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The Rout That Wasn’t

What if they proclaimed a rout and nobody ran away?

The headlong retreat of the Sierra Club (and others) from any stance that could be construed as critical of the administration may have led wishful thinkers to assume that American progressives, leftists, radicals and environmentalists would be deserting their positions and principles faster than raw Taliban conscripts facing the 101st Airborne.

If anyone was running for shelter, they would not depart unpelted. Christopher Hitchens accused people of being “soft on crime and soft on fascism.”

Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, went even further, saying that “one of the silver linings of these awful times” is the discrediting of the peace movement, exposed at long last as a dithering lot who, “forced to choose between the West and the Taliban … simply cannot decide.”

We had only to contrast such “softness” and indecision with the fervor of fading TV anchor people and failed presidential candidates, who cried out to the Commander-in-Chief to “just show me what line to stand in, and by God I’ll be there.” (It would be unkind to inquire whether any of these heroic, aging volunteers were in any peril of being taken up on the offer and sent into harm’s way.)

So thrilling has been the rhetoric that it seems almost churlish to point out that there is no patriotic duty to stop thinking. If there were, President Bush would surely have told us so in his speech to Congress.

What he has told us is that while many support the United States, some will support it in different ways. Some will send troops, some will offer the use of air strips, etc.

At home, some will express their support by displaying signs that read “Nuke ’em, GW!”

Others will perform a different service. They will attempt to deepen our understanding of what is happening and why, and to keep human suffering to a minimum in the aftermath of September 11. And they will keep calling our attention to the ordinary business of life and what is being done to it in the name of multinational corporations.

They are not unaware that people are trying to kill us and that thousands of our fellows have already been killed by murderers who were undoubtedly trying to kill even more when they destroyed the World Trade Towers.

They readily concede that the threat is real and that “the rules have changed.” But which rules? Not the rules of logic, which remain in effect as of this writing.

A false dilemma is still a false dilemma. A faulty either/or proposition is not made valid by bombs.

Examples: Either you support the West or the Taliban. Either you cry for blood or you are “soft on fascism.” You support G. W. (in whatever he may do) or you don’t.

“Now, hold on a minute,” as we used to say in Alabama.

When drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comes up for a vote, are you going to ask your representatives “whether they support the West or the Taliban”?

I support the fact that Bush has not personally resorted to language that questions the patriotism of anyone who doubts his policies. This may only be because he does not perceive that there are enough of them to bother with, but nevertheless it is a fact. (There was that unfortunate little “people need to watch what they say” moment from Ari Fleischer, but I can’t say I really felt a chilling effect.)

I supported Bush when he visited a mosque and said that people who assault other Americans because of how they look are the “worst,” and that America won’t stand for such behavior. That was wonderful of him, and he made time for that when the demands on him were at their peak.

I supported him because he wasted no time in making it clear he didn’t share the hateful views of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I don’t know anyone who opposed him when he did that. I hope it means he won’t be making any more trips to Bob Jones University. (He hardly needs to, now; with his current popularity why would he want to suck up to the hard right?)

I supported him when he made a good speech to the Congress. I told people that it seemed to me he became the president that night, certainly in the popular perception. I assume he understands that popular approval can disappear as rapidly as it came, having observed his father’s rapid descent from Alexander the Great status to a distracted guy looking at his watch during the debates.

I support the fact that he has not yet listened to people whispering, “Nuke ’em, GW!”

However, all this may already be irrelevant. I think it entirely possible that the defining issue of his administration is NOT going to be his conduct of this war. It could easily be his governance of the country during his prosecution of the war.

It is not what Bush does with regard to the Taliban that will distinguish him from Al Gore (or Bill Clinton) or perhaps even from Ralph Nader.

It is what he will do with regard to corporations and whole industries lining up for bailouts and special treatment. It is what he will do for American workers besides extending their unemployment benefits. It is what he will do about preserving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is how successfully he will resist (or exploit) the opportunity to “use” the war to validate his domestic policies.

In other words, it could well boil down to exactly the issues Nader predicted the next administration would be judged by.

That is why nothing that happens in Afghanistan, even success, will discredit the movement here at home, which, far from shrinking, appears to be young and daily growing. The next time people are asked whether they support Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee, the answer may yet prove interesting. CP

David Vest is a writer, poet and piano player for the Cannonballs. A native of Alabama, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit his webpage for samples of the Cannonballs’ brand of take no prisoners rock & roll and other Vest columns: http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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