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American freedoms at forefront for Wolf

Author Naomi Wolf will share her thoughts on how the goverment is systematically wiping out personal freedoms.Photo courtesy of Naomi Wolf
 (Photo courtesy of Naomi Wolf / The Spokesman-Review)
Author Naomi Wolf will share her thoughts on how the goverment is systematically wiping out personal freedoms.Photo courtesy of Naomi Wolf (Photo courtesy of Naomi Wolf / The Spokesman-Review)

When you’ve written a book titled “The End of America,” you’re not likely to be seen automatically as a beacon of hope.

Yet that’s exactly the tone that author Naomi Wolf attempts to strike in her books, her speeches and during interviews with inquiring journalists.

Wolf, 45, who first achieved fame as an essayist with her 1991 book “The Beauty Myth: How Images of Female Beauty Are Used Against Women,” will speak at 7:30 tonight as part of Get Lit!, the 2008 version of Eastern Washington University’s annual literary festival.

The title of her speech, “The End of America,” comes from “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” Wolf’s book of last year that Library Journal describes as a “compellingly and cogently argued political argument for civil rights.”

In a speech that she gave at the University of Washington in October, Wolf told the audience that she was going to take them “on a difficult journey.”

But, she quickly added, “I want to reassure you that we’re gonna come out to sunshine and hope – if not sunshine, certainly hope – on the other side.”

The “journey” was outlined succinctly by Wolf in an article that she wrote in April for the British newspaper The Guardian. Titled “Fascist America, in 10 easy steps,” the article – despite its flip label – details in serious terms how, as Wolf wrote, it is “very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy” but “closing one down is much simpler.”

Some of those steps include invoking “a terrifying internal and external enemy” (the “War on Terror”), creating a “Gulag” (such as Guantanamo Bay), developing “a thug cast” (Iraq’s “contractors”), installing “an internal surveillance system” (warrantless wiretapping), equating dissent with treason and working to “suspend the rule of law.”

Each of these steps, Wolf wrote, was taken by the Nazis in 1930s Germany, the Italian fascists in 1920s Italy, the military dictatorship in 1970s Argentina and in 2006 by the ruling generals of Thailand’s army.

“As difficult as this is to contemplate,” Wolf wrote in The Guardian, “it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.”

In a recent phone interview, Wolf was just as frank.

“Since I wrote ‘The End of America,’ and since I gave that speech, things have moved forward in terms of confirming how right I was to alert us to the worst possible outcomes,” she said.

She mentioned, as an example, the secret 2003 memo of John Yoo regarding torture that the Washington Post called “shoddy in its legal reasoning, outrageous in its far-reaching assertion of presidential power and repellent in its purpose – to offer legal cover to U.S. personnel who commit torture.”

“I believe there was one more story recently about some law, or attempt to pass a law, that basically gave the president every kind of power,” Wolf said. “It’s apparently not farfetched at all to (think that) the administration has plans to essentially suspend the rule of law. There’s no other way to put it. It’s not incremental, it’s not subtle. It’s terrifying.”

And, she insists, it’s terrifying no matter who sits in the White House.

“This is something that we’ve really forgotten in America,” Wolf said. “The Founders didn’t say that civil liberties was a Democratic issue or a Whig issue. … They would have been horrified to witness an America in which liberty was a partisan position, in which it would have been partisan to say, ‘Wait a minute, what about due process for these prisoners?’ Because they intended for the basic template, the basic DNA of America, to transcend partisanship.”

And while she maintains sterling credentials as a feminist and activist in support of women’s rights, Wolf admits that she recently endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“I was very disturbed that Hilary Clinton was not out front in saying that ‘I will restore the checks and balances, I will give back these powers if I’m president,’ ” Wolf said. “I was very distressed early on that she didn’t explicitly disavow torture.

“What have we come to in America that there’s even a discussion about whether or not a candidate’s going to support torture?” she added. “The Founders would be spinning in their graves. They set up this nation as a refuge, as a model for what it’s like to escape from tyrannical monarchs who torture people and suspend due process.”

Where, then, is the hope, the sunshine? Wolf finds it in the people who have stood up to say no, both people in power and people of everyday conscience.

“I think the hope is that people are becoming aware that the system is at stake and that something really precious is being plowed under,” Wolf said. “And Congress actually said, ‘No, you can’t engage in warrantless wiretapping against American citizens,’ where for seven years they’ve sat on their hands as the Fourth Amendment was being burned to ash.”

And, she added, “It has been very inspiring to me to travel across the country and talk about these issues and meet patriots, men and women on the far right and the far left, progressives, evangelicals, Green Party activists, home-schoolers, you know, sort of finding one another again as Americans and remembering, ‘Hey, more important than anything is our mandate as Americans and that liberty belongs to all of us. It’s up to all of us to defend it.’ “

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