Tom Ridge’s recent confirmation that the Bush administration used terror alerts for political gain is currently getting attention in various political blogs (eg, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald). Ridge was Secretary of Homeland Security until his resignation in November 2004 shortly after the presidential election. In a new book, Ridge details meetings held within the administration in which the possibility of raising the terror alert was discussed just prior to the election. (Alertsd were also issued at other times which Ridge does not discuss.)
Although this is not directly about Foucault, it does parallel themes that he discussed in several places, namely the intersection of security, politics and governmentality. In that light it is interesting to see this discourse gradually seeping into the wider public sphere, and to see journalists who dismissed those who raised this issue as crazy be held accountable (Greenwald is shudderingly good on the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder).
This story will no doubt be watered down into exactly what Ridge or the Bush administration did or didn’t do, but we can put that aside for the historians and just consider for a moment how this affects what is considered acceptable political discourse. Greenwald cheekily emails one of the journalists who derided critics of the Bush administration as needing “psychological help” to ask if he thinks Ridge is similarly insane. Those who pointed out that the US is itself a terrorist state have long been marginalized, even within academia though mostly in the public mind (eg Noam Chomsky). (Foucault never said this of course.) I’m not sure if the pin has been moved on the political meter in the USA but I think this is a noteworthy story.