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by


Stew Albert

 

Conventional wisdom once had it that there was positive magic in the Oval Office and that sitting Presidents automatically grew in spirit and wisdom giving them the capacity to serve well, and beyond whatever expectations we might have had from them when they were merely candidates.
Harry Truman’s reign was responsible for this myth. Before ascending to the Office he had been viewed as little more than a hack machine politician. But after dropping two atom bombs on Japan and starting the Cold War, Truman graduated to the status of folk hero, and the belief grew that there really was something special in the White House drinking water. The myth’s power was greatly weakened when it was obvious that Lyndon Johnson was a far better Senator than a President and it collapsed completely when Richard Nixon imploded all over Watergate.
 
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Now in the era of Bush, our first unelected President, a new myth may be taking hold. That America shrinks to the level of its Chief Executive.

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Previous to his seizure of the White House Bush proved one thing as Governor of Texas. He demonstrated a positive joy in killing people. Texas easily lead the nation in executions. Other than death Bush gave off the vibes of an undereducated petty rich brat, with some ugly secret in his past, who always had to get his way and although he was inarticulate and seemed stupid, he mostly did get what he wanted. His vision of utopia was a country in which rich white people like himself felt and had no restraints placed on their capacity to grow even wealthier and less restrained.

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The Supreme Court of the United States may have given the Presidency to Bush when it refused to order an honest recount of Florida’s voters but it was Osama bin Laden’s bloody hands that delivered the American people to his grasp.

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Since September 11th Bush has decided that it’s fun to be President. The mass murder carried out by the terrorists and the fear and rage that this reasonably produced gave cart blanche to his ugliest moods and needs. The main source of Bush’s joy was that once again he could kill people. And by the thousands, as many as he wanted, if it could somehow be framed as protecting American lives. The freaked out U.S. population wanted revenge and not grand moral visions and who better to serve their need than the grand executioner from Texas?

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Bush’s very crude way of speaking became a bonus. When he told soldiers to bring back bin Laden “dead or alive,” that he didn’t care which, his remarks were initially criticized by the pundits, but when polls showed that were playing well in the living rooms, Bush was hailed as having developed an unexpected eloquence. If a Bush comment was considered just too impolitic, like calling for a new “Crusade,” than it could simply be dropped from his repertoire and the obedient media would pretend it never happened.

As fifteen thousand pound bombs exploded on one of the weakest, poorest and most destroyed nations in the world, Bush started to ride tall in the saddle of pollster popularity. The media began claiming that we were somehow liberating Afghan women by killing thousands of civilians and destroying whatever was left of their country’s pathetic infrastructure. Bush the Avenger was pulling down 90 per cent support ratings and even his former political enemies Blacks and Jews were now lining up by the fistful to enlist in his Crusade. Americans seemed to lose interest in anything but kicking butt. Concerns about ecology, education, the death penalty, social justice, gun control, campaign finance reform, and racial profiling evaporated, along with any serious support for civil liberties.

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As the American people grew as small and nasty as their President, thousands of Middle Easterners and Moslems were rounded up, including and inexplicably, 60 Israeli Jews, and held in a secretive and cruel manner, that reminded some of General Pinochet in his heyday. While embassies complained about any lack of information about the prisoners, the country endorsed the jailings as well as Bush’s promise to overlook the Constitution and try terrorists in special military courts.

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Jay Leno joked that “if your want to fly someplace on a plane, and your first name is Muhammad, your last name better be Ali.” And indeed Arabs, and anyone looking a little weird or reading an off-beat book were subject to being pulled off a plane without apology. The practice hit its crescendo when a Secret Service officer with an Arab name was kicked off a plane. He is one of Bush’s body guards. And now, we are told that there are 6,000 additional Moslems in this country that the INS is going to deport. No claims are made that they have anything to do with terrorism. Like 300,000 other foreigners they are just over staying their visa, but they are Moslems.

When the American Civil Liberties Union asked the usually liberal Jewish establishment organizations to sign a simple pro-Constitution petition they all refused. They haven’t even come to the support of the jailed Israeli’s. And just what was supposed to happen after September 11? Obviously the criminal assault on innocent people required forceful response. Justice needed to be done. But a path had to be found that would lead us to this desired outcome without reducing us to the level of thuggery, reverse terrorism and domestic racism. It would be an incredibly difficult task to find this political/military way. Naturally, the spoiled rich Bush hadn’t the slightest interest in making the effort. He had no desire to heal our wounds with large redemptive visions of law, democracy and a generous version of patriotism. Bush saw his task as reducing the country to his permanent level of anger and narrow meanness. Was there a way to fuck up bin Laden and his network of death’s head “born to die” terrorists without wiping out whole villages in poor Afghanistan? There ought to have been, and sophisticated strategists should have been given the task of making decent and effective proposals. But going that route wouldn’t have been fun. Listening to boring and highly complex approaches would have required that Bush had some kind of attention span. After the Twin Tower catastrophe it was just so easy to be popular by dropping very big bombs and otherwise letting Afghans kill each other.

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And that meant dealing once again with our friends, the Afghan warlords, thieves and drug dealers. We heard again that bit of “streetwise” pragmatic reason that it was a tough world and that to get the vengeance job done “we needed to work with some very unpleasant people.” Play that again Uncle Sam, during our next heroin epidemic.

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Bush got the flags waving and the people singing God Bless America. Interestingly, Woody Guthrie so hated that song that it prompted him to write “This Land is Your Land.” We haven’t heard Guthrie’s number lately. It doesn’t quite fit the the national mood. The current temperament is one in which some guy in a San Francisco gym shoots off his mouth about Bush and the papers report he gets a visit from the FBI. An iconoclastic art exhibit in Texas receives similar attention. A woman in the midwest gets a G-man visit because of posters she has up in her own apartment. And the editor of the Sacramento Bee is booed off a commencement stage when she speaks up for the Bill of Rights.

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In this paranoid climate the young and hopeful movement against the exploitive excesses of global capitalism seems to disappear. Fewer and smaller demonstrations are taking place. The new activists are guarded about radical tactics and properly frightened of neo-Cointelpro outcroppings. The war in Afghanistan is sort of winding down and bin Laden and his best pals may have escaped to kill another day. The warlords are back in charge, food supplies are being stolen by bandits and poor people are starving to death. Some call it a great victory.
But Bush is getting moody and testy. He needs another war. The President’s tax proposals and general policies are so blatantly payback to his wealthiest supporters that he will run out of popularity if they can not hide behind flag waving and blood letting. He lives in terror of being discovered and known for his true character. He fears it is a family legacy.

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The Bush years require a permanent war fought against those who haven’t the least means of fighting back. Our standard of living will go down and our freedom and life style will contract to the size of Bush’s soul. But what do his fabulous victories mean for our safety and security? Besides the anthrax easy way of killing us, a guy recently got a shoe bomb on an international flight and a 15 year old pro-bin Laden weird kid in Florida heisted a plane and flew it into a building. So much destruction in the name of security has taken place but are you feeling any safer?

And yet there are ‘60’s progressives who are, with some reluctance supporting Bush. They see it as sort of like World War II where we are the good guys fighting the bad Nazis. And yet, benighted Afghanistan and Somalia and even Iraq just seem too sad and pitiful to be compared to Hitlerite Germany and Imperial Japan. The Islamic fundamentalists are clerical fascists but their breeding ground is third world misery. A different approach to global economics and a more progressive and compassionate foreign policy is a better, if not sufficient way to fight terrorism. A radical movement that does not stand for this alternative is one that has shared in the national moral shrinkage.
 

Stew Albert
January 2002



     

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