fathers, perhaps we might have tried harder to remember James Madison's fateful warning: "The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted." Nothing is less worthy of trust than a "secret" - state or otherwise. Too bad President Obama and the Justices of the Nine Circuit Court can't see, don't hear, never read Madison, and apparently don't care.