As most know, my title today is a quote from a famous pamphlet by Thomas Paine written during one of the most difficult times in our Revolutionary War, the Winter of 1776. Over 200 years old, its evocation of the nation’s mood, and the attitudes prevalent among its citizenry, resonates today with equal effect.

This last year, in my view, has been one of the most difficult in the long history of our Republic. We have witnessed ever mounting strife, both home and abroad.

First and foremost, has been President Bush’s continuing war of choice in the Middle East, and his administration’s inflexible and indefensible war policies in Iraq that have led directly to more deaths and casualties, both among our soldiers and among the innocent civilians of Iraq. Recent news accounts of our forces’ indiscriminate use of incendiary bombs and white phosphorus munitions against Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere, and of our involvement in the training of Shia militia “death squads” have only added to the despair and shame so many of us feel regarding this war which was purportedly prosecuted on behalf of our individual safety, and also in the name of our nation’s highest ideals of freedom, justice and democracy.

On the heels of the worldwide opprobrium that the disclosure of such atrocities brought us, came new allegations of torture performed by, or at the behest of, our Government, including the discovery of secret prisons throughout the world run by the CIA. Even as the existence of these “black” prisons came to light, we have witnessed the spectacle of a sitting Vice President actively lobbying Senators not to pass a bill making torture illegal at the very same time his Commander-in-Chief brazenly lied to the American People and the world by claiming “We do not torture.”

At home, we have endured an uninterrupted assault on the integrity of anyone, famous or unknown, inside or outside of government, who has opposed this dreadful war or spoken out in criticism of President Bush. We have seen decorated war veterans smeared as cowards and traitors on the floor of the House of Representatives, and rabid attacks against the character of a mother whose only crime was to demand that her President tell her, face to face, what noble cause justified the death of her son in Iraq.

This unprecedented effort to limit dissent and silence the Government’s opponents, has been as relentless as it was vile. It has been carried out in all of the major media outlets of our country: by biased analysts on television, with hate speech on the radio by conservative talk show hosts, and through slanted and misleading reports in newspapers and other print media, all augmented by disgusting eliminationist rhethoric on right wing blogs. Attacks, by the way, that we now know have been coordinated and planned in the highest levels of the White House by Presidential adviser Karl Rove and his merry band of Republican smear merchants and attack dogs.

Yet, amid all this cause for dismay, there are reasons to hope that the dark path down which our country has been misled by Bush and the Conservative extremists in the Republican Party has finally been recognized by the public at large. A few individual heroes (and I don’t use the word lightly) have courageously fought the great tide of lies, falsehoods and corruption that have been foisted upon us by the misrule of George W. Bush and his allies. Follow me after the break as I identify a select few of those heroes who have made a difference this past year.

But first, let me remind you again, of the words of Thomas Paine, from which the title of this essay was borrowed. His pamphlet, published in December 1776 was simply entitled “The Crisis”. It came after a dispiriting Summer and Fall of military defeats by General Washington’s Continental Army, defeats that led some to abandon the cause of independence from Great Britain and the dominion of King George the Third. Let me quote a bit of it here for you:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

We face a different form of tyranny today than that faced by our founding fathers and mothers: the tyranny of one party rule, of factional strife, of the diminution of our civil liberties, and the ugly rise of the “Big Lie” technique as the predominant political strategy by our rulers to divide and subjugate us. It is a tyranny aided and abetted by a compliant mainstream media, fearful of the disfavor of our leaders which could lead to the loss of access to that power and/or their privileged and profitable broadcast licenses.

Yet, in this last year we have witnessed a few courageous individuals who have shown us that they will not be intimidated, nor will they stop speaking out against the abuses committed by our leaders. No list I could compile could ever be complete, but as this year winds down, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a few of the people (in no particular order) whose examples of speaking truth to power has given me hope, and emboldened my own small efforts in opposition to the “cabal” that now rules, but does not lead these United States of America:

John Stewart:

His Daily Show is only “fake news” perhaps, but it is also one of the few outlets on television where progressive and liberal voices can be heard. In addition, it’s funny as hell, and God knows we need the laughs he provides.

Keith Olbermann:

Countdown is only one show on Cable News, yet it is the only one to consistently address stories that other newscasters and talking heads have ignored. From the claims of voting fraud in the 2004 election to the significance of the Downing Street Memos, from the corruption of the Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff scandals to the absurdity of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s nightly misdeeds, Keith has been front and center exposing the distortion of the right wing noise machine and the misrule of our Republican controlled government. He isn’t nearly enough, but I’m damn glad he’s on the air.

Patrick Fitzgerald:

Some may disagree with me here, but if not for his dogged pursuit of the Treasongate miscreants we might never have discovered the extent to which the White House went to “fix the intelligence” and lie us into a war of choice in Iraq. And with his indictment of “Scooter” Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice, and the promise of more indictments of Bush officials possible in the future, he’s given us all a reason to believe that our Justice system may yet work to bring down this gang of incompetent criminals currently ensconced in the West Wing of the White House.

Seymour Hersh:

You really can’t say enough about this investigative journalist who isn’t merely an oxymoron (Yes, Bob Woodward, that crack’s for you), but actually produces real reporting such as the revelations about the Abu Gharaib scandal, and the Bush administration’s war plans for Syria and Iraq. If only we had a dozen more like him.

Rep. John Conyers:

Statesman. Leader.
When so many others in the Democratic party were content to lick their wounds, and bicker amongst themselves on who was to blame for last year’s electoral disasters, he tackled the thorny and unpopular issue of Republican voter suppression and other irregularities in the 2004 election. His single minded determination and fortitude finally led to the recent GAO investigation which exposed the flaws and security lapses in our new electronic voting machines. Then when the Downing Street memo revelations came to light in the UK, he was relentless in his attempts to bring this story to the American people. Let me add another moniker to those I stated earlier: Stand Up Guy. He has been all that and more.

Rep. Jack Murtha:

Simply put: he spoke the truth about Iraq. A decorated war veteran and former Marine who knew the troops in ways our preening dress up GI Joe President could never imagine, he had the courage to come forth and speak the truth, finally, about our failure in Iraq. He knew he would suffer for it from the Republican Swift Boat propagandists, but he did it anyway. He left himself open to the smears and slurs of lesser men and women (Can’t forget Jean Schmidt now, can we?) not to advance any future ambitions for higher office, but for one reason and one reason only: it was the right thing to do. How rare a quality in our leaders that is these days.

Howard Dean:

Many thought his career as a politician and a force in the Democratic party was over after his primary defeats last Spring. But he knew better, and thank god he did. Now we have a real fighter as Chairman of the Democratic Party and not some DLC money man putting in time until he can line his own pockets with a cushy lobbyist job in D.C. Dean has reinvigorated the grass roots, and is rebuilding the foundation of a stronger, better, and more responsive party. My hat’s off to him. And you know what? All those crazy remarks he gets lambasted for in the press? Turns out he was right on all of them. Go get ’em tiger.

Senator Barbara Boxer:

Unlike some of her more famous colleagues in the Senate (Senator Clinton comes to mind, eh?), she has been unafraid to speak out in opposition to the Administration’s misguided policies in Iraq and it’s deceitful domestic agenda (Privatizing Social Security? Saving Terry Schiavo?). I can’ think of anyone in the Senate right now of whom I have a higher opinion. I only wish she was running for President in 2008. She’d make a helluva Comander-in-Chief.

Former Intelligence officers, Larry Johnson, Patrick Lang and Ray McGovern:

There are not who many of us would have thought 5 years ago of these men as potential allies. I’m almost certain that they hold political affiliations and beliefs that are in direct contrast to mine on many issues. But one thing they have in abundance is love of their country and the willingness to serve on its behalf. They have come forward, at a time when few other have been willing to do so, to expose the lies and inherent dishonesty of the President, the Vice President and their myriad advisors and sycophants with respect to 9/11 and our so-called “War on Terror.” I think we are truly blessed to have two of them posting here at Booman Tribune. Thank you gentlemen. And thank you for your continuing service to our country.

and last, but not least, Cindy Sheehan:

What can anyone say to do justice to what Cindy Sheehan has accomplished? She jump started the antiwar movement this Summer, with her heartfelt protest at Camp Casey outside the Bush “Ranch” in Crawford, Texas. Her simple plea to meet with the President and demand he answer one single question as to what noble cause in Iraq claimed the life of her son exposed George W. Bush to the world as a craven and cowardly figure, and a man who had no answers (or at least no legitimate ones) behind his empty rhetoric demanding we “support the troops” and “stay the course” in Iraq. I was privileged to observe her up close at the September 24th protest march in Washington D.C. and I can attest to why she has been successful when so many others have failed to grab the media’s attention. It comes down to this: She has authenticity. That is something George W. Bush, despite all the trappings of power he enjoys, and the cult like fawning his most ardent supporters provide him on a daily basis will never have.

So that’s my list of true patriots. What’s yours?

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